Years ago, when I was in graduate school studying molecular biology, many of my professors seemed to place a lot of value on the traditional career path: several years of post-doctoral fellowships, followed by a career as a tenured faculty member at a big academic institution, with teaching responsibilities and a laboratory, post-doctoral fellows and students. At the time, many of my fellow students and I planned to follow this path and, eventually, become primary investigators and manage our own labs. There was little talk of other career choices. However, after several years of graduate school studies, I realized that, as much as I enjoyed learning and thinking about science, certain aspects of spending 3–6 years as a “post doc”, then managing my own lab and writing grants did not appeal to me. I had to revisit the question “What do I want to be when I grow up?”
So, what else could I have done with my science degree?
Here I list just a small sampling of some of the nontraditional career choices available to people with scientific training.
When considering different science careers, pay special attention to other skills that you have that might pair well with science. If you like interacting with people, consider work as a sales or marketing person at a biotechnology or pharmaceutical company, an educator or curator in a museum, aquarium, botanical garden, zoo or library, or a park ranger. Do you have a knack for writing? You might be a good candidate for a job as a technical writer, editor or science journalist. Do you like to solve problems? Put your skills to use as a technical support scientist or a consultant who helps company managers solve science-related problems that arise within their businesses. Other career fields include:
- Patent, environmental and other types of law
- Information technology and bioinformatics
- Regulatory affairs and safety
- Technology transfer or business development
- Forensic science
- Scientific or medical illustration and animation
- Managing government research funding programs
- Politics, as a political advisor, legislator or lobbyist
- Laboratory or hospital management
- Environmental science, as an inspector or educator, for example
- Genetic counseling
- Medical prosthetics design
In my case, I was hired as a Promega Technical Services Scientist, where I spent more than 5 years providing information about various products and helping other scientists troubleshoot experiments when things didn’t go exactly as planned. I also dabbled a bit in writing and found that I really enjoyed putting thoughts to paper, so I moved to Scientific Communications, where I can put my interest in writing and science to use. During my academic training, I had never thought of technical services or science writing as a career choice. I suspect that many other people with science-related careers do not have the job that they had planned to have when they started studying science. It’s just further evidence that sometimes we have little control over where life takes us.
Do you have a science-related career that many would consider nontraditional? Let us know by adding your story to the Comments.