What's an ex-scientist, soon-to-be-ex-teacher to do?
January 4, 2019 1:40 AM   Subscribe

I am a high school science teacher who is (sadly) falling out of love with the profession. I'm trying to figure out what jobs could match my skills that I haven't been considering. 'What color is your parachute' style sites are not helping, so I'm hoping for the patience and guidance of metafilter for this snowflake. Feel free to skip to the end if you don't want all the details.

First Career: Molecular Biology Research Scientist
I started as a research scientist, including several paid internships, a Fulbright fellowship, and completing 2 years of a molecular biology PhD at a prestigious institution. I loved science, but I felt I had to leave for a few reasons.
(1) I didn't feel like my research field, though interesting, would really benefit people (I sometimes think I might be a scientist still if I'd been researching climate change or infectious disease)
(2) I was frustrated by the lack of structure. I was overseeing a project and held accountable by weekly meetings with my mentor, and I wasted a lot of time. I am more productive a job has a schedule and routines.

Second Career: High School Biology and Computer Science Teacher
I changed to high school science teaching, and it has been amazing for so many things, I have been doing it for 6 years now, first 5 at a no-excuses style charter school in Chicago and now at a pretty high-functioning CPS school. I get to be creative every day in my lesson design and how I approach the curriculum, I get to be a scientist in my classroom, I get to be social, I'm held to a VERY STRICT schedule, and everyday I know that my work was meaningfully beneficial to the world.
(1) I'm an introvert, and the emotional labor of teaching does not work well for me. I cannot manage interactions with humans after school days, not even my husband. I also cannot manage hobbies or exercise after an emotional day of teaching. I am just too psychically exhausted to do anything but watch TV and drink alcohol to help keep me from feeling anxiety about teaching again tomorrow. It makes me feel like a non-person.
(2)The schedule is too up-and-down for me - I hate the manic schoolyears and the dead breaks. I get terribly depressed and anxious on winter and spring breaks.

Third Career: ?

I've been considering doing what it seems like a lot of people are doing and attending a coding bootcamp - I teach AP computer science and really enjoy teaching it, and really loved programming in the past when I had write short scripts for various tasks I was doing in my genomics lab. I definitely remember the thrill of solving interesting problems with coding.

It'd be nice if there was a way to weasel my way into scientific research again in a lab I found more clearly beneficial, but I don't know what to do with that idea short of applying to graduate programs, which I DO NOT want to do.

MS in Molecular/Cell Biology; BA in Biology; MAT in Science Teaching
Have publications and conference presentations for both science work and teaching work

schedules/routines built into the workday; opportunities to be visionary and creative; ways to feel productive daily; opportunities to help people or provide feedback; opportunities to speak and share ideas; connection to science is a plus; opportunities to investigate and research (!!)

feeling like I am a part of something evil (basically most anything for-profit); feeling like I am a part of something stupid or pointless; complete inflexibility in scheduling (like teaching, where it feels like the world will end if I need to go to the doctor)

Don't Care:
salary, to a certain extent (I make $64k now and wouldn't want to dip below $40k unless I was doing part-time)

So, based on this....
- what career alternatives to teaching could reasonably exist for me? (I live in Chicago)
- would a coding bootcamp be a good option for someone like me?
- are there alternate teaching environments I haven't been considering?
posted by thelastpolarbear to Work & Money (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Patent examination, specialised in biotech stuff? I don't know whether the USPO in Chicago trains entry-level people but it sounds like a pretty good match for you.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 3:26 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]

schedules/routines built into the workday; opportunities to be visionary and creative; ways to feel productive daily; opportunities to help people or provide feedback; opportunities to speak and share ideas; connection to science is a plus; opportunities to investigate and research (!!)

I'm probably only advocating this because I went down this route as a former teacher and researcher myself but perhaps you might be interested in data science/business intelligence/etc.? It can definitely be creative if you get into the analyst/visualization side rather than the developer side. And of course you're utilizing facts to provide people guidance on making decisions that could actually result in something positive.

You could work with nonprofits and the like to use research and what not to actual make an impact but you don't necessarily have to be front facing in the process if you're people fatigued. It's the sexy "new" tech job (well, not so new anymore), but the data bubble doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Almost all companies and institutions seem to be creating data related positions.

I don't know if I recommend bootcamps...I haven't really been able to find any data regarding gainful employment as a result of completing one. Seems as though universities offer degrees and certificate programs that are up to snuff now, way more affordable, and seem to have more clout to employers. But to be honest, there are so many data related positions to be filled that companies are practically throwing them at me. Chicago is definitely not void of them.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:10 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]

Also data scientists/analysts can earn 70k+, way more if you become a hardcore machine learning wonk.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:15 AM on January 4

I suspect you would like teaching at the community college level, which is a different beast than teaching in high school or at a university. IMO, it hits all your likes, and none of your dislikes (unless you go the for-profit school route.)

You could do a semester as an adjunct, to get a taste of what it's like.

There are currently two adjunct positions advertised in computer information systems at City Colleges of Chicago, one at Daley and one at Truman. (Sorry - couldn't figure out how to link to those job descriptions directly.) You could qualify for those due to your work experience, even though your master's is in a different area, although it will depend on the specific classes they're looking to staff.

You would also qualify to teach anything specifically related to your master's, if you wanted to go that route.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:25 AM on January 4 [10 favorites]

I cannot emphasize how in-demand people with bioinformatics skills are right now. If you try out coding, like it, and can gain some proficiency, then you can walk into any University or research institute and get a job.
posted by chrisamiller at 5:35 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]

How about managing a lab at a university? You have the education and experience to do this in various types of labs. Or clinical research coordinator also at a university, here's one such job at Northwestern.
posted by mareli at 6:03 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]

A lab tech/staff scientist in a lab doing work you find meaningful could be a good fit. Grown folks getting paid have a lot more structure than grad students. In a university environment, lot of the job involves training students to be productive researchers, so to a PI paying attention, your skills would be a huge boon. But it still involves a lot less intensive social interaction than classroom teaching, so I don't think it would use you up to nearly the same extent.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:21 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]

Along the lines of what mareli suggests, look at other roles at colleges and universities. I used to work at an R1 university doing Research Development, which is basically helping professors get grants but not the actual grant writing part. I know Northwestern has those type of jobs. I knew people who did undergrad research coordination, department grant management, student advising, and lots more. Just browse through the jobs listings! College jobs tend to have sane work schedules and good benefits, if slightly lower pay.
posted by wsquared at 6:27 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]

Hey! I teach in a polytechnic, sort of a community college/ trade school/ university hybrid. I gather it’s less intense than high school teaching, and pays better. A masters is required.

If you’re out of the teaching game, I’m going to put in “science education researcher”. There’s a lot of research and money going into better understanding science learning. Here’s a (badly formatted) link to what UBC is doing right now https://open.ubc.ca/the-science-education-initiative-handbook/
posted by Valancy Rachel at 6:33 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]

I will caution that in my experience any research position (e.g. bioinformatics, at least in academia) is going to run into the problem of lack of structure, although theres a little more in the sense that a lot of the job can be setting up/running standardized pipelines for the same types of data. It's also one of the few remaining areas of science where you could conceivably find a permanent staff position in most locations. One thing that's nice about the job is that you don't "own" any of the projects they way a PhD student or research scientist does, so it's easier to leave them at work.

FWIW I am moving into a data scientist role in the government, which ticks some of your boxes (it's not science related) but I don't know much about the structure of the work yet.
posted by quaking fajita at 6:37 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]

I absolutely agree with you that becoming a computer programmer is wise! You have the aptitude and the interest, and the pay and lifestyle would fit you well. The computer programmers I know are very happy with their careers: bootcamp was hard but worth it, and actually much cheaper and faster than another college degree. Once you've done the initial year or two of paying your dues, you can go into a direction you like where your past experience is a boon. For example, you could work for a company making educational science apps for teens!

As a fellow teacher also ready for a change, I absolutely hear you on the emotional labor of teaching as well as the stress of the demanding schedule. I could suggest working as a less intense school in terms of work load and stress; however, the emotional labor load might be even greater. Kids these days are lovely as ever but under so much pressure and have so much fear in today's world; it's unfortunate that school teachers and counselors are so often the only go-to people teens have. I love my students but find it nearly impossible to provide the necessary emotional support while also teaching the full curriculum! I have taught community college as well. My students were amazing: so hardworking, intellectually curious, and genuine. However, I found the emotional labor to be even greater because adults don't have the same resources kids do; because they are adults and FERPA applies, I found myself overwhelmed and stuck during their mental health crises, for example. Also, the pay is usually less than K12 teaching, even if you're full time. There are many administrative jobs at community colleges and four-year colleges worth considering, too, however.

I would reach out to alum networks: I'm also a Fulbright scholar and have found it has opened doors across the board. Lead with that -- and your MS from the prestigious university and also your years of experience -- when you create your next resume! You sound like a really accomplished, awesome person whom I'd love to have as a colleague and friend. I'd also spend a lot of time working on your resume so it best highlights you and your achievements. I spent hours working on mine and got lots of great input, the best of which was from a computer programmer who was also a career switcher. You will be able to do so much, and I wish you luck on your journey!
posted by smorgasbord at 7:05 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]

As far as exploring getting back into research: do you know about summer research experience programs for teachers (RETs)? They’re stipended summer programs to put secondary school teachers in labs on a specific project for the summer. NSF sponsors some at various funded labs, and individual institutions also sometimes have them I believe, similar to summer undergrad research programs. I don’t know how soon you’re thinking about leaving teaching, but the deadlines for summer programs are typically now through March.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:42 AM on January 4

Structure is usually most strongly required in jobs which require a lot of interaction with other people, since it's the fact that a bunch of other people are depending on you that drives the need for structure. As a result, you might have to do some balancing/compromising/deep thinking about your needs on the structure-vs-introversion front.

Is it the number of people that exhausts you, or the time that you spend interacting? If it's the first, would you find working for a tutoring company a better fit?
posted by clawsoon at 8:13 AM on January 4

My science teacher burnt out friend ending up starting his own solar panel company in NYC and is doing exceptionally well.
posted by gregjunior at 11:24 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]

I think there's an institutional research board that would love to have you to review IRB applications, discuss ethics issues with researchers, etc.
posted by joycehealy at 3:28 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]

BA, MSc (lab medicine), PhD (molecular neurosci), industrial postdoc (genetic engineer), quality assurance (and co-founder) with a federally licensed Cannabis company, now head of security (basically QA) with same company.

With your science background, you can spin that into qualifications for regulatory compliance in lots of industries, even outside of science. If you had micro instead of molecular, QA at breweries could be a no-brainer.

Your profile doesn't state where you are but your username reference to polarbear suggests you might be in Canada? AAPS in Toronto (there are a number of other ones, some shadier/uselesser than others) offers courses that teaches how to be QA at Cannabis Act (formerly ACMPR, formerly MMPR, formerly MMAR) licensed facilities. Takes about a week and a couple of grand. You might have to move somewhere remote, since that's where the smaller/newer licensed operations are located. As operations get larger, companies will need more QA/ regulatory compliance folk.

One of our partners/clients just hired someone who used to be a MSc bench tech, who took a weeklong course, as a QA. But that's to co-oversee operations that have already been established by previous (head) QAs with much more extensive experience.

It may take a long time for the hiring process, but Health Canada is still hiring inspectors for the Cannabis Act program. Lots of regional travel, though.

Similarly, institutions like the CFIA (farming, animal stuff, plant pest testing labs, etc.) are always hiring inspectors and outreach personnel. Lots of regional travel.

I doubt you'd be happy with going back to be a lab tech, but lab manager might be viable. Unfortunately, those positions are dependent on the PI's funding and might not be stable.

OTOH, there are regulatory compliance positions at biotech companies too. Mostly paperwork, and depending on the company, you'd have someone else run experiments/assay validations and you just report - other companies QA does the validations and verifications (and shelf life studies) themselves, with maybe a tech to assist.

Some of my PhD colleagues stepped away from science and into administration at universities. Pay's not great but the benefits are. Administrative positions are often more stable, but subject to "politics."

It might be a slog, but working with the hospital as a pathology tech is an option with your molecular background. Weird hours, decent pay (eventually), great benefits - but again, potential for "politics." You'd be doing benchwork mostly with PCR assays, some immuno assays. FACS technicians are in demand in some sectors.

Have a friend with his startup-now-multimillion software company (selling administrative software to elementary/secondary schools) and from what I'm hearing, bootcamp style programmers aren't particularly useful to him in his experience.
posted by porpoise at 3:32 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]

I sometimes think I might be a scientist still if I'd been researching climate change or infectious disease

There are public agencies who work on these issues who hire people to coordinate public outreach and do other work at the intersection of science and communicating with the general public. Your teaching experience might show up well here. It shows you can translate science jargon, communicate effectively, manage a room of people, plan group events, etc. They are definitely structured and measured in their workload. At a good agency and on a well-run team, you'd feel like you were one of the good guys and part of a group trying to advance visionary change or help people. To truly be competitive, you might have to do something to get a credential (a masters in public policy or public health would be great, or maybe there are shorter certificate programs?), but you might get lucky or otherwise manage to be a great person for the position (e.g., if there are any jobs to serve as a liaison to schools). Especially if you went back to school, you could also steer towards a role in the science or policy work. Maybe start by looking at the web pages for various departments of public health, air quality districts (which is where a lot of public agency climate work happens), planning departments, etc. There are probably local and regional and state agencies that you could look at. (Sometimes state agencies have multiple offices around a state.) Drop me a line if you want to chat more about this.
posted by slidell at 6:03 PM on January 4 [4 favorites]

You don't specifically state if you are open to relocation. If you are, you might want to check out the Allen Institute in Seattle. In December, they announced the opening of the Allen Institute for Immunology and are looking for molecular biologists. There are additional divisions that have open positions that may interest you.

I bring them up because I interviewed with them a couple years ago for an IT job. I would have loved to have been offered the position. I would have felt good about working there because of their philosophy and commitment to advancing science and human health.

"At the Allen Institute, open science is one of our founding credos. That means we share our data and research tools with the broader scientific community openly and freely. We do this because we know scientific progress depends on shared knowledge and access to data. Over the years, we’ve seen researchers around the world taking our data, tools and cell lines in new directions we never could have imagined."

The persons with whom I interviewed were very excited to be there and that impresed me also.
posted by Altomentis at 4:11 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

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