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The advantages of graduate school?

PostPosted: Sat Jan 01, 2005 11:31 pm
by Amanda Y.
Hi everyone,

Over the past weeks I've read a learnt a lot from this forum and from articles from Science Nextwave and came to the conclusion that a) Not everyone who goes to grad school for a PhD gets to become a PI/prof in a university b) There are a lot of alternative careers out there for people who don't want to be a PI or a prof. Which leads me to thinking...what exactly is the whole point of going to graduate school then? Isn't it true that you can also get to many of these position without going through a masters or a doctorate degree? Is it actually possible to go to grad school knowing that you don't want to be a "scientist".

Thanks in advance for what I believe will be some enlightening responses.

Regards,
Amanda

The advantages of graduate school?

PostPosted: Sun Jan 02, 2005 2:22 pm
by John Fetzer
The route without an advanced degree is much longer, more arduous, and much, much less likely to be successful. Most of the hiring decision makers have advanced degrees. Most of the supervisors and managers in companies and government organizations that deal in science have advanced degrees.

The advanced degree may only be your invitation to the party, but those without that ticket are more often not even looked at for many opportunities. These managers have a model of a good potential employee that is based on their own image of senf earlier in their careers. The degrees are part of that image. No degree means you do not fit that image. You have to be outstanding to overcome that....anmd even that might not work as they tend to think
If she is so good, then why couldn't she get a doctorate?"

Anvanced degrees give a young new employee chances to show worth right off, not after five years or more of drudge work with rare chances to shine.

John

The advantages of graduate school?

PostPosted: Sun Jan 02, 2005 4:42 pm
by Dave Jensen
Amanda,

When I first started giving talks at grad schools, I found very few PhD students who would admit to being interested in a non-scientific job. In fact, few would openly express interest in industry -- they were there to be professors.

It is very different now. There are many people who will come right up to me and admit in front of their colleagues that they are there to get the PhD so that they can pursue a Business Development career, or some "alternative" to bench science in academia. While people are still very careful about what they let their mentors hear, they definitely have a much more open attitude about the advanced degree being used for something other than pure science.

Dave

The advantages of graduate school?

PostPosted: Sun Jan 02, 2005 7:22 pm
by Ken
Having just finished graduate school, I can say that I don't think "alternative" careers are so alternative anymore. I think greater than 50% of graduate students have no intention of persuing the postdoc, assistant professor, professor route. Certainly considerbly less than 50% will attain that professorship.

"Alternative" seems something of a misnomoer.

The advantages of graduate school?

PostPosted: Sun Jan 02, 2005 8:24 pm
by Dave Jensen
Hi Ken,

You are so right. I hate that word. In meetings with NextWave staff, I've found that it is universally considered a very bad choice of words, and I try not to use it in my articles. It sneaks into a post every so often because there isn't a lot of choice to say the same thing.

There is no "alternative" career. There are only a broad range of jobs that graduate students can shoot for.

Dave

The advantages of graduate school?

PostPosted: Sun Jan 02, 2005 10:30 pm
by Emil Chuck
Ken said: "I think greater than 50% of graduate students have no intention of persuing the postdoc, assistant professor, professor route. Certainly considerbly less than 50% will attain that professorship."

Well, among the postdocs, a vast majority of them want to become academics/professors (roughly 75%). Of that group only 25-30% of them will get a tenure-track position.

Otherwise, I agree with the overall sentiment the nomenclature of "alternative careers" is a misnomer.

The advantages of graduate school?

PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2005 1:42 am
by Nick
I agree with a lot of what has been touched upon in the previous posts. Being a third year graduate student I have been fortunate enough to take a look at careers that are available to one obtaining a PhD in the biomedical sciences. I think that while obtaining a strong a background in science and completing one's degree in a timely manner are of importance, if you have aspirations to obtain a job outside of academia you have to seek the skill set for whatever arena you may potentially enter outside of basic research, be it business development, consulting, patent law, or market research, etc. What I find kind of saddening is how many graduate students, younger classmates of mine and those in the later stages of graduate school, who think that pursuing a postdoc is a required step in their career path, and have not sought potential alternatives that may exist.

Nick

The advantages of graduate school?

PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2005 3:25 am
by Amanda Y.
Thanks a lot for your input!

I guess the other question I have now is, how could one seek the skill set required for a non-academic career after graduate school? Would this have to be done at times outside your graduate study? Are there supervisors/PI's who would "encourage" a non-academic career (I'm guessing no?)

Thanks,
Amanda

The advantages of graduate school?

PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2005 11:39 am
by Emil Chuck
Amanda,
Step #1: Find a supervisor or PI who would be supportive and understanding of your career interests. It will make things so much easier for you not to sneak around and do things "in secret". You can also get his/her letter of recommendation who can specifically address the skills that you have hopefully developed in his/her lab.

2) Find out what skills are most frequently cited for the category of jobs you want. Look up job ads for the ideal jobs you wish to apply for in (two years?) and figure out how you already demonstrate your competency in those skills. If you are missing skills or experiences, do what you can to gain experience that can develop those skills with results. That doesn't mean you have to join an industry lab at the same time you're working in an academic lab, but you need to be able to become familiar with the environment you want to be part of.

2a) Talk to people who are currently in the career pipeline ahead of you and find out how they were able to succeed.

2b) Associate yourself with people who succeed or who want to look out for you. That is to say, if possible, get an alternate mentor whose specialty is to develop your "other skill set" outside of your lab. You could even have that mentor meet your PI to discuss what you need to do to succeed.

3) If you are involved in other activities already outside of lab (you know, the ones that keep you sane? :) ), be more than just a passive member. Actually demonstrate that you can be part of a team, can supervise or manage people, and see if there are any specific instances or events where you can develop your interpersonal or diplomatic skills.

The advantages of graduate school?

PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2005 1:59 pm
by Doug
I agree with Emil. Any career you go after will likely require supervisory, organizational, and managerial skills (both people and project management). Try to get involved in grad student affairs and be a leader. These skills will help you tremendously for the job search. Also, there are limitless opportunities to be a "scientist" without staying in academia, including industry, government, nonprofits, etc...For many (most) of these positions, a Ph.D. is a necessity.