Finding a Scientific Career Outside of Academia

As far back as I can recall, I wanted to be a scientist. After finishing my bachelor’s degree in microbiology, I entered the next phase of my life and completed my doctorate in genetics. My “grand plan” was to do a quick postdoc (i.e., scientific apprentice appointment) and become an assistant professor, after which I would attain a tenure-track professorship and eventually tenure (i.e., full-time guaranteed employment).

However, life doesn’t always work out the way we plan. What I didn’t completely realize is that the academic world is stuffed with would-be professors who are currently eeking out their existence as postdocs. Postdoctoral scientists easily outnumber professors by 10:1 and this ratio is increasing as the United States continues to experience an influx of Ph.D. level science graduates from countries like China (currently the #1 producer of doctoral degree graduates). As outlined in my article “The Ph.D. Glut: Do We Have Too Many Ph.D.’s?”, Ph.D. science graduates are being churned out at a faster rate that can be absorbed by the professional academic world.

Doctoral degree holders are not required to seek out positions in academia; however, this has been and still is the traditional career path for scientists. Many academic professors will not even discuss any other career path aside from the academic one, and entering industry is often looked up as “selling out”. As a result, many Ph.D. graduates are woefully unprepared for any kind of career that is outside of the academic scene. These Ph.D. graduates accept postdoctoral appointments with the understanding that they will last no longer than two or three years; however, because there are few real academic jobs, the postdoctoral appointments ends up lasting 8 to 10 years or even longer. During this time, the postdoctoral scientist receives low pay and usually no health insurance or retirement benefits.

As a result of this issue, I decided to take a different path. After completing three years of a postdoctoral appointment, I looked at industry as a viable career option. I was interviewed by several biotechnology companies in the area and hired almost immediately after applying to one of my top choices. Currently, I work at the same company that I was hired at over five years ago, have a great benefits package and receive a decent salary. I might one day consider going back to the academic world and doing research, but for the moment I am happy with my career decision.

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