Escape from QA
July 15, 2009 7:59 PM   Subscribe

A young microbiologist feels stifled & unsatisfied at his current job and seeks something more creative and people-oriented.

So, about me: I got a BS in microbiology 3 years ago from a major Midwestern university. I was willing to take most any job, with the feeling that "I'll figure this out as I go along." I eventually took a job in the medical device field, where I do quality assurance for a medical device sterilizer. I've figured out the job, and I've figured out that it isn't for me

I don't mind the job; it's a small facility, so I have a lot of responsibility (I'm the only QA on staff,) and it's remote from corporate, so I have a lot of freedom (my boss lives 500 miles away.) I'm tasked with figuring out strategies & solutions for whatever issues arise, and it helps to know my micro & work closely with another microbiologist. (I feel like this is a job I would appreciate more after 30 years of intense work.)

However, my job is largely administrative, as I have to maintain a quality system and all its documentation, audits, etc. I understand that's part of any job, but it's soul-sucking to be forced to care about proper documentation.

So the pros & cons of my current gig are:

Pros: Lots of freedom & autonomy, good pay, strong corporation, problem solving, power.

Cons: Minimal human contact, boredom, the majority of my tasks are administrative, I feel as if a main QA task is to be paid to worry over minutae, the end product of my work is more paperwork, corporate demands are not in line with what's best for my small site.

In short, the job isn't very satisfying and doesn't play to my strengths, so I've been thinking about getting out. However, I don't know where to go or what to do. I would like a job that's more people-oriented, creative, and (maybe) that has a quantifiable end product.

My favorite jobs in the past were working as a historical presenter and as a lab TA. Those hit on my strengths & passions, which are history, imparting knowledge, and interpersonal banter.

Naturally, teaching is the big, flashing neon sign in front of me. Ideally, I would get a gig as a professor, but I'm not sure what I would go back to school for; I struggled with science in college and research doesn't interest me, and spending half a decade or more pursuing a history master's/PhD seems like one heck of a gambit.

So, short of a return to school, what are some careers I should consider? I'm a people person, I like creative banter/brainstorming, I have a science & corporate background, I'm fairly creative, I love explaining complex subjects in an accessible way, and I enjoy writing.

Perhaps more importantly, where do I look for these jobs? Places like CareerBuilder always feel like such a wash, and it's hard to find corporate websites besides the biggest names in the field. I work in such a small place that I have almost no contacts, and those that I do have are within the medical device field, which I might want to escape from.

Careers I've considered are teaching, science/medical writing, and maybe something at a museum. I know next to nothing about any of these.

HiveMind, can you help point me in the right direction?


I'm a microbiologist with a stifling corporate job that leaves me alone in a cubicle 8 hours a day. All I do is paperwork-y, administrative stuff. I want something where I can relate to people, maybe teach, and definitely be creative. I want to know what careers will satisfy my science-y creative needs. What careers should I consider, and where should I look for employment through them?

Basically, my dream job is a hybrid of Bill Nye, David Letterman, and a blogger.
posted by Turkey Glue to Work & Money (3 answers total)
I know you said you don't want to go back to school, but I would strongly recommend that you consider getting your teaching credentials, and thus consider high school teaching. One of my good friends left our PhD program for the Masters in Secondary Ed program, and she has become a very happy, incredibly successful high school teacher. It provides her with the opportunity to share her (absolute boatloads) of arcane science knowledge and interact with people, which it sounds like you'd enjoy immensely. Depending on where you're willing to live, this is a highly employable field (that said, if you're determined to live in one of a few metropolitan areas, you might be out of luck).

Alternatively, it's possible that an MS in (micro?)biology might be a good thing for you, if you go to a school where you'd have the options to explore science writing. It's a difficult field to break into, and it involves a fair amount of time doing internships, but it might provide you with the experience of teaching others. On the other hand, it won't involve much interaction with other folks.

One of the career paths I considered while an undergraduate was in government. There are scientific advisory positions available (depending on your location, of course) that involve a) keeping abreast of current scientific literature, b) explaining this knowledge to people in decision-making positions and c) writing briefs on the subject, and d) advising on governmental scientific policy. This might be a great synthesis of your desire to know your field and educate others. My guess, though, is that you'd have to have the stomach for a high rate of failure in these jobs (where failure = science falling prey to public opinion).

Finally, talk to the career counseling office at the university from which you graduated. They should be both able and willing to help alumnae at any point in their careers. This will help you both discover new networking opportunities and also to take advantage of the opportunities already available to you.
posted by amelioration at 8:31 PM on July 15, 2009

I spend a lot of time with diagnostic companies (mainly at the corporate end) and I am often surprised how little 'good strong' microbiology input there is at that level and how remote the first good microbiologist is from the where decisions are made (500 miles in your case?). I am not proposing that you start shaking the boat by trying to get into 'corporate' which, in all probability, will be fruitless.

There is probably a gap in the market for an industry/tech/corp/microbiology blog especially in the world of scary bug stories. This should get you noticed in a sphere outside of your immediate cocoon (remember to follow your company's guidelines on blogging etc.) and most importantly broaden your expertise rather than narrow it to a sliver of microbilogy QA.

Send me an mefi message if you want me to go on....
posted by london302 at 4:43 AM on July 16, 2009

Sounds like you would be a great science librarian at an academic library.
posted by booknerd at 12:32 PM on July 16, 2009

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