Alternative careers for biologist?
December 4, 2005 3:48 PM   Subscribe

Alternative careers for biologist? I have reached a point that I absolutely HATE my new job (science teacher at a high school/first year). I was hoping that other posters could brainstorm or think of options that I have not thought about - I plan to do a lot of work (informational interviews to reading career alternative books) - but this post may give me new ideas! I am a bit worried as I frequently become bored with jobs and what I am looking for may not exist. I have a Ph.D. in a neuro field. I hated research but subsequently enjoyed teaching college courses (everything from intro biology to advanced courses, especially reading and discussing recent literature with students). My own interests that have evolved over the years although not in my field - I love anatomy. In grad school, I taught myself basic anatomy, enough to teach anatomy labs. I had a chance to teach human anatomy at a small college - loved working with cadavers, although I am not an anatomist. Taught comparative anatomy and loved that too - again, dissecting, looking at bones, etc. I enjoy reading about science (NY Times science section) to keeping up with what is new in the field (mental health, pharmacology, genetic studies) - a bit broad, but again, I don't want to do research. I am interested in psychiatric disorders - mainly because those close to me have been severely affected. Also really enjoyed psychopharmacology and neurochemistry in graduate school. I have also been interested in diseases (how do they work?). Finally, I do not want to work in development, but I feel passionate about world events especially in some of the African countries (i.e., Aids). I loved overseas a few years as a volunteer in Africa. I am not really a people person - very introverted/shy - although I did relate well to college students (connected through the material). I've been dissatisfied with high school teaching because (besides the fact that as a first year teacher, I have a wild class) - it does not seem to be intellectually challenging, it is riddled with emotions (=high school students), I miss the creativity and freedom, and most of my job no longer involves the field I love, biology. I actually want out of the job now but am trying to hold on until the end of the academic year. I am in my 30s. I am also committed to living in the New York city area (that is actually why I took this job). I would love to have free time for my other interests, whether it be museums, biking, reading or staring at the wall. Or maybe there is a job that incorporates other interests too?
posted by Wolfster to Work & Money (14 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Holy fuck, dude. You're me. Except for the "now I'm teaching HS Bio" part.

You're out of the research field, only a year now (sounds like) but that will make it hard to get back in. You might try looking for college teaching again, liberal arts school that focuses more on teaching and less (or not at all) on research. Sounds like you enjoyed it, as I do.

Unfortunately without a postdoc many of those opportunities are gone. Without being happy doing research, there goes a bunch of other options. Without being willing to move that makes it harder yet. And believe me (because I'm looking, right now) the job market sucks for a person with your skills. Sad but true. I know basically no recent grads who have had an easy time finding post-doctoral work, be it research, teaching, or whatever. Unless you did cancer research nobody's hiring.

(And please in the future make use of the "more inside" option...)
posted by caution live frogs at 3:59 PM on December 4, 2005

You're looking for a new job in biology that is neither research, medical practice, development or teaching?
I'm not sure there's much left.

I guess you could -
a) look for openings in anatomy, or in college level biology (that might be more satisfying for you than high-school). Since you don't seem to be on the research track, a liberal arts school or community college might be great for you.
b) Try to get a job as a research assistant (or senior researcher) in an anatomy / physiology lab. Although I'm not sure you want to do that, given your unlove of research. But it is science without the 80-hour weeks.
Actually, I know - you should go be an assistant to a coroner, or perhaps a forensic pathologist. You'd get bodies all day long.

That said, this may be your most important sentence:
I am a bit worried as I frequently become bored with jobs and what I am looking for may not exist.

So, try to look at the good side of all of these bits you hated (research, teaching) and find the common thread that you enjoyed. Let me say, though, that if you're not finding high-school teaching intellectually challenging, you may not be paying attention.
posted by metaculpa at 4:03 PM on December 4, 2005

Science/medical librarianship. Combines the science, the constant keeping up to date with new stuff, the broad range of interests AS WELL AS the lovely feeling of helping smart (usually nice) people. If you're interested, I might actually know of a position that's opening up. Email at the address in my profile.
posted by unknowncommand at 4:10 PM on December 4, 2005

Wow. You're like me, except that I left my neuro PhD in my first year to become a puzzle and games designer. Have you considered working for 'science advocacy' or 'public understanding of science' organisations? These range from museums to pop scientific magazines, or things like educational initiatives (like the FIRST robotics challenge). They can be a lot of fun, and mix science with actually meeting people and doing stuff in the real world.
posted by adrianhon at 4:16 PM on December 4, 2005 [2 favorites]

I know a guy who does contract work (research) for the EPA. He does have to do some lab work, but only after extensive work in the field (marine evnironment). I would check that out as much of his work involves the taking of specimens and basically performing autopsies on them.

I hope this helps because you sound like you would be a great research scientist if only it was more hands on and perhaps more adventurous (out in the field). That read as "more fun"!
posted by snsranch at 4:22 PM on December 4, 2005

try to make the best of the situation you have now. You still have half a school year left and if (when) your students start to pick up on how much you don't like your job, they will make it much worse. High school kids are good at noticing things like that. Also, see how they react if you decide to stop spoon feeding them and give them an opportunity to learn things for themselves. Let them design an experiment, or do a research project, rather than sitting and taking notes.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 4:36 PM on December 4, 2005

Science journalism, perhaps? C'mon, don't tell me you don't want to be the one at Nature to send back papers with the big red "REJECTED" stamp on them!
posted by greatgefilte at 5:37 PM on December 4, 2005

Bah, my brain's not working. I didn't mean to equate science journalism with editing a journal, only that those are two somewhat related fields you might want to look into.
posted by greatgefilte at 5:38 PM on December 4, 2005

Pursue your interest in anatomy; there is a real need for anatomists in post-secondary education in this country but very few grad students are interested in it. The job market is limited if you are not interested in teaching and there are few opportunities for research, but you have already covered those objections. This problem is mentioned here. As an aside, the dean pictured in the article used to be at my institution (The Medical College of Georgia).
posted by TedW at 6:59 PM on December 4, 2005

Science journalism/science writing is a great career. Why not check out NYU's Science and Environmental Reporting Program? It's not too late to apply for next year.
posted by cgs06 at 7:43 PM on December 4, 2005

When you say you "hate research" do you mean labwork? or do you mean the entire process of coming up with ideas, getting grants and carrying out the work? I did contract research for years- it was great in a lot of ways but I realized that what I really enjoy is problem solving and information synthesis and switched to applied ecology. It rocks. I also get to administer research funds sometimes which is interesting like research but you don't have to do any work! With a neuro/ anatomy background I'm sure you could switch to applied biology, I know one person with a background similar to yours who works as part of a team developing robotic limbs, another who works for the CDC tracking disease, one who does marine mammal research on diseases and one who is a forensic pathologist.

Beware of contract marine work if you have a life. Spending 6 months a year at sea is hell on relationships.
posted by fshgrl at 8:32 PM on December 4, 2005

There is a huge need for PhD level scientists in the legal field, either helping to patent drugs, medical devices, and techniques, or fighting against the same.
posted by falconred at 8:46 PM on December 4, 2005

I'm not sure what career advice I can offer to your individual case, but I can add another data point to the mix. While finishing my PhD in neurophysiology, I knew that academia was not for me. After graduating (mid 90's) I went into the pharmaceutical industry, managing clinical drug trials. I've been at it ever since! I will add, however, that it helps to be a bit of a "people person". Good luck!
posted by neurodoc at 8:50 PM on December 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

Most medical schools are hard up - really hard up - for good anatomy instructors. Every med school I've ever been at has used FMG's and recent graduates to supplement their anatomy teaching staff. You'd have to be good, though.

If you didn't insist on professor-level salary and an academic appointment, and you could provide some evidence of your ability to function at a high level in a teaching anatomy lab, I bet you could get a job and build it into a full time position over a year or two. You'd have to know a lot of anatomy, though. A working overview of general mammalian anatomy isn't enough - you need to know that the tendon of biceps brachii is intracapsular but extrasynovial, for instance.

Med students are good students, in general - fair intelligence, not too much drama, and they're mostly over the "I don't wanna study" hurdles you're dealing with in high school.

I would point out to you that if you don't want to do research in a particular field of biology, your Ph.D. in that field and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee in New York. You need to be able to demonstrate a skill set in order to get a job.

I also happen to share all of your interests, and I find that even working 60-80 hours a week I have time to indulge them.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:42 PM on December 5, 2005

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