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Post-Academic Career

Postby Joe » Thu Dec 02, 2004 5:18 pm

I have been reading this forum daily for the past few months and I find all of the advice useful but rather discouraging. It seems from many of the postings that getting any kind of a job in industry is near impossible unless you are exceptional. Furthermore, it is now very clear to me that working in prestigious laboratory/university with all of the buddy-buddy networking is the only way to get a job. Unfortunately, most of the postings that I?ve read suggest that someone like me who just completed their Ph.D. in microbiology in a small lab at an ok but not great university is near unemployable. This current employment situation makes me feel like I made a very big mistake in deciding to become a scientist. It also baffles me why so many people in science policy and at universities are trying to entice more young people to go into the sciences. Why bother if there is so little opportunity? As for me, I am now trying to decide what to do next. I have remained in my graduate school laboratory following my Ph.D. and I am now trying to decide what to do next. The only jobs that I have been offered in the past few months are academic postdocs, which I am not thrilled about doing. Therefore, if it is so difficult to get a job in research I might go back to school and become a medical doctor or dentist where the job prospects are better.
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Post-Academic Career

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu Dec 02, 2004 6:16 pm

Hi Joe,

i don't think that the website has been discouraging. I think that it is populated by a group of realists, who are helping along some of those who are caught in the academic job-seeking rut. Yes, its hard to find a job. But, there are plenty of them out there, and you'll have many chances for those jobs if you stick it out and remain persistent.

What is it that you'd love to do? Is it putting your hands into other people's mouths as a dentist? Working with reimbursement issues from insurers or working for a cheapie HMO as a physician? Or, is it rolling your sleeves up and working on some unknown region of a nasty microbe or virus that is causing harm to the population? You be the judge, but if you decide that you got into science for these reasons -- for the love of the work -- than it would be a real shame to stop and move on to something else. (Sorry for picking on dentists and doctors, and I realize I did so quite unfairly. There is much to say about those as great career choices as well, but the same people generally don't find satisfaction doing science. So the only one to make that decision will be you.)

I've worked with hiring managers for many years, Joe, and I can tell you that none of them really care all that much about the specifics of the school. Yes, they love Harvard and MIT, Princeton, etc. But when it comes down to hiring a person, they trust their own instincts and they trust your level of productivity. You can be productive at ANY department. Sure, it's easier to get attention when you are from the big name departments, but my guess is that with the right level of publications in your field of endeavor, and with an increasing network base, you'd land a job and begin a career as a scientist with less problems than you thought.

Sure, its tough finding a job. It has always been that way, and it will never change. Sounds corny, but if you follow your passion, and then learn the "rules" surrounding the job search, you will do fine.

I'm sure I'll get a few jabs on that comment. Fire away, Val!

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Post-Academic Career

Postby Kim » Thu Dec 02, 2004 6:17 pm

Like it or not, postdoc is essentially a requirement to continue your career in science.

I found it unbelievable that there are people who went into PhD program without knowing their next step after PhD. Have you talked to the people when they graduate from your program? Have you ever asked them, "Congratulations. Where are you going?"

A PhD from a second tier university is not unemployable. Many people who have excelled in a second tier university can later find postdoc in a top lab at a first tier university.
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Post-Academic Career

Postby Bill L. » Thu Dec 02, 2004 6:53 pm

Hi Joe,

You should also consider that many people who post on this board post a question to get an answer from this knowledgeable community or a frustration to get a sympathetic ear from those who've been through the same experience.

For every person who posts with a problem or question, there are probably 10 silent community members who are chugging along just fine in their career path. As such, it's also possible to get a skewed perception of frustrations vs. joys of being a life scientist.

Positions in industry, or academe for that matter, often go to those who are bright, but also those who are tenacious, hardworking, a bit crafty and a lot lucky. But you already have these qualities, or else you wouldn't have gotten through your PhD. That said, since you're still at the institution you got that PhD from, I'd encourage you to visit your career center to get some help as you consider and organize the next step in your career.

Good Luck,

Bill L. & Naledi S.
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Post-Academic Career

Postby Val » Fri Dec 03, 2004 12:32 am

Joe,

With the encouragement from Dave, I would like to give you a few advices. The big name of your PhD-granting school is an advantage when you are looking for your first job. Sometimes the hiring managers have doubts as to whom prefer out of the equally-looking applicants. The big name of the school will be the additional weight which bend the weights to your favour. Or, the manager may make the hiring decision based on the good reputation of your school alone, if he does not understand the mumble-jumble in your CV and reference letters. After your first job, the hiring managers are looking more at your productivity and human skills at the previous employments.

The question is how to get your first job. The answer is to be creative and persistent. You will find an inspiration to be creative and persistent in your job search from the realisation that you have to buy food and pay bills. This worked for me... fortunately or unfortunately. You should aim to find any science-related job outside of academia... and then you build your career on that. You will have an opportunity to learn how your new industry operates and how people get hired, and also to demonstrate your working qualities to the managers, who always want to hire a good candidate once they see one.

Regards,
Val

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Post-Academic Career

Postby Bryan » Sun Dec 05, 2004 2:19 pm

Joe,

You sounds just like I did two years ago. I received my Ph.D. in Micro from a University of California branch other than Berkeley two years ago. My lab had essentially no funding, and my thesis turned out to be technically far more difficult than we imagined (as is usually the case for ideas combining molecular genetics and a bioremediation application, I\'d say). I also spent time outside the university gaining more teaching experience and some science policy experience. I left after 7 years with no publications and a substantial student debt. By the \"publish or perish\" paradigm, I had perished, even though my efforts were deemed degree-worthy. I thought given the mediocre prestige of my university and without a way to show on my CV that I had indeed been quite productive, I shouldn\'t continue in research.

However, I eventually learned the same thing Kim said: there\'s little choice but to do a postdoc, even if your interest in an academic research career is nil. You\'ve had interest from several labs. That\'s a great sign, and it sounds like you have more options that I did. My advice: pick one of them not based on the usual academic criteria, but on the job you want it to set up for you at the end of the postdoc. A secondary consideration: pick a postdoc where you might want to live long-term. That way when the time comes to search for industry jobs you can network and be invited for interviews while still working as a postdoc. Location really does matter a lot (I just learned this somewhat surprising lesson the hard way). My final advice: do what I did at the start of my postdoc, be honest about your reservations about academia, and say you want a short postdoctoral experience. Most PIs will help you get out the door in a timely fashion.

To finish my story (Dave here\'s the update you asked for in another thread), after two productive years as a postdoc studying a medical microbiology topic unrelated to my grad school environmental focus, I decided to resign and move back home (Washington State) to look for work, mainly biotech research. No offers yet, but I\'m highly encouraged I did the right thing. I had an interview immediately upon arriving in town that went well, and seems a better fit than any of the companies I interviewed for on the east coast. Meanwhile, just by dumb luck and because I happen to be here physically, I ran into a senior researcher at Pacific Northwest National Lab who studies bioremediation and who offered to ask around about unadvertised labor needs there. PNNL is about the only place in the world I would want to do a second postdoc, because of relatively high pay, low cost of living, proximity to my family, and its applied focus. Would I have succeeded had I done this two years ago without a great postdoctoral experience? No way. Would someone from a big-name university with a bunch of publications from his dissertation research? I\'d still have to say no. No one in industry has to hire someone without postdoctoral experience--there are just too many of us on the job market who have it.
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Post-Academic Career

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Dec 05, 2004 3:16 pm

Bryan,

That's a great post. Thanks for the continued followup. You've made some good moves, and the observations you've had along the way are valuable to others.

It's not just because there are a lot of postdocs out there that companies use this as a "must have" -- it is, in many cases, because the hiring managers all have had one, and they believe it is a necessary part of the training. Its odd, though, that they like a postdoc or two until it starts getting past 4-5 years of postdoc'ing, and then they become very suspicious that the applicant is "too academic." That's why, if you have an interest in industry and need to do a second postdoc, it would be great to land an industry p-doc.

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Post-Academic Career

Postby Emil Chuck » Sun Dec 12, 2004 9:44 am

In terms of thinking that the value of a Ph.D. if it comes from anything but a top-tier university is somehow greatly diminished... I think that depends on the audience. I think most Ph.D.-postdocs who are in the top tier institutions are looking to get tenure-track positions in academia and not looking so hard at any of the other options available to them in industry or elsewhere.

Not that I am a recruiter in an industrial setting, but from those people who I know who work in industry, your pedigree doesn't count for much as it would in academia. What matters more is what you bring to their company and satisfy their (and your) needs. If you demonstrate an ability to deal with budgets or manage colleagues in a team environment or troubleshoot... that's a lot more relevant to them than how many Science papers you first-authored. That's what you should think about in your postdoc as much as how many Science papers you can get... :)
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Post-Academic Career

Postby Bill L. » Mon Dec 13, 2004 4:45 pm


Actually, while Ph.D.-postdocs at top tier institutions (like all institions) are looking to get tenure-track positions in academia, Career Center staffs around the country would argue that that they are also looking quite hard at all of the other options available to them in industry and elsewhere. Part of this is the limited number of positions available (no matter what tier), or the discovery there are other experiences in addition to bench work that interest them, or they're not sure if they want to go through the experience of getting tenure, etc.

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Post-Academic Career

Postby Mark K. » Tue Dec 14, 2004 2:41 pm

I as well am in a very similar position as Joe. I am getting my Ph.D. in microbiology this spring. I really want to go into industry, and an industry postdoc would be great. Now, Val says to "find any science-related job outside of academia... and then you build your career on that." But Bryan suggests Joe take one of the academic offers he has gotten. I realize they are both opinions, but I would like some elaboration on those points. If you want to work in industry, does it help to get an academic postdoc? A lot of the ads I have seen for industry jobs require experience in industry, so it seems to me to just be putting it off if you go for an academic postdoc.

On a somewhat related note, how does one find industrial postdocs? Job postings are usually for Ph.D.s with several years experience, or people with only a B.S./M.S. Can you just write to any company asking if they have something? How do you know if a company has a postdoctoral program?
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