So long, and thanks for all the genetically modified mice
June 9, 2012 7:37 AM   Subscribe

What non-academic career paths are open to a freshly-minted biology PhD?

My wife recently completed an Ivy-league PhD in biology (yay!), specifically researching the biochemistry and physiology of mammalian reproduction. Academia is the standard career path for her field: A few years of long hours, low pay, and stress as a post-doc, and then into the grueling life of a tenure-track professor.

She doesn't want that life. She's burnt out on academia and thinking about industry research jobs, but we don't even know where to start looking.

So, Metafilter, please help us brainstorm: What jobs might be well-suited to a freshly-minted biology PhD? The obvious candidates are biotech and pharmaceuticals, but where do we look for those jobs? Am I correct in thinking that most industry jobs will also require a stint as a post-doc, and if so, how does the experience of an industrial post-doc differ from an academic?

Other considerations: Some government jobs may be off-limits, as she is a U.S. non-citizen permanent resident. Policy-making in public health, food safety or medicine fields, consulting with a science background, or jobs related to fertility clinics are also welcomed. We're expecting to relocate, so anywhere in the U.S. is fair game.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl to Work & Money (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
She should absolutely apply at the big consultancies, like McKinsey, Bain, and BCG. I know that at least a few MDs and hard science PhDs were in the last incoming class at McK, for instance.

There will be long hours and stress on that track, but also quite a bit of money. Not sure which of the three is the true sticking point, but worth considering.
posted by downing street memo at 7:41 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Network network network! Although academia may be the "standard" career path for people in her program, she is absolutely not the only one to be burnt out. Maybe some people made it to a postdoc and *then* burnt out, so she doesn't know about them right now, but I would be shocked if she didn't know some people who were already working in industry.

Other things biology PhDs I know have done: policy work, medical/scientific writing (either in the pharmaceutical/biotech industry or for scientific journals), working on patents for pharmaceutical companies... Those are just people I know, and I only worked in an academic lab for two years. If somehow she doesn't know anyone who's already in the fields she's interested in, she must know someone who knows someone in these fields. So ask them!
posted by mskyle at 7:48 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi, I dropped out of a biology phD with a masters and got a second masters in library and information science, with a focus on data curation and data management. The dual degrees made me unique. There are very few LIS folks with hard science backgrounds, and working with science data is a huge growth area in LIS. I basically had my choice of jobs when I finished. This is not the case for librarians in general, but those with science and data backgrounds are in serious demand. Actually before I finished, i got the awesome job i have now. Feel free to memail me if you want more details.
posted by rockindata at 8:36 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Depending on her specific skill set there are likely to be job opportunities in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Pharmaceutical companies need scientists to design and run assays, culture cells, do biochemistry and molecular biology work, etc.
posted by imagineerit at 8:46 AM on June 9, 2012

There are lots of opportunities for this type of person.

Management consulting firms: McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, etc.

Investment banks

Pharmaceutical firms

Policy think thanks

Silicon Valley (they love PhDs, especially quantitative-oriented ones. I don't know how quant-oriented your wife's biology PhD is, but maybe it is...)

posted by dfriedman at 9:37 AM on June 9, 2012

I've definitely seen ads that want a PhD in bio at Silicon Valley companies. Most of the ones I've seen want some quantitative skills, but that's because I'm a math PhD looking for jobs for myself so you shouldn't generalize from my experience.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:20 AM on June 9, 2012

Boston and Metrowest is another hub to look in....try
for specific positions...

I went direct from the PhD to industry research. The first position was fairly crappy but got my foot in the door and I have moved upward.. networking and concentrating on gaining marketable skills (even in that crappy position) were helpful. If she does end up going to the postdoc with thoughts of moving to industry eventually, I'd suggest looking through job postings and get an idea of what skills are 'hot'....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 3:01 PM on June 9, 2012

Research Triangle Park is home to many biotech, pharm, and other PhD-friendly companies. The area is also far cheaper to live in than Boston or the SF Bay Area. I work at a local small biotech company and have lived in the area since 2008 - feel free to MeMail me for more info.
posted by Jorus at 1:59 AM on June 10, 2012

Oh, and academic vs industrial postdoc (I have completed the former and am in the middle of the latter):

Academic postdocs last until you get a better academic position or move for funding. The why and how of this can be vague and not knowing what to do can lead to serious angst.

Industry postdocs seem to have more defined goals as far as what needs to be done. (Get used to the word "deliverables.")
posted by Jorus at 2:03 AM on June 10, 2012

Have you looked into Governement jobs with US Dept of Forrestry, USDA or NIH?

Here's the link to, the clearing house for all of the federal governement postings.

Applying for a federal government job is a completely different undertaking than applying for a public sector job. I will say though, once you're in, it's AMAZING. Great benefits, opportunities to move, good pay and secure as hell. My Dad has retired as a therapist from the federal governemnt, and he any my mom lived abroad for a decade and THEN retired. They make more money now, between pensions and SSA, than they did when working.

So if anything appeals, get a book or two, and read up on the process.

Be prepared to wait, eventually something will come through and it will be awesome!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:02 AM on June 10, 2012

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