What the heck am I qualified for?
September 17, 2008 7:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning on leaving my high-pressure hard science PhD program for something that won't make me hate life quite so much. The problem is that I really don't want to go back to biotech/pharma industry, especially without a PhD, unless totally necessary to support my family. So what am I good for?

Some background:
I've stopped really caring about my research, which makes the long hours and financial crunch pretty unbearable. I already have an M.S. (organic chemistry) and a few years of low-level biotech experience post-undergrad (not much in the way of useful skills acquired, but I can B.S. that a little if I needed a QA/QC job). I've put some thought into teaching, which is something I enjoy and get good reviews for at the undergrad level, but I don't know how well I'd do in a high school. So I'd like to have some other ideas in mind, and it's hard to know what else is out there for the scientifically-trained when you've been on the same path for the better part of a decade.

Anything at which a person can make a reasonable living with my kind of background (or minimal retraining) is fair game, but bonus points for jobs that are outdoors, are family friendly, and/or help make the world a better place.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Public Health makes the world a better place! I bet you'd be well suited for some environmental and occupational health units at a county or state health department (which involves a fair amount of chemistry in your field and could involve some outdoor work). If you were open to a little retraining, you could get an MPH in EOHS, or possibly biostatistics/epidemiology if you wanted to put your pharma background to good use.
posted by j-dawg at 7:52 AM on September 17, 2008

There's a lot of opportunity in non-profits and universities for non-research careers. Membership organizations and foundations look for bona-fide scientists to work as grantwriters, grants administrators (giving away the money!), PR/Communications, program development (like working with the organizing committee to put together scientific conferences), and development (negotiating with potential sponsors on what their money will fund.) Your expertise need not be a perfect match for the goals of the org/foundation -- look into disease-specific orgs like those for diabetes or cancer or Alzheimer's.

In universities, you can look into administration positions in Offices of Sponsored Programs, and Offices of Graduate Studies/Offices of Postdoctoral Affairs. Look at smaller, liberal arts colleges for teaching positions.

How far are you from your PhD? Any chance you could stick it out to get the letters behind your name while directing your networking efforts toward the so-called alternative careers? It'll increase your bargaining power tremendously. The organization for which I work attaches nearly shamanistic powers to the designation.

/manager of career development programs for graduate/postdoc researchers for a professional association
posted by desuetude at 8:02 AM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Smaller liberal arts colleges don't pay well, but they're out there and many of them do hire instructors and non-tenure track (i.e., no PhD) faculty. I doubt you could support your family on what you would make, but it'd be better than a grad school stipend.

Could you be a research scientist? There are plenty of academic jobs in this area which would probably be more family-friendly than research scientist jobs in pharma / bio-tech. Maybe you don't care about *your* research, but you are happy to take direction to help out others on *their* research? If you're done with academia, this probably isn't worth exploring. But it pays pretty okay, and has flexible hours.
posted by zpousman at 8:29 AM on September 17, 2008

The people that left my wife's program have mostly gone into sales for lab and pharmaceutical companies.

Water and wastewater engineering firms and municipal treatment plants have a need for chemists as well. You might have to take some supplementary courses, but a masters in organic chem should do you just fine.

What's your primary focus in your PhD program?
posted by electroboy at 8:32 AM on September 17, 2008

Do you like writing? You might want to seriously consider becoming a journalist. I'm a writer myself and I can tell you that science writers with a solid understanding and background in actual science are definitely few and far between. (Most learn on the job...)

I actually know a few reporters who cover science that worked in labs for years, decided that ultimately it wasn't interesting/exciting/fulfilling enough to make a career and chose to cover science instead.

And, as far as not having a background in journalism is concerned, depending on your writing abilities you probably wouldn't need to go back to school. Many reporters learn how to be reporters on the job too!

The only real hurdle to jump is that it can take several years and lots of hard work before you're earning a decent living. But at least you've found an industry that is akin to a continuing education and an opportunity to keep up with the latest advancements in your field of choice.
posted by ebeeb at 9:59 AM on September 17, 2008

There is high demand in the law field for people with expertise in technical, scientific, engineering, and similar areas. Not saying you should go to law school necessarily. But maybe there's a market for paralegals or assistants with technical backgrounds. Not sure if it's the case or not, but maybe something to look into? Oh, this is assuming you're in the US. Don't know about other places. Searching the internets, it seems there is at least some demand for paralegals with technical backgrounds. The requirements, legal or practical, for becoming a paralegal will range from pretty easy to a fair amount of extra schooling based on what jurisdiction you live in.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 10:18 AM on September 17, 2008

That reminds me, patent attorneys with advanced degrees are in high demand and do pretty well. Does require a few more years of schooling, unfortunately.
posted by electroboy at 1:10 PM on September 17, 2008

I am a Water Resources Engineer, and much like most other in my field, have have a good grasp on the physics side of the problems I deal with. I suck at chemistry though, and know absolutely nothing about biology.

You could probably get a very very good job in an engineering and/or environmental consulting firm or government agency (local municipal water board, state DEQ or DNR, or Federal EPA). You are well qualified for such work as water/wastewater treatment, or contaminent fate(/transport).

If you have any questions on these careers, just let me know.
posted by warriorengineer at 2:44 PM on September 17, 2008

fuck that real job shit! why not wine/beermaking? enology/viticulture is basically biochemistry/organic chemistry, you get to hang out with fun people, and get wasted all the time! I'm a biochemist, and all my friends who got sick of the sweat shop that is the biotech industry fled for wineries (or academia, but I guess you are already there), and they are digging on it. Look around in the california central valley, like some vincent gallo winery, or even budweiser. You get to live close to san francisco, and the money is pretty sick nasty. Try places like santa barbara/santa ynez, napa, sonoma, or any other part of norcal, for that matter.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:55 PM on September 17, 2008

Mrs. Princelyfox says:

I'm three months away from defending my PhD despite having thought about quiting every week for the past six years. Really the PhD just means you are stubborn and have a high pain tolerance. I've looked into teaching at a private school and the federal government. The patent office always needs people with technical skills. Also check out Piled Higher and Deeper's job site. Read through the comic's archives as well because it will make you feel better. You aren't alone.
posted by princelyfox at 6:27 PM on September 22, 2008

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