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ballwera

Alternative Career Paths

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I'm approaching the end of my 3rd year ( and hopefully the end of my PhD) and its time to begin thinking about what to do post-graduation. As with most students, I came in to graduate school thinking I was going to cure cancer (really insert any disease here) and ride my successes int a good post-doc and then to a tenure-track position. With each passing day however, I have become increasingly disillusioned with academia ( and basic science research in general). 

I have a few grievances (more of a rant than anything) : Science seems to move too slow for my tastes and is far removed (in most cases) from impacting patient care in any meaningful way; funding is more about luck than anything else, the judgement of success (publications, grants etc.) is arbitrary at best and is determined by too many forces that are outside your control, and just the political nature of science in general. 

Does anyone have good suggestions on some alternative career paths? In particular, career paths that have more of an impact on patient care/outcomes? My general background is in Computational Biology with a focus on genomics and mathematical modeling. I also have pretty extensive knowledge of molecular genetics.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated and sorry for the depressing rant. 

 

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On 3/13/2018 at 10:28 AM, ballwera said:

I'm approaching the end of my 3rd year ( and hopefully the end of my PhD) and its time to begin thinking about what to do post-graduation. As with most students, I came in to graduate school thinking I was going to cure cancer (really insert any disease here) and ride my successes int a good post-doc and then to a tenure-track position. With each passing day however, I have become increasingly disillusioned with academia ( and basic science research in general). 

I have a few grievances (more of a rant than anything) : Science seems to move too slow for my tastes and is far removed (in most cases) from impacting patient care in any meaningful way; funding is more about luck than anything else, the judgement of success (publications, grants etc.) is arbitrary at best and is determined by too many forces that are outside your control, and just the political nature of science in general. 

Does anyone have good suggestions on some alternative career paths? In particular, career paths that have more of an impact on patient care/outcomes? My general background is in Computational Biology with a focus on genomics and mathematical modeling. I also have pretty extensive knowledge of molecular genetics.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated and sorry for the depressing rant. 

 

So I know that hospitals and departments involved in clinical research like biostaticians who can decipher large amounts of data and information from large patient studies.  I don't know how computational biology could play into this, but the mathematical background could help with modeling.  Otherwise, I know a lot of clinical research is being driven by the private sector (industry) and these skills could be useful in that area too.

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15 hours ago, rising_star said:

Does your institution have access to Versatile PhD? The career profiles there might be of interest/help to you.

Thanks, but unfortunately it doesn't look like our program has access to this. I might see if there is a way for the graduate school to get access, as I'm not the only one struggling with these decisions. 

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4 minutes ago, ballwera said:

Thanks, but unfortunately it doesn't look like our program has access to this. I might see if there is a way for the graduate school to get access, as I'm not the only one struggling with these decisions. 

It's worth noting that there's a great deal of information available on that website for free. Use that to your advantage. I'd also recommend contacting the career center at your institution to see what resources they may have to assist you.

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42 minutes ago, StemCellFan said:

So I know that hospitals and departments involved in clinical research like biostaticians who can decipher large amounts of data and information from large patient studies.  I don't know how computational biology could play into this, but the mathematical background could help with modeling.  Otherwise, I know a lot of clinical research is being driven by the private sector (industry) and these skills could be useful in that area too.

Thanks, I'll take a look at these types of positions. Not completely necessary to stay in the computational world either. I've been looking at these clinical genetics fellowships as well. 

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Does your school have a career development center? Mine has one that is only a few years old, but it is already a great benefit for our students that want to leave academia. Students are going into consulting, becoming genetics counselors, teaching, working in policy, and others. Since I want to stay in academia (I know, I'm crazy, but I still love science), I'm helping them gather the necessary information to help build out the academic track.

You should see if a career development group or something like this is available to you. They can talk through things with you and help you develop an Individual Development Plan to help you reach whatever goals you have in mind after a couple of meetings.

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I know the struggle. I should start by saying that the notion that non-academic careers are "alternative" is silly. I think something like 75% of new PhDs do something outside of academia. 

Here are a couple of things I've considered (I'm still on the academic track, for now...): 

- Patent law. This career won't increase patient contact, but you will make a solid impact on science. Once you have a PhD, you can get a job at a law firm as a technology specialist making $90,000 to $120,000 each year (figures from people who have gone through the process). Most firms have programs to make you a patent attorney. After a year or two, the firm will pay for you to go to law school nights. During this time, most firms will reduce your work load so you can pass your classes and you'll still make a solid technology specialist salary. Once you have your JD, you'll be promoted to an associate making $180,000 (standard starting salary). Five years after the PhD, you'll be directly responsible for helping scientists patent their inventions while earning a solid salary. 

- Medicine. This is the best option if you are yearning for patient contact. There are a lot of MD programs out there for new PhDs who want to do clinical research and see patients. Some programs (NYU and Columbia) even let you do a three year MD. After the MD, you can choose a residency program that is designed for researchers. You'll get paid more than other residents (usually a $20,000 stipend in addition to your resident salary), and you will have a nice research-clinic balance. Most programs let you spend up to 90% of your time in the lab during your final years. 

- Biotech. You can easily get a job at a large biotech company making $110,000/year or so. Those companies are desperate for computational people, so you could get a job straight out of the PhD  running a project in a computational division. You can also check out biotech post-doc programs. They typically pay more than academic post-docs, and you'll be prepared to join as a senior scientist after a few years. 

Those are the big three, in my opinion. You could also check out non-science careers that will make use of your critical thinking and project planning skills. Regardless of what anyone says, a PhD is a fantastic degree to have and you'll find something that excites you. Just don't do an academic post-doc because you can't think of anything better to do! 

 

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3 hours ago, blc073 said:

I know the struggle. I should start by saying that the notion that non-academic careers are "alternative" is silly. I think something like 75% of new PhDs do something outside of academia. 

Here are a couple of things I've considered (I'm still on the academic track, for now...): 

- Patent law. This career won't increase patient contact, but you will make a solid impact on science. Once you have a PhD, you can get a job at a law firm as a technology specialist making $90,000 to $120,000 each year (figures from people who have gone through the process). Most firms have programs to make you a patent attorney. After a year or two, the firm will pay for you to go to law school nights. During this time, most firms will reduce your work load so you can pass your classes and you'll still make a solid technology specialist salary. Once you have your JD, you'll be promoted to an associate making $180,000 (standard starting salary). Five years after the PhD, you'll be directly responsible for helping scientists patent their inventions while earning a solid salary. 

- Medicine. This is the best option if you are yearning for patient contact. There are a lot of MD programs out there for new PhDs who want to do clinical research and see patients. Some programs (NYU and Columbia) even let you do a three year MD. After the MD, you can choose a residency program that is designed for researchers. You'll get paid more than other residents (usually a $20,000 stipend in addition to your resident salary), and you will have a nice research-clinic balance. Most programs let you spend up to 90% of your time in the lab during your final years. 

- Biotech. You can easily get a job at a large biotech company making $110,000/year or so. Those companies are desperate for computational people, so you could get a job straight out of the PhD  running a project in a computational division. You can also check out biotech post-doc programs. They typically pay more than academic post-docs, and you'll be prepared to join as a senior scientist after a few years. 

Those are the big three, in my opinion. You could also check out non-science careers that will make use of your critical thinking and project planning skills. Regardless of what anyone says, a PhD is a fantastic degree to have and you'll find something that excites you. Just don't do an academic post-doc because you can't think of anything better to do! 

 

Thanks for the advice! Hopefully I wasn't to abrasive about the academic track! I'm just a bit burnt out and was disappointed to say the least when i discovered the man behind the curtain.  

I looked into law and medicine options, but I'm not sure I can handle any more schooling to be honest. I'm also not sure if my wife will sign off on that either (already kinda put our lives on hold for this degree).

I've been extremely interested in the biotech/pharma option, as my skill set is pretty desired. It also seems the research is much more translational, which is more interesting to me than basic research. I've made a few pharma contacts, and have been applying for internships so may that will pan out.

On a side note, I do hope we can keep this an open topic on the board. In all reality,  only a small fraction of us will be able to secure tenure track positions so it's useful to have these types of discussions. 

 

 

Edited by ballwera

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