Giving up on research. What next?
October 29, 2011 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Recent bioscience graduate is unsure what to do with his life. Science writing a possibility. Suggestions?

I recently graduated with a top Biochemistry degree from a good UK university.

I'm currently doing getting some unpaid experience in an academic lab but I've already got a fair amount of experience now (including a summer stint in a lab abroad) and I'm realising that it's not for me. The work is pretty dull, and in between database curation I do a few PCRs. I'm not enjoying that lab environment, and all my experience considered, I'm planning on abandoning any plans of going into research.

I'm deeply interested in science, but maybe not in actually doing it. It's too slow-paced and solitary a life. I care about science, but I want to work with a team to solve interesting problems, and I want to create. I've not found those needs satisfied from the experience I've had of research labs.

Science writing is something of a forte of mine, and I have experience with writing for science blogs and with my alma mater's student paper, so I have something of a portfolio. I plan on getting experience in scientific publishing, and hopefully in science journalism, but are these avenues dead-ends? Most high-up science publishing jobs seem to demand specific PhDs (something I'm not interested in getting), and for all I know science journalism is a dying industry. Is there limited room for career development in this field?

I'm struggling to find direction and to know what routes are open to me, let alone which ones I might want to take. A recent diagnosis of depression is making it hard for me to think clearly about this. As I see it, my next steps are to apply for positions with London-based science publishing houses (and there are jobs going) and find my feet in that world.

tl;dr: It is too early to write off a career in research? Am I barking up the wrong tree by wanting to pursue science publishing/writing? What other sectors should a recent bioscience grad be looking at? A friend, for example, said it recently occurred to him that I should start coding. I'm taking that advice seriously and plan on learning to code part-time, but those are the sorts of suggestions I need—careers advice from out-of-left-field; quirky occupations I wouldn't normally think of but would appeal to an analytical, somewhat-creative mind and a need to be working on a team project.

Throwaway email:

Anonymous because of details about mental illness and my current employer.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could get trained in a dedicated science writing program. I know people who did this and they have been very successful
posted by procrastination at 2:03 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

It is too early to write off a career in research?

...I want to work with a team to solve interesting problems, and I want to create.

You've been working in the wrong lab.

You pretty much exactly described my job at a (very well funded) infectious diseases lab in a hospital-affiliated research institute in the U.S. for the last two years (with a bachelor's in biochemistry at just under USD 40K a year; I'm in grad school as of two months ago so I can eventually work on my own projects, not someone else's). My job was solving interesting problems. Problems that no-one else had solved, or even faced, before (yep, definition of research). Sometimes, I loved going home and just doing the dishes because it was something so simple, so straightforward, and you would see the results right away, after a day of mentally-exhausting work.

Collaboration with my team defined so much of what I did, too. I spent large parts of my day talking to other scientists, experts in their respective fields, about how to solve these problems, and I miss the hell out of it right now. Perhaps it's the lab you've been working in, perhaps it's your depression affecting the way you perceive your world (and if it is, you won't be happy regardless of what you do for a living), but if the above-quoted sentence it how you feel, you should give research another chance. Science writing involves neither of those things.
posted by halogen at 3:04 PM on October 29, 2011

As it looks like you want to brain storm at the end of your question, What other sectors should a recent bioscience grad be looking at?, I'm going throw in how I did my brain storming with the same goals (biology, no research). I did quite a bit of research, too (a semester as an undergrad, as a Research Assistant a few years later, and then in grad school), and it was always too slow for me and I never grew to enjoy it. I've run across a lot of people who felt the same and left academia, too.

Anywho, for the random ideas, you may find something useful here (my first ask meta question, "Alternative careers for a biologist". I had a similar ask meta question years ago,although some of the answers are tailored to me by the posters who replied. As another resource, I read through "Alternative Careers in Science: Leaving the Ivory Tower," although it is for someone with a grad degree. However, I found it really useful because they described the typical day at work, and when I read it I had a good idea as to what work environments that I liked and disliked. It helped me generate ideas and I came back to the idea of science writing/medical writing.

As for science writing, I'm just throwing some fields that you may not be aware of and you can research a bit more to see if you are interested in it or not. One of these fields in particular is medical writing,ultimately for a pharma client but at a medical communications company. Now I really enjoy it because I definitely keep up to date with a therapeutic area, learn new material, and sometimes talk to and work with leaders in the world for these areas. I do not think these areas are in danger, as I've even had clients from the UK.If you are really interested in finding out more, it probably would be useful to hear from people on your side of the pond (e.g. European Medical Writers Association). I'm not sure how "creative" it would get, but if you do the writing, you can work on material that will be used in a conference, CD, or online. If you play your cards right, you can also specialize in areas within medical writing,only if you want to though.

I asked a previous science and medical writing question a few yrs ago, too, which also had answers which may be useful to you. One more field that may interest you, by the way (although you will have to find people there who do it), when I was doing info interviews with science and medical writers, I found that there were writing positions at universities; some of these pple I talked to would talk to PIs at the university, summarize their research in lay people terms, and then published in a news paper. To be honest, the job and fielded fun.

Good luck and feel free to memail me, although my responses may be US-centric and I will not know the field as well in your part of the world.

On preview (rereading your question), I do need to be honest and say that there is little to no "teamwork" in what I do, but it may be because it was not what I wanted, so I built a nonteam-work world. One of the early med com companies that I worked at did do teamwork, but to be honest, I think it was inefficient, but YMMV and other companies may have different practices. I also strongly believe (after doing research in grad school) that researchers who succeed will absolutely work with other researchers and collaborate - if you don't, the likelihood of succeeding is low. You may want to talk to other PIs or grad students if they are available if the team thing is really important to you.
posted by Wolfster at 6:20 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have worked in both Quality Assurance and Manufacturing in bio-tech/bio-pharm manufacturing. My roles have all involved a large amount of writing, scientific investigations, cross-functional teams (engineering, scientists, manufacturing, &c.), as well as writing Standard Operating Procedures, training people, troubleshooting.

If that sounds interesting to you, Memail me and I can be more specific. I will, of course, maintain your anonymity.
posted by kamikazegopher at 2:59 PM on October 30, 2011

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