Jump to content

What (ethical) jobs are there outside academia?


Recommended Posts

Hey y'all,


I've come into a dilemma, and I was hoping someone here could help me with some of it. I'm currently in a Ph.D. program and since I started it I've been having doubts about it. I'm not happy in it and although I love math I have become less sure that academia is where I want to be, for now at least. Right now I'm considering staying for my Master's and leaving after that (I talked about this with someone who works in my department and they told me that if after taking some time off and deciding that I want to get back into academia then I could reapplying and would probably be given some preference). This idea is really appealing to me, I went straight from high school to undergrad and straight to grad, and I'd love to take some time off to work in the outside world and see how I like it. 


My only problem is that I don't know what I'd do for work. I love learning/fiddling with/researching math, and I love teaching, and getting a part-time deal tutoring or possibly adjuncting at a university near the city I'd move to sounds great as a side thing, but I doubt it would cut it when it comes down to paying for rent/ food / student loans / other bills etc. I have my bachelor's in physics, my studies in math have specialized in pure not really any applied, and I know a little programming and am teaching myself some and I'm really liking it. Not that I don't think that there is anything I can do with this, but I don't really know of much I can do with this skill-set.  Since graduating I've received a couple notifications from my undergrad saying an alum who now works at IBM is looking to hire, and that there are really nice benefits and that several of our graduates have worked for her there. It sounded great, but I looked into IBM and there are some issues with it that trouble me (e.g. they do business in China in the same factories that Apple does and those human rights violations are not ok, there are issues with them with apartheid abuses in South Africa, and more), and I don't want to work for a corporation like that. 


So here is my question to y'all, and I'd love any answers/suggestions/thoughts/advice/etc.  you have on the matter: 


Do you know of any job opportunities that do not involve working for an unethical organization (e.g. not some company with humans rights violations, not an insurance firm, no NSA, etc.) that involves or is related to my background?



Thanks a million,






Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it's important for you to do what makes you happy. I just want to say that from a stranger's point of view, your definition of an ethical company sounds kind of arbitrary and it also sounds like you are saying all academic jobs are ethical. I feel that for most big organizations, if you look deep enough, you can find something that will not jive with your own moral code.


Also, your title kind of implies that academic jobs are ethical but this is not always true either. For example, many universities invest in these unethical companies you mention, and thus your pay and research funding comes from these places. Is this acceptable to you, or is it disconnected enough that it does not bother you? I'm not just stating these questions to mess with you--I think these are important questions to answer when on the job hunt. It's important to know which practices are against your moral code enough that you won't work with them and which are disconnected enough that you'll still be happy. Maybe you have already thought about this though.


(Personally, my answer is that as long as what I do does not directly hurt people, it's okay with me. For example, I won't do research on a weapon. However, if my work on some other goal somehow becomes useful in building a weapon, then that is not against my personal moral code. I am using a weapon as an example of something that is against my moral code but there are others, such as knowingly taking advantage of people etc.)


As for suggestions, I don't know any specific organizations. What about working for a non-profit that is well aligned with your worldviews? If you like teaching, what about working for a "education technology" company (i.e. one of those companies that create online question databases for instructors like "Mastering Physics"). In Canada, many science graduates with a MSc will work as some kind of education or science director for museums and other public education type work. Just a few examples!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If ethics are a priority for you, you might consider nonprofits or organizations that attempt to influence policy or gather data such as:

-U.S. Census Bureau

-Social & Decision Analytics Laboratory


to name two off the top of my head. I've done searches for summer research opportunities in social statistics positions and there are a few companies out there so I imagine you would be able to find math/computational related jobs as well that might meet your ethical standards.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For profit companies are always going to be looking for profit. Corporations only have responsibilities to their share holders and if they can get things like cheap labor they are going to get them. If it isn't in China they will go to the next country without strict labor laws.


You can always try making your own.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The best way to find work is to network. The hardest thing for me after my MS in math was trying to find a work. It can be long and arduous.


Try to find a meetup around your area. If you are in a large city, there should be tons of groups. This is a great way to get to know what's out there. It is pretty common to find employers for startups at these events.


Socialize and talk to friends of friends (and then their friends and theirs also) and try to get your name out there. You'd be surprised how effective this method is in reality. It's a huge world out there with companies you've never heard of employing hundreds of people. 


Try to reach out to recruiters via linkedin (recruiters/headhunters make money finding YOU). Start thinking of big businesses with a new perspective. Example, target is not just a grocery/department store. Target has many career opportunities from finance to IT to math or strategy to planning. Almost any large company you can think of hire quants for many many many purposes. Explore everything you can (websites have career opportunities, career builder, indeed etc).


You sound me a few years ago. I went and worked for 1.5 years at a tech firm (someone knew someone got me an interview) and then came back to a PhD program. I felt like I wasn't challenged enough at work and just couldn't relate to people.


If and when you do get an interview, make yourself relatable. If they say well do you have any experience of leading a team. Talk about something that's remotely relevant like physics lab group leader or something. At the end of the day most employers are looking for people that seem well adjusted and would be easy to train on the job.


MOST IMPORTANTLY: convince yourself that you aren't in a rut even if you do stay in school. Things are always better when you look at them from a far. For me, I got bored and annoyed working my job in 7 months, and couldn't wait to go back to school. 


Businesses are geared towards profits, in general, so you'll get thrown under the bus if it means more money. So, fight one battle at a time. Get a job/internship somewhere first and get your foot in the "door" (wherever the hell it's going).


Hope this helps.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use