February 14, 2011

A sea of possibilities lay before me

I dealt with a lot of anxiety and emotional turmoil as I made my decision to leave graduate school (more on that in a separate post), but the single most frightening and exhilarating question was "What do I do now?" I knew that I didn't want to work at a bench anymore, so that ruled out any lab positions. I also decided that at this point I was not interested in staying in academia, neither as a lecturer or high school teacher.  I had been casually looking into alternative science careers for some time, but I still felt like I didn't know of very many options. Here are a few I considered:
  • Patent Agent / Law
  • I didn't consider it for very long, but I was aware of it as an option. To be a patent agent you just need to pass that part of the bar, and can learn the necessary info by studying on your own. See this JAEP post for more on Patent Law.
  • Policy: Congressional Legislative Assistant
  • I learned about this from a post at JAEP, and looked into the mentioned fellowships (AAAS, ACS). Unfortunately, these positions seemed more competitive than I originally thought and required political experience that I lacked. (The AAAS also requires a PhD.)
  • Scientific Publishing
  • I enjoy writing and learning new science, so I thought this might be a good fit. Unfortunately to be an editor they expect you have a PhD. I could apply to be a publications assistant, and I did see a few openings with PLoS and Nature Publishing Group.
  • Hollywood Science Advisor
  • This sounds like the coolest job ever. You read over scripts and answer questions to assure the accurate portrayal of science in TV and movies. I learned about this from ScriptPhD, but was nervous about the "make your own way" aspect of it.
  • Science Librarian
  • I sat down and talked with the chemistry librarian in our department to understand her position. It sounds like a nice blend of education/communication and resource management, but it would a MS in library science and I didn't feel up to immediately starting a two year commitment. JAEP also did a profile of this position.
  • Technical Writer
  • This could combine my interest in writing and communication with my technical knowledge and skills. I learned at a job fair that most scientific companies hire or contract with technical writers (someone has to write all those manuals and online help pages).
Technical writing is the career path I've decided to follow for now. I realize that it's not the most glamorous position, but since I learned most of my new skills in graduate school by reading through product documentation, I understand the value in friendly, informative literature about a program or product. Also factoring into my new career path is the dreaded two-body problem; I want to stay in the area of Big University at least until my boyfriend finishes his degree.

So there we are. I'm starting to send out applications and since I'm so poignantly aware of how awesome I am, I naively believe that my time from now until the beginning of a new career will be short. I hope you enjoy my continued reflections on graduate school and forthcoming contemplations on the alternative chemistry/science job market.

1 comment:

  1. You might also want to consider government positions. Unfortunately they tend to be geographically limited (mostly DC) which might not work for you, but they require similar skills to technical writing - the ability to evaluate scientific data and distill it into an understandable form. I switched from the lab to job at a regulatory agency, and it has been a great switch for me.