How to Find a Science Career for You

Nov. 13, 2016

It's no secret that STEM academic research and faculty positions, particularly tenure-track positions, are harder to come by now than they were decades ago. Thus, recent Ph.D. graduates are more likely to work outside of academia than within, and current graduate students are looking for information on varied career options. Students often have difficulty finding this career information. Academic advisors may be underprepared to discuss non-academic career options, and students and postdocs may be too busy in the lab to pursue outside professional development or may not know where to look for this information.

So how can you find professional development activities? If you're looking at Ph.D. programs, inquire about career resources within the department and institution. Does the institution have a career office, and do students in the department find helpful resources there? Ask your potential advisor's other students how supportive that advisor has been of both academic and non-academic career interests. Ask the advisor what their former advisees are doing now. Have they had a student who has gone on to a career that interests you? You should also ask what percentage of students in the department go on to jobs or postdocs after graduation, both within and outside of academia. Is there a regional workforce that employs graduates, or do they go elsewhere?

If you're a current Ph.D. student, look into the possibility of doing an internship, even for a week. If a week doesn't fit into your schedule, think about job shadowing someone for the day. Some schools, such as the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, offer students the opportunity to complete an internship while in graduate school. Hopefully, other schools will use the Biomedical Careers Initiative as a model, leading to more programs like it in the future.

If you're a recent graduate or postdoc, look for programs like the STEM Faculty Launch Workshop at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) or professional development workshops offered by scientific societies (ASM has several courses). Trainees should also complete an individual development plan, which will help you set goals and identify scientific careers that might be best for you. Career-seekers should remain flexible and not feel pressured into a career path by their department, advisor, or anyone else. As Karen Kashmanian Oates, Ph.D., the Peterson Family Dean of Arts and Sciences at WPI and creator of the STEM Faculty Launch Workshop says, if you've had a strong graduate education, including career-focused professional development, "it's not that you have to be a researcher at an R1 university or a teacher at a liberal arts institution, it's that you have the skills, knowledge, and competencies to do many things and find your real passion."

Author: Bethany Adamec

Bethany Adamec
Bethany Adamec is a Science Education Specialist at ASM, where she communicates about ASM’s work in student and faculty professional development, supports the ASM Education Board, and works with colleagues to promote evidence-based education reform.