Alternative science careers: Beyond academia and industry

Headshot_1 Samantha Jones

When I was applying to graduate school I was under the impression that after obtaining my PhD there were two options: start a postdoctoral position in the hopes of one day securing a faculty spot at a research institution, or take an “alternative” career path and move into industry. It was just over a year ago that I finally allowed myself to acknowledge my apathy toward either of these options. Do I like experimenting at the bench? Yes. Do I see myself doing it forever? Definitely not. I appreciate the intensity and excitement of a research setting, but I’m feeling increasingly less fulfilled by what I’m doing. Turns out I’m not alone—far from it.

With faculty positions becoming fewer and farther between, pursuing academic research is no longer the norm, and other career opportunities are moving into the foreground. The “What do I do after a PhD?” dilemma has progressed beyond the academia versus industry question, and now the greatest difficulty often lies in deciding between the less commonly discussed professions.

For me, a casual panel discussion held at my university sparked my interest in science writing. I’d always enjoyed writing, and knew that science journalists existed out there in the universe, but I never thought about becoming one of them. I enrolled in an official Science Writing course and then began to seek out freelance writing opportunities. I was hooked. I’ve learned that if you often find yourself smiling as you’re working, you’re probably in the right place, and for me, that place happens to be writing.

Becoming a science writer is one non-academic, non-industry career option post-PhD or postdoc, but it's hardly one-dimensional. Do I want to write for a journal? A blog? Do I want to write for a big company and focus on more medically relevant content? Do I hope to serve other scientists or primarily focus on reaching the public? These are some of the questions I continually ask myself as I find my footing in the field.

For the scientist out there who doesn’t feel academia, industry, or writing calls to them, don’t despair. From patent law and consulting work to science policy and marketing, the opportunities are vast, and there are resources to help you along the way.

Below is a snapshot of some of the opportunities out there for science PhDs:

And for more general advice and maybe a little inspiration, check out the following:

As a PhD student or postdoctoral researcher, it’s important to remember that you’ve spent years improving as a writer and communicator, cultivating skills that will serve you well in any profession. Now you have the exciting opportunity to concentrate on where your passion lies and begin heading toward your ideal career path.

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Samantha Jones

Samantha Jones

Samantha Jones grew up in the Boston area and attended Vassar College in New York for undergrad, where she studied biology and competed on the swim team. She is currently a fourth year Biomedical Sciences PhD student at UC San Diego studying the role of RNA in neural development and working toward a future in science writing. Check out her website for an up-to-date look at what she’s working on, or her Twitter page for all things science.