Addressing Academic Science Research Realities with Alternative Careers
By Simone Temporal, Ph.D.
m.simone.temporal @ gmail.com
On September 5, 2014, Drexel University hosted their “Careers Beyond the Bench” Conference (http://www.drexelmed.edu/Home/AcademicPrograms/BiomedicalGraduateStudies/CareersBeyondtheBench.aspx). At this one-day event, invited speakers introduced a variety of potential opportunities for scientists interested in exploring careers outside academia.
The first half of the day included speakers representing private industry, foundations/nonprofits and government agencies. Speakers shared their transition from academic research to these other sectors followed by a panel session. During the panel session, two other panelists joined the speakers. One belonged to a foundation and the other from the National Instutes of Health. During lunch, each table featured a speaker from the various job sectors introduced.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Philip S. Clifford, who authored “myIDP” opened the second half of the conference and spoke about the bleak academic prospects facing scientists today. He encouraged the audience to take advantage of myIDP to determine their strengths and weaknesses and plan for an alternative career path outside academia.
Three speakers from pharmaceuticals, science publications and clinical research followed. Each gave advice on how to transition into their particular field and answered more specific concerns of the audience during the panel discussion. In addition to the speakers, a lawyer and marketer joined the panel.
Speakers from both sessions encouraged the audience to be open to unexpected opportunities.
The event closed with a networking reception that gave attendees opportunities to speak to the speakers and panelists one-on-one.
I love academic science research but I am not blinded by it. I am planning an alternative career path to follow since I accept that academic science research is a competitive field with many uncertainties.
From all the events I attended from the conference at Drexel University and all of UPenn’s National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week events, I learned the following:
There are various job sectors to transition to that go beyond biopharmaceutical industry…but the transition is not simple.
It is not enough to have a Ph.D. and/or postdoctoral experience. Gone are the days of single expertise. This is true within academia, true outside of it and even more true if you want to transition.
When I was in graduate school, I often heard from various sources that other sectors are looking for people with Ph.Ds. It seemed like you can stumble on a job with your Ph.D. diploma in hand. It is not true. You need to have contacts and demonstrate more than the soft science skills developed from our academic science training. Out of the many speakers whom I listened to and met, only one took a direct path and transitioned from academia to industry. The caveat is she worked in industry before graduate school and her postdoctoral research project had translational aspects and ties to industry.
Transition is not a hobby.
Transitioning to another field is more akin to changing careers entirely requiring a great deal of time and effort. To understand the intricacies of this process, I went into researching and planning my potential transition, thinking that I can do it whenever I have spare time, after work and on the weekends. This method proved difficult because there is so much more that goes into transitioning – networking, building additional non- scientific skills, researching different positions and all the other things required simply to apply for available positions. I am weaving informational interviews, conferences, building my professional online and offline network, computer and professional classes between my academic responsibilities.
Practice, practice, practice
I always thought that I had a prepared elevator speech until I attended all these events. Each situation called for a different version based on available time, conversation and audience. Although I have practiced by myself, there are only so many variables that one can account for. I now view networking events as opportunities to craft and refine my elevator speeches to various scenarios.
Also, the more networking events I attend, the easier it has become to introduce myself to perfect strangers. Calling an event “networking” never eased the awkwardness I felt approaching people who I did not know.
Job descriptions give an overview of a position, not the daily grind and environment. There are positions that I thought I would be perfect for me until I spoke to somebody with the position. These events, especially the networking session gave me an opportunity to find out more about a position beyond the advertised job descriptions.
For more information
Videos of the Drexel “Careers Beyond the Bench” Conference are available here: http://vimeo.com/drexelgradschbiomed
For discussion… Post your comments below!
- Have you recently attended an “alternative career” event or conference?
- What, if any, have you learned from attending conferences and networking events?
- What have you done to plan for an alternative career?
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