Tag Archives: alternative science careers

How to Be Like Me: My seminar on alternative science careers

Last month, I was invited to Northwestern University to give a seminar at the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Each semester, they invite one speaker who talks on a topic that is “outside of the box,” as my host put it. I was invited to share my experience moving from a research position into a non-research position as a scientist. As some of you may know, about a year ago, I left my second postdoc position to take a job at a scientific journal. It was an interesting experience to speak to a room full of young scientists about my career path, how I got there, and what I wish I’d known, and I thought I’d give some highlights.

First of all, I had a slight leg up on the average postdoctoral researcher, but only because I’d done enough government interviews to have an outfit that was appropriate for an interview situation. I could dress myself, at least. Apart from that, I was entering new territory.

But let’s back up a bit. As I told the audience, my journey to a publishing job really started years ago when I was trying to decide on a college major and what I wanted to do with my degree. I very briefly considered becoming a high school science teacher because the idea of teaching science appealed to me more than the idea of working in a lab. Now, while I currently realize that I do not want to stand up in front of a high school class every day for the next thirty years and teach them about force and reactions and how to blow things up and call it a “classroom demonstration,” I think I might have been onto something. I find current research fascinating. But I don’t want to sit in a lab and perform it. And working in science publishing gives me the opportunity to do just that.

So I guess the point is, you need to first know yourself and know why you’re looking at a job outside of research. Are you frustrated with the low rate of pay that tends to come with pursuing an academic career? Don’t go into publishing. There are plenty of non-academic and non-research jobs that will provide a higher starting salary to recent PhDs or former postdocs, but publishing doesn’t really seem to be one of them. But are you interested in learning about a lot of different new research without having to turn knobs in the lab? Publishing is where a lot of that research goes.

I suppose the biggest thing I wish I’d known before starting my job search was about the blog The Scholarly Kitchen. This is a blog that covers topics about science publishing and from which my boss sends me posts relating to my work regularly. I also wish I’d took a bit of time to learn more about the more advance capabilities of MS Word. And I had a brief section in my presentation about science writing credentials. While I don’t currently

What I did find useful were blogs about corporate life. I started reading Ask A Manager to get advice about navigating a more corporate interview process, but I stayed for the stories about crazy coworkers and bosses. I also referred to corporate style blogs like Capitol Hill Style (now The Work Edit, which is not quite what it was when I found it useful) and Corporette. As a woman, it can be hard to figure out what to wear to an interview, particularly since your choices are not limited to the color of suit, tie, and Oxford shirt to choose.

I definitely don’t regret leaving research, and I highly encourage anyone who’s considering it to at least check out their options. And organizing my thoughts about my career path has not only helped me organize my resources, but also reminded me just why I’m where I am. If anyone has questions about alternative science careers, I’d be happy to discuss in the comments.

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On Life Goals and Changes

It has been almost a year since I’ve posted in this space. I haven’t stopped doing science, I promise, but I have had some major changes in my life. As some of you may know, after getting my PhD, I took two postdocs that were both at government-run labs and discovered that I was required to get anything I wrote about my research reviewed before release. Obviously, this put a bit of a damper on my blogging activities because I wasn’t going to put in for approval for every blog post I wrote. In order to avoid this, I kept my blogging about my daily lab life far away from my blogging about actual scientific topics. I wrote a little about lab culture, but without discussing my current research.

And let’s be clear: when you are a laboratory researcher, a lot of your daily thinking about science energy is consumed with thinking about your own research. I found I just didn’t have the energy to learn about science outside of what I need to further my own project, but I didn’t want to write about that so that I didn’t inadvertently break rules at work.

In the meantime, I found myself becoming less and less enamored of laboratory research as a career. When you do laboratory research, you dive deep into one topic or field, and I found that I had broad interests, not deep ones. I loved going to conferences, because I knew just enough science to converse with a wide variety of presenters and understand a variety of presentations. And I started looking into science careers that didn’t involve just doing research.

Of course, my first thought was science writing, which I investigated, but ultimately ended up in a non-writing job in science publishing. It’s a very new experience, but part of my job is to learn about as much new science as I can. So given that, I now hope to keep this space updated a bit more often, and blog about not just social issues that affect scientists, but also new science that particularly catches me eye. And hopefully, it will work a bit more symbiotically than antagonistically with this new phase in my life.

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