Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Thanks to Mad Hatter for creating this space and inviting me to post, and apologies for the tardiness of this introduction! My "alternative career" is in management consulting, although I'm currently on an extended maternity leave spending time with my 4-month old daughter. (My time on the computer has decreased markedly, but I am following the conversation with interest!)

I have actually had two alternative science careers: I first took some time off between college and graduate school and found work with a small science publishing company. Because of the small size of the company and my relationship with one of their authors, I was able to contribute to editing the scientific content of a textbook and had a fantastic time. However, I realized that publishing was less appealing to me than writing books, so I packed my bags and headed for graduate school.

When I began graduate school (in physical chemistry), my long-term goal was to become a small liberal-arts college professor, teach classes, run a small research program, and possibly write my own books someday. I did not find graduate school inspiring, and by the time I was halfway through graduate school I had decided that I wasn't committed enough to the tenure track (and the odds that Pablo has illustrated) to uproot my significant other and dedicate the next decade of my life to getting tenure.

Several friends suggested management consulting to me as a career, so although I was skeptical, I looked into it. I accepted a job offer from a management consulting firm and I've spent the last two years in a variety of locations, working for a range of companies with different focuses. I don't know how the next year will unfold now that my daughter is added to the mix, but I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in management consulting and think it was a fantastic move for me.

One important thing to consider when thinking about career moves is what truly motivates you, and what brought you to science in the first place. In my case, I loved thinking about science, solving problems, creating hypotheses to test in lab, and teaching others about science; however, I was not fond of benchwork and the rigorous trouble-shooting required to get experiments going. The tasks that energize you in the lab can be great clues as you venture into the alternative career realm (and save you from alternative careers that don't really suit you).


The Mad Chemist said...

Welcome to the forum Maxwell's Demon. So do you only consult for science type companies or do you get to work with all types?

Your job sounds really interesting. I would love to hear more about what an average day on the job is like for you---it such a thing exists!

And congrats on the new baby. ;-)

Mad Hatter said...

Excellent post! And I completely agree that the aspects of science one loves can direct one to the right alternative careers.

Maxwell's Demon said...

Thanks, mad ones!

Mad Chemist: I've worked with companies of all types; typically, even if I work for a science type company we're looking at business functions rather than science. However, it's extremely helpful to have a scientific vocabulary in order to communicate across the company.

I'll definitely work on a post about an "average day" (although an "average week" is probably more meaningful)!

Mad Hatter said...

I'm being called "mad" by an imaginary demon who violates laws of nature...LOL!

Yttrai said...

Welcome! And where were you 6 months ago when i needed to pick your brain ;)

I took forward to knowing more about the intersection of science and business. Both of my brothers went BS undergrad, then MBA, and are employed by firms in the health care industry. I highly value business oriented people who understand not just basic science, but what a scientist does on a daily basis. I eagerly anticipate your contributions :)

maddox22 said...

I completely agree with you that taking a close look at what you like about what you're doing can lead you to what you "should" be doing. It's the rare job that has no upside at all!

Jenn said...

Great post! (and great blog in general...)
I was wondering if you can also tell us about how the switch from science to business went? Was it difficult to catch up to other consulting employees with a business background (or maybe you had taken business courses in university?)