What else can I do with my Ph.D. besides postdoc?
February 26, 2015 11:17 PM   Subscribe

I just defended my Ph.D. in a weird niche part of the natural sciences. The obvious path is to go on to do a postdoc and then a research or teaching career, and I'm taking some steps in that direction. On the other hand, if I was into doing the obvious thing I wouldn't have gotten a Ph.D. in a weird niche part of the natural sciences. What other jobs/careers/vocations should I look into?

I like learning stuff, obviously. I also love to build things, be on stage, improvise solutions to problems, meet new people, and visit interesting places. Harsh conditions are no barrier. Making the world better would be a plus. I can code well enough to get by and have been working on my machine shop skills. I know a little bit about a LOT of things.

I am applying to postdoc positions and I have some folks trying to recruit me for data science jobs at a tech company, but grad school has given me a bit of a blinkered perspective and I'm wondering what I might be missing. I realize that with a Ph.D. in geophysics and astrobiology, getting a research job at NASA or a teaching job at a university is the obvious thing to do. But I want to feel like I'm considering all the possible options. After all, before I started grad school I don't think I had ever realized that glaciology and astrobiology were actual fields of study.
posted by fermion to Work & Money (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of "quants" on Wall Street have PhDs, especially in math and physics.
posted by akk2014 at 5:03 AM on February 27, 2015

Museum of Natural History and Planetarium jobs?
posted by mareli at 5:06 AM on February 27, 2015

Best answer: Any interest in government? AAAS has policy fellowships that will put you in a congress critter's office for a year; that could lead to further roles as a policy consultant (on science policy in general, or advice on astrobio/geophysics), either internally or externally. There are also executive branch opportunities--OSTP employs a good number of people who advise the President on policy issues.

AAAS also has media fellowships, so you could go help people not make overblown/misinterpreted claims about research.
posted by Maecenas at 6:15 AM on February 27, 2015

I have a friend who got a PhD in Chemistry and then was a Presidential Management Fellow. She now works for the Department of Energy doing something promoting alternative energy, I think. That may be a little too desk-ridey for you.
posted by dismas at 6:34 AM on February 27, 2015

Best answer: Outside the Ivory Tower was a book that I read at a similar moment, and I found it helpful in determining which of my skills were broadly applicable.

I seem to know a lot of astros that work kind of parallel to an academic department rather than in it. They do things like academic computing.

It sounds like you're not fully burned out on academia itself, in which case I'd also mention academic core facilities and research support staff as a little-considered direction. That's what I went into after grad school and I found it to be 95% of the parts of school and idea of professorship I like, and lacking 95% of the parts I didn't like. I'm happy to give you details by MeMail if you're interested.

For whatever reason, you made me think of a friend who spent some time at the South Pole Research Station and loooovvved it. It seemed to be a great place for enthusiastic generalists.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:18 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You have a Ph.D. in geophysics and astrobiology? That's, like, the hottest possible combination of skills for the market right now, with exoplanets being all the rage... (e.g.)

Unless you're seriously sick of it, I suggest looking at postdocs with more enthusiasm - they're like three years of freedom to do real science without worrying about administrativa.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:21 AM on February 27, 2015

Do you have or can you learn any artistic skills? Your expertise could make you very good at concept art for sci-fi movies, TV shows, and video games, or illustrating books related to your fields.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:54 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Niche PhDs can be really valuable for narrow-interests nonprofit orgs. Do you have a particular interest that's represented by a nonprofit you like? If so, see if they're hiring. This is a really broad response, but it's how I ended up in my position now: working for the regulatory policy wing of an otherwise mission-driven 501(c)(3). People in positions like this interact with federal/national/international regulatory scientists and provide supplementary scientific advice, data analysis, and opinions on policies. It's pretty cool, and I'm out of the damn lab (thank heaven).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:56 AM on February 27, 2015

I'm not going to try to think of job fields that could use glaciology, because I hardly know what that is. But you know the skills you have, and the things you like to do: problem-solving, spatial reasoning and building, data-processing, image calibration, presenting technical information to funding agencies, whatever it is that you do best. Write up a list, and create a non-academic skills resume (it becomes almost a non-academic persona). Use that list to do a lot of keyword searches on various job boards, and see what's out there; it'll be a lot of reading and fishing, and may be a bit disheartening top see the very small percentage of jobs that seem relevant, but you'll have to wade through a lot to see if there's some niche job out there that you weren't expecting to find. Send that resume out as often as possible, along with a good (approachable, enthusiastic) cover letter to a lot of jobs in industries that are looking for scientists. Even if they say they're looking for a particular field that isn't you, apply (assuming the ad looks interesting). You can use a fairly general resume (you'll probably end up with a few different versions by the time you're done) if you tailor the cover letter.
posted by aimedwander at 11:58 AM on February 27, 2015

You could add popular or public education to your pure academic pursuits. I've heard that guys like Sagan suffered in their careers for doing that, but not everyone does. Degrasse Tyson and Sanjay Gupta are doing OK. Also the Freakonomics guys.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:22 PM on February 27, 2015

Response by poster: Oh, policy, I hadn't really thought of that. I should look into one of those fellowships. Or a nonprofit.

tchemgrrl, I have met many of my favorite people in Antartica. :) Maybe I should revisit going there in a non-academic context.

Jacqueline, I think I am better than average at arting, but not enough to bootstrap my way into doing it as a career.
posted by fermion at 8:29 PM on February 27, 2015

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