Before you start reading, please take the time to note that it ends with a question mark.
That’s not to imply that “life” ends after grad school. It’s meant to imply that there are lots of things that a PhD can do.
After spending at least 25 years preparing for something, everyone hopes to achieve a career goal that satisfies their expectations, which are generally, and should be, high. Somehow this led me to think of the song “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, which you may know as an early Rolling Stones hit song, first released in 1965.
Perhaps, that’s about the time when the career paths of science PhDs started leading to destinations other than college teaching and research. That could be a result of decreased opportunities in Academia, and increased opportunities in other areas.
After receiving my PhD in cell biology, I did a postdoc and then spent some time as an adjunct before becoming an assistant professor. Teaching is great. I really liked it and still do. However, after 7 years, it was clear that that tenure was unlikely, and there was no way that I was going to move my family to another place far away to pursue “the holy grail.”
So what to do? It was before the Internet, but I think that it is mainly the tools that have changed since then, but not the strategy. I became an even more avid reader of Science magazine and the NY Times job postings and ads than I had been.
I answered every ad that required a PhD like mine, looked interesting, and seemed possible for me to convince someone that I could do it, even those that were “a stretch.” The mailbox and the telephone became my best non-human friends (sorry, no email, blackberry or smartphones then).
One of the open positions was at a medical device company. It was a large, international company looking for a college professor to give lectures on their research, product development, and clinical use to physicians, nurses and laboratory staff. The presentations would be at hospitals and professional society meetings.
The job requirements? They simply wanted a PhD academic who could deliver interesting, understandable lectures. I was offered the position and accepted it. I learned the details by working with my boss, a PhD who was also a marketing manager, and my colleague, the other “scientist lecturer.” They had great new hire and product training.
The key here for the transition? There was an overlap in skills, experience, and training in this offer. An important difference was the need to present the research done by others as clearly, and compellingly, as if it was my own. Teaching experience and communication skills are transferable after all.
By the way, one of the coolest things about my new job was that from time to time, I would meet a doc in the audience who had been a student of mine when I was a grad teaching assistant. Small world, isn’t it? The next coolest thing about it was touching base with them on the research that gave rise to the stuff that I was talking to them about.
Cheers for now,
Clement Weinberger, PhD