Sunday, July 13, 2008

Do As I Say, Not As I Did

As more authors introduce themselves, I'm realizing that my own self-introduction was rather brief and sketchy. So I thought I'd provide a few more details about my career path in the context of a piece of sage advice Bean-Mom provided in her first post:

I didn’t start seriously researching “alternative careers” until very late in my postdoc. In fact, I waited until the push came to shove—when my PI lost his major source of grant funding, and I found myself forced to really think of my career options for the first time. My hope is that young scientists reading this blog will not wait for that “push comes to shove.” Don’t wait until the last minute.

I think one of the worst things one can do in considering alternative careers is to do so in reaction to, and during a time of, career crisis. Like Bean-Mom, I didn't do any research into alternative careers until my crisis, when I realized, two years into the Morass of Misery that was my postdoc experience, that the path I was on wasn't what I wanted at all. And all I could see before me on that path was years and unending years of more of the same.

What I should have done then was to consider my interests, skills, and options, and come to a rational decision as to what alternative career I should choose. But at the time, rationality was drowned out by the voice in my head that was screaming, "GET. THE. HELL. OUT!!!" So I applied for all sorts of random jobs--anything I thought I was remotely qualified for--including many that I now know I wouldn't have enjoyed. Fortunately, I didn't get any of those jobs, and was lucky enough to land my current job instead.

My point is that a career crisis is a bad time to be researching, and making decisions about, alternative careers. And some people who do so jump too impulsively into the first thing that comes along and wind up in some god-awful alternative position that may not be any better than the position they were trying to escape to begin with.

If you're not in the middle of a career crisis and are thinking about options, then you're in way better shape than I was in. Some good ways to begin the research are:

  1. Look through the alumni database, as Bean-Mom suggested. This will give you some idea as to what kinds of alternative positions are available to scientists in your sub-specialty, and may also help you identify good contacts for future networking. More posts on networking to follow.

  2. If your institution's career center sponsors seminars on alternative careers, attend them. Yes, they take time, but you might just discover a really cool career that you never knew existed. And guess what? Those other people sitting in that auditorium are also interested in alternative careers and may be prime targets for information sharing.

  3. Pay attention to what the graduating students and senior postdocs in your department are doing career-wise. Some of them will either be taking alternative positions, or have done some research into them. These people can be a tremendous source of information and advice, so don't pass up on the opportunity to talk to them before they leave.

  4. Check out online job resources for more ideas. Some of the websites that the authors of this blog have found useful are linked in the sidebar.

You'll find that there is a near infinite number of potential alternative careers to choose from. And trust me, you do not want to be researching, networking in, applying to, and interviewing for all of them at the same time. I'll suggest a few ideas for how to narrow down the options in the next post.


The Mad Chemist said...

Good post. Another place one can look for alternative careers is one's professional society.

The American Chemical Society lists jobs across a wide spectrum that are looking for chemists.

I'm sure Biologists, Physicists, etc have their respective societies.

CAE said...

Great advice. If you're looking at alternative options when you're feeling desperate, potential employers will pick up on that. I'll write something soon about how to prepare for your alternative career of choice while still in your academic position...

CAE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mad Hatter said...

Mad Chemist--That's a great suggestion for places to look for alternative careers. I'll do some Googling and see if I can find more good links for our Resources section.

CAE--I agree. It's incredibly difficult to keep the anxiety and stress completely hidden. And that's a great post topic!

Lisa Balbes said...

Nontraditional Careers for Chemists - check out for a list of possible careers, and for resources to help you start exploring them.

Caveat: I'm the one who collected these resources. If you have more to add, feel free to let me know!