Huh, PhD. What are ya good for?

Last Friday, some fine postdoc colleagues and I hosted an ASBMB-sponsored career symposium with the title “What can I do with my PhD?”

I know the title just invites unsavoury answers, but I chose it because it’s a burning question among the grad students and postdocs that I know.  Most of us have accepted that we’re not going to become research academics like our bosses. But  it’s not obvious what else we are qualified to do.

So, to answer that question, we invited local(ish) speakers who have both biomedical/chemical PhDs and jobs. Yes, actual jobs. We heard from a professor and department chair, assistant professor from a liberal arts college, industry research scientist, textbook editor,  high school outreach co-ordinator, career coach, freelance writer, communications manager, tech transfer manager, regulatory affairs director, project manager and a career coach.

You can read more about the event at the Storify, but I also wanted to share an additional piece of advice that cheered me up after a pretty trying week. It actually came from an informational interview that I had with one of the speakers, after the event. I wanted to learn more about his field, and the different sub-categories and specialties within it. He cut off my sob story about choosing the area I am most qualified for, with something along these lines:

When you change careers, everything is going to be very difficult at first. Why bother going through all that hassle for an area you’re not interested in? Why not start with what you like?

The truth, fellow PhDs, is that we’re not technically qualified for all that much. But for most employers, we’re still a bargain, because we’re smart, numerate, independent, hard-working and have absurdly low salary expectations. So, if you can find a way to wedge a toe in the door, you’re probably going to do just fine, and wouldn’t you rather do just fine at a job that you wanted in the first place? I recognise that we can’t all have dream jobs. But I don’t intend on starting my search by looking at the bottom of the pile.

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4 thoughts on “Huh, PhD. What are ya good for?

      • Yes, this is in line with my current idea that I should just work on things I actually want to do, so then I’ll have more experience doing those things. I think it’s working. I’m applying for a job and I get to say that I have more than a year of curriculum development experience and almost of year of contract editing/writing experience. Ta-da!

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