March 31, 2011

Do you have the skills to pay the bills?

by flickr user dulk
Because I am seeking an alternative science career, the skills I've acquired through my education really aren't that useful. I mean, yes, I know a lot about chemistry, but what good is that for a desk job? So which skills are the most valuable in terms of securing employment?  Well, in my humble opinion they happen to be the skills that I developed independently as hobbies. For instance, the computer skills I've developed over a lifetime. I taught myself how to code HTML / CSS and became very comfortable with image manipulation software and office products. Some of those skills were valuable in graduate school, academia tends to greatly value free webdesign in my experience. The hard part is explaining to employers that my hobbies really have trained me in these skills well enough to justify employing me in a job where I do only that.

Luckily, I found an employer willing to take a chance on me. So I'm leaving chemistry for his sexy younger brother: computer science. I will be starting a job with a software company in a few weeks, and while I have mixed feelings about abandoning science, I am excited about the position and hope that I find it enjoyable. Regardless the position pays much better than a grad student stipend, and it allows me to stay near the other half of my two-body problem.

Right now I consider this a hiatus from alternative science careers, but who knows where this journey will take me. I hope to continue writing about topics relevant to the audience I have built, but apologize in advance if I begin to diverge into tangential topics.


  1. Cool blog. All of your observations are sooo true. I found out not too long after entering a PhD program that my chances of getting a PhD were good, but that my chances of living happily ever-after were slim. I'd be lucky as hell if I ever found a job in teaching or research and that if I did, I'd never get to have a life. Everyone told me that I'd work 60+ hours a week for "a few years" like it something to be proud of or happy about. If only they could get sweat-shop laborers to love their wage-slavery that much!! No thanks, life is for living.

    And here's another thing I found out: once you get the PhD, it can become a chain around your neck if you don't go into an area that requires you to have one. That's because people (most people) don't like working with a PhD if they don't have to. Not only do most people think that PhDs cost a lot of money, but they're also known for being prima donnas. No one wants to work in a building with one PhD! :)

    So I left with a MS after getting a paper in Langmuir and one in Chemistry of Materials in my second year and passing my Comps with flying colors (two committes members used my proposal as examples to their students). Everyone thought I was crazy and my family still does...they just don't get it.

    I got a job as a Lab manager at a small "environmental lab," which a nice euphemism for "poopy-water lab": it's a water/waste-water lab :) Not very complicated stuff, but they're required by NELAC to have a degreed chemist. I live in a small town by a large lake with lots of resorts (the town grows by an order of mag in the summer) and the people I work with are good-hearted and fun. I'm definitely not a redneck and never thought I'd live anywhere other than a city, but I've really grown to like it. I read more here and I've thought about taking up writing. My chess game has definitely improved and the scenery is awesome. And the best part: I work four 9-hour days a week, most of which is spent clowning around, and lots of snow days in the winter! The money's not great, 39G/yr plus I get a gas card (worked that into the package), but I'm not that needy ;)

  2. @Anonymous - Thank you so much for reading! I'm hoping to be a voice for a group of people who are usually silent. (People who leave with a MS.)

    I definitely agree with your comments, and I wish more undergraduates could be aware of these issues. I think part of the problem is that PhDs tend to paint grad school in a glamorous light because after enduring such an ego-crushing traumatic experience they have to justify it to themselves.

    And, congratulations on finding a fulfilling position! I think that a lab can still be effective and easygoing. Thanks for writing!