We’ve all heard that question before. Even if one just answers “out,” not wanting to get into the details, it’s good to have a destination in mind. Some of you will have guessed that this is really a metaphor for life after grad school. Want another one? I saw a cartoon in the New Yorker magazine with a self-proclaimed prophet standing on a sidewalk and holding a sign reading “the end is near.” A man in a business suit is asking him “Yes, but what are your goals?”
We all know that there are many careers open to PhDs in the sciences. That might be the reason you are reading this. Do you have a career plan? When did you start planning? Are you already traveling down “the long and winding road?” Of course, at some time everyone is asked “what do you want to do when you grow up?”
Some people answer easily from a young age – and with certainty. In my case, I always answered by naming some kind of scientific profession. So what happened? I did get a PhD in cell biology, and had several different career changes, including some that I’d neither foreseen or intended. I suppose I could sum it all up by saying “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” (I have to credit Douglas Adams for that quote.)
There is a simple way to look at it. You are at point A with an open ticket to ride (brand new PhD). You have to decide on a destination and then figure out how you are going to get there. Unfortunately, no one has figured out how to make a GPS to take care of that. Picking a destination comes first – not really a final stop mind you. How might you do that? Lots of ways, but maybe the easiest is by starting a list of occupations (professions?) that require a PhD. When you’ve got some things on your list that you like, look for more. One place to look is right here on Bio Careers – at the things that the bloggers are doing and writing about. Another place to look is
www.sciencemag.org. Where have your grad school friends gone after graduation? I guarantee you’ll find things there that never occurred to you.
Next? Find out more about the qualifications – profiles of people who have jobs like the ones on your new list – and find out more about where they are working. Corporate and government internet sites and LinkedIn.com are good sources for that sort of information. Don’t forget about the upcoming Virtual Job Summit on http://www.biocareers.com/virtual-job-summit/.
OK – now make another list, of your qualifications and advantages: your grad training, location, interests, abilities, achievements, publications, professional network of friends and colleagues, friends in high places….the list goes on. Now you have three data sets – jobs, companies and your characteristics and preferences, strengths and weaknesses. See where all three data sets overlap and you’ve got your first stop on the career path.
Yes – I know this is oversimplified, without any detail – only a top line view, but it hopefully makes a point. Do some research, or as a friend of mine likes to say “do the necessary” and you’ll find at least the first stop on the long road to wherever you decide that you need to be after you’ve earned your PhD. And there are lots of options out there.
Best of luck,
Clement Weinberger, PhD
Stylus Edits Medical Communications