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Job prospects for PhDs?


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I'm very interested in applications of biology. Namely to neuroscience, food/biotech related stuff and also biomechanics. Ideally, I would major in bioengineering but not many schools offer this major (I'm applying to liberal arts colleges). I'm also interested in the quantitative aspects. Would a joint math-bio major be adequate preparation for such a PhD program? Or a minor/major combination of math/bio?

In the physical sciences and computer science, I know that professorships are close to impossible to get. If there are x positions, then there are 10x applicants. The norm is to move on to industry.

What about in the life sciences? Are professorships more common? If not academia, what kind of exit opportunities are there? In general, how well do these jobs pay? Are the various industries "large" enough to accommodate for the PhDs or is there the x/10x problem? True, it's hard enough to gauge what's going to happen in the next five minutes, let alone the next ten years, but is there a lot of funding/demand for bio-related PhDs?

I do know of DE Shaw and their research group but the listings on phds.org make no mention of the salary and that's just *one* company.

Of course, I understand that nothing I do will result in perfect career opportunities. There are too many variables. Nevertheless, I would like to take a more informed decision.

Thank you!

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  • 3 weeks later...


Academic, tenure-track faculty positions are difficult to obtain in the life sciences. I suggest you look at the report by Tilghman where she has some data comparing PhDs in the biomedical sciences and chemistry/physical sciences.

Tilghman, P, Rockey, S, et. al. 2012. Biomedical research workforce working group report. NIH.


I provide a data-driven analysis of the employment prospects (including stipends and salaries) of PhDs in the life sciences at http://www.bioveracity.com. You can look at the data yourself and make your own conclusions.


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Don't go into a PhD expecting to be a professor afterwards, or even necessarily work on research that you worked on during your PhD. Think of it as an opportunity to develop a set of skills in thinking and reasoning that will allow you to move on to a number of fields.

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(I'm applying to liberal arts colleges)

You're getting way ahead of yourself if you're already thinking about grad school. Don't. You'll change by the time you graduate.

The job market will be very different in 10 years, so speculating about job prospects now is an exercise in futility.

If you want to get a Ph.D. to get a job, don't. The only reason to get a Ph.D. is because you love the subject.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Another option is a job half way between academia and industry, like at a research hospital.

One thing I know some Neuroscience PIs are looking for is postdocs with a computer science or engineering degree. Programming in MATLAB is like a staple in research design and analysis.

The engineering background will help you more easily design experiments. One of the big things that slows research down is the inaccessibility to technology. If you can build it, not only will your research progress much faster, you'll be asked to consult and collaborate on other projects. That is a very advantageous skill to have.

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