Sunday, 8 January 2012

Step 1: Finding a Job (a.k.a. The Hunt)

So you’ve handed in your baby-turned-monster (a.k.a. the Thesis) and you’ve managed to survive the snake-fight (a.k.a. the Viva). And now you’re ready to head into the Real World and get a Real Job. If you’re not one of those lucky people who get jobs handed to them on silver platters (i.e. have well-connected supervisors), this can be a little tricky. The main problem is access to information. And of course, Step 0 (which you will notice I have conveniently chosen to skip) is to figure out what kind of career path you want to follow in the first place. But if you, like me, have decided to see what’s out there first before you commit, keep reading.
So, where are the jobs? (And it looks like I’m not the only one asking this- also, I’ve been accused of being a bit of a doomsayer, so click here and here for a couple of  *mostly* happy articles on this for a change!)
The bottom-line is: we definitely need some kind of career orientation service for PhD students. So far, my career orientation has consisted of drunken pub-chats with post-docs and a random man giving me career advice in a restaurant. First, we should be given a realistic and honest overview of career prospects within academia. Second, we should be informed about what else is out there. And third, we should be able to get this information without that snobbish, narrow-minded, elitist, borne-of-frustration-attitude that assumes that unless you’re toiling away in a lab somewhere you’re not doing something that’s worthwhile, important, intelligent or interesting.
Disclaimer: This list is by no means complete (suggestions are hugely welcome), but I’m just sharing what I’ve found out and found useful so far in the job hunt. Also, I am assuming you have a PhD in neuroscience, but most of these would work for PhDs in any biomedical science. Jobs have been divided into 1) Academic Post-doc  and 2) Alternative Careers, and I’ve classified post-doc in industry as being an alternative career (although some sources disagree on the terminology). I guess ‘alternative’ could mean ‘alternative to academia’ or ‘alternative to ‘research’, the point is it's something different. 

1) The Academic Post-doc
This job is the easiest to describe (look around at your post-docs!): it means doing more of what you’ve been doing for your PhD, with a bit more responsibility and a bit more pay. Job responsibilities include doing experiments in the lab, analysing and interpreting results, supervising graduate and undergraduate projects, and maybe some teaching. You’re also likely to be involved in writing grant applications and will have (hopefully) more to say on where your project is going. As an academic post-doc, if your publications start piling up and you’re on the right (as in correct) side of your department’s political dynamic, you could find yourself on the way to becoming an ‘academic’.
Where to look for jobs (in order of how useful I’ve found them!): (Note how for every 5 PhD adverts there’s one post-doc advert!)

2) Alternative Careers

1. Post-doc in industry
This includes basic research, drug development, and clinical trials among other things. 
e.g. Novartis and Proclinical (a Pharma Recruitment Agency) currently have job adverts up for neuroscientists.

2. Science Editing
This could be for a journal, website or a publishing company.
Typical job responsibilities as editor of a journal:      
  • reading and selecting articles
  • researching, commissioning and editing articles
  • writing for the journal
  • attending national and international meetings
Typical Requirements:
-          a PhD in neuroscience
-          a broad interest in neuroscience
-          excellent communication skills (written and oral)
-          commitment to the communication of scientific ideas
-          ability to learn new skills
-          previous writing/editing experience is a significant bonus

To find editing jobs (and there are loads!) go the following sites and type is 'science editing' or 'science communication' as keyword.
e.g. Nature Neuroscience (based in New York) is currently looking for an assistant editor.

3. Writing
If you are a good writer (and have proof !) and have a science background, you can get into different types of writing. This website has a brilliant list and lots of upbeat information on this topic. 
1) Science journalism (popular science magazines, websites)
This sounds like a lot of fun, but is difficult to make a living from.
2) Technical Writing (grants, patents, handouts, protocols, brochures)
This sounds a bit boring, but there is a huge demand for it.
3) Medical writing (more grants, patents, brochures, but also articles?)
This sounds like it could have interesting and boring bits. For a good overview of this job, click here.

4. Consultancy
I’m actually still not quite sure what this means, but it sounds very glamorous. I’m also told this pays extremely well. But I have very little information on how you would get into this and what the typical job responsibilities would be. I’ll post as soon as I find out more.
You could be working for:
-          law firms dealing in patents and intellectual property
-          pharmaceutical companies, e.g.  clinical trial management
-          biotech companies
-          government agencies (Science Policy)
-          consultancy companies like McKinsey, PWC etc
-          museums
-          non-profit organisations

5. Business and Marketing
This blog talks about this in detail (also he Stole my idea...back in 2005- actually the number of blogs out there about this is an indication of how difficult it is to find information!)

6. Teaching
-          In schools, but you need a teaching diploma (unless you go abroad)
-          Sabbatical replacement jobs.

7. Graduate Medicine
We’ve all thought about this one. What’s another four years of studying if you come out qualified, employable and making a difference to the world? And why on earth did we not all just do medicine in the first place?
More to come...


  1. With respect to No 6: there are also quite a lot of private tuition positions that you can apply for (I was recently looking into this) and in the UK if you want to apply to do a PGCE (teaching diploma), with a science background you can get a fair amount government funding to help soften the 'penniless student AGAIN' thought:
    Even though I'm just about to start my 1st postdoc job, every week I still seriously consider retraining as a teacher :)

  2. Hey I just saw this! That's quite interesting! There also seem to be quite a few programs/opportunities for aspiring teachers with post-grad degrees in the biomedical sciences. Here's a couple of interesting ones I've come across recently.