Job path for a bioengineering PhD?
January 8, 2015 11:19 AM   Subscribe

I need a job/career. I have a PhD in bioengineering. I spent that time analyzing brain data in Matlab. Then I got an intense programming job in Manhattan. I lasted for 10 months: It was so aversive that I worked too slowly and finally had to resign. What do you do? Do you like it? What should I do now?

If my situation looks vaguely like yours, I would love to know what you're doing now and how you feel about it.


I've done programming in "waterfall," "academic," and "agile" environments. I've never really enjoyed programming, except for fun on my own time. "Academic" programming was the best, though: scripty, data-mungy, single-person jobs, where the people you're working with don't know enough to micro-manage. I'm concerned that if I take another programming job I'll just shut down and be unable to perform again. (Does this resonate with anyone? What are the next action steps you'd take if you were me?)


I have curriculum design and teaching experience in my distant past. I taught many hours of programming to smart junior high school kids, and it was fairly rewarding. I'm wondering if I should try for a non-tenure-track teaching job at a university. Are you doing this? How do you feel about it? (What are the next action steps you'd take if you were me?)


I've been steadily writing a fairly technical blog for the past 18 months. It's over 50,000 words, but it's NSFW, and I couldn't show it to an employer. (The topics are meditation and sex from a neuroscience perspective, with lots of graphic language and swearing.) I only have a couple writing samples from my PhD. (I didn't publish.) On the blog, I have a small but dedicated and interactive audience, but I feel very insecure about my writing speed, syntax, and grammar. I do, however, love writing, and I feel like I could do it forever. (At least I do when I can control the deadline, topic, and length.) Are you in a writing job? How much experience did you have going in? How do you feel about it? (What are the next action steps you'd take if you were me?)


I have started selling self-created info products on my blog. I made a couple hundred dollars in the first month but then it slowed down. I feel like I can't really turn business knobs too much without destroying the intellectual and moral integrity of the blog that has made writing it so worthwhile. Like, I can't "sell out." But, I have created this thing that has demonstrated that it can bring in some money. I'm curious if anyone is in a similar position and can comment.


Did you take the leap into the non-professional world? What are you doing now? Would you do it again if you had a second chance?

Any insights or personal experiences would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
posted by zeek321 to Work & Money (5 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know anything about bio-engineering or programming or a good career path for you, but here's an idea for the self employment paragraph you wrote: Instead of advertising/selling the self-created products directly on your blog, make a separate website for them. You can have an ad and a page about the products on your blog, but keep them separate, and only write about the products once in a while when it is relevant and to remind your readers about them. This way you can keep the blog as it is without destroying its integrity, and then promote your other website to try to make money.
posted by at 11:25 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have you looked at "data science" jobs, rather than straight programming jobs?

Are you interested in scientific journalism or editing?
posted by yarntheory at 12:17 PM on January 8, 2015

I have a PhD in neuroscience, and have done/tried many of the jobs that you are considering. I will share what I know about the various jobs below:

I will try to answer your questions and highlight the things that I would have wanted to know, but these things might apply/not apply to you. So if you have any questions, want to discuss further, feel free to memail me because I can't possibly but every related idea into this.

Teaching non-tenure track/tenure-track university jobs. I was able to get several offers (both tenure and non-tenure track) during the last year of my PhD. I did teach at the university level at non-ten track jobs for 2 years. I accepted the jobs that gave me a chance to teach everything from intro level 101 classes to advanced courses, included students at the masters level. How I felt about it - I really enjoyed the classes because I had a lot of freedom, found it challenging, had a chance to dive into everything that interested me in my field, etc. The big caveat for me, however, was that these jobs are often in the middle of nowhere (well, what I considered nowhere). If you want to do this (next steps), what helped me was poking around the Chronicles for Higher Education (to know what to expect at the interviews), along with doing both a detailed CV plus a teaching statement (a page or two), and preparing a teaching demo (some wanted them, some did not care). One more thing - I was told by a few universities during the interview process that what made my application stand out was that I had taught 1 course on my own, which was atypical for most grad students in the sciences. So if you think that you want to do this and have not taught a class - I would do whatever it takes to try to grab a course this next semester, even if it is adjunct (believe it or not, even Craigslist New York advertises for this at the 90th hour, right before the semester begins). I started applying for faculty positions around this time of year all the way until the summer. What you should realize, too, is that ... even if you do well at every point (get invited to phone interview, get invited on campus) is that it can take MONTHS even though you are their #1 or part of their top candidates. Since it sounds like you are open to non-tenure track, I had luck when applying to what were called "lecturer" positions - big name schools had these, and the idea was that you would teach several sections of 101 type courses.

Writing - I had absolutely no experience with writing, but only the background in science. What I found out was that 1) some agencies wanted people with a background in science + the degree, 2) they gave you a writing test (an easy type writing test, read a review article and/or a few primary articles and write a paragraph for a lay person or an abstract based on what you read). There are several medical communication companies in NYC (and in other parts of the country, too). I actually have a list and know a few companies that would hire people with relatively new PhDs/postdocs - feel free to memail, I will share company names/or the list and you can contact companies. I don't want to type out how to prepare for the test again, but I posted a detailed answer here. How do I feel about it - I like some aspects a great deal because you get to dive into up-to-date new info (ie, you get the data from clinical trials and write the paper) and/or listen to specialists in the field. I will say that there is another side to it - it can be grueling at agencies with the hours. If you wanted to do this, study and prepare (just a little, a few weeks, not more than that) for writings tests. Then send out your CV to several companies with a brief email (you want to be a medical writer/scientific associate).

I don't know if this will help you, but ask metafilter gave me several suggestions for possible jobs with a biology PhD several years ago). Some of them seemed cool/interesting to me (ie, clinical trials, game design, etc.).
posted by Wolfster at 12:56 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

My PhD was in biomedical image analysis and ultrasound physics. Got completely disillusioned with academia towards the end but I had no other concrete ideas. A friend who taught at a private school mentioned they were looking for an AP physics teacher so I thought I'd give it a shot (I had no certification or experience, but this wasn't a problem with a PhD) and 3 years later I'm still loving it. Rewarding, challenging, fun, but also I have a great work-life balance - the pay is good, the holidays are great, and I don't have a huge workload at evenings/weekends. You mentioned you found teaching the high school kids rewarding so maybe that's an option for you, instead of university teaching?
posted by hibbersk at 8:29 PM on January 8, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone. Still watching this thread.
posted by zeek321 at 6:50 AM on January 9, 2015

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