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Science Careers Blog

September 7, 2010

Seeking the Alternative

This week, GenomeWeb's The Daily Scan featured two blog posts on alternative careers: Februa at Almost a PhD wrote about her discouragement at an incredibly vague career seminar on alternative careers, and the Prodigal Academic followed up with a great post highlighting some specific alternative careers.

Februa's experience highlights just how little information scientists get about the variety of career paths they can pursue away from the bench. Over the years, Science Careers highlighted several of these alternative/nontraditional careers in our articles, which almost always include stories from Actual People doing those jobs. Following on from what the bloggers above and their commenters have suggested, here are some alternative careers we've highlighted over the years, in no particular order: 

All funding agencies -- NIH, NSF, ESF, and so on -- have program officers behind the scenes making decisions about grant applications. Read about some of them in Working as a Program Officer.

Perhaps a teacher along the way inspired you to pursue a career in science. Why not try teaching? See, for example, Scientists as Schoolteachers, Community College Faculty: Must Love to Teach, and Careers in Teaching. (See also Teaching Science to Nonscience Majors, and Teach the Students You Have).


Did you love writing for your university paper or otherwise really love news? Consider a career in science writing. See Starting a Career in Science Writing, which includes Some Thoughts on Becoming a Science Writer, Science Journalism Degrees: Do They Make a Difference? See also my recent blog post on becoming a science writer.


When you send in a manuscript to a journal, there are editors on the other end who determine its worth. Book publishers and societies with publishing arms also employ science editors. See Careers in Science Editing: Feature Index

Similarly, many scientists have found rewarding work in public relations at agencies and scientific organizations. Read about them in Getting the Message Across: Scientists in Public Relations.

Medical writing includes many different types of jobs, from working in biotech companies to regulatory agencies. This collection -- Careers in Medical Writing: Opening Doors -- covers some of these diverse jobs. We also revisited this topic more recently in Working as a Medical Writer.

Do you love talking to people about science? Consider a career in science outreach: Read Transitioning from Researcher to Outreacher and Making Schools Better in New York City.


Science museums are a great place to be around science. Read more in Careers in Zoos and Museums, An Astrophysicist at La Città della Scienza, Darwin's Legacy: Rich Collections, Deep Expertise, and Darwin's Legacy: Keeping Order.

In most countries, science is funded by national governments, and that means politicians are making decisions about how much money science gets. Contribute your expertise through a career in science policy. Read more in A Matter of Policy and Finding Your Way Into Policy Careers in Europe.

If the intellectual property end of things interests you, you might consider a career as a patent attorney. Read In Person: Peter Brown, Patent Attorney Pending and Careers in Patent Law.

Regulatory science offers opportunities for life scientists to get involved in shepherding drugs to market. Read more in our recent article All in the Details: Careers in Regulatory Science. For an industry perspective, see Tooling Up: The Regulatory Affairs Career Track.


Universities have many types of jobs for Ph.D.s away from the bench:

Most research universities will have an technology transfer department responsible for working out how to commercialize its researchers' discoveries. Read more in Transferring Skills to Tech Transfer.

Read about one researcher's job in a university diversity office to make a difference in the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities in The Passion of the Science: A Nontraditional Pathway.

If you like to help others understand what their true career passions are, consider a career as a career advisor. Read more in It Isn't Just the Ambiance.

People in staff development work on everything from curriculum to course materials. Read more in A Developing Career.

Research administration
offers scientists a chance to help others find research funding, develop research proposals, and coordinate dispersal of funds. Read more in University Research Administration: Benefits, Not Bureaucracy.


Read more about careers within university settings in Alternative Career Routes in the Ivory Tower


The Prodigal Academic did a great job of describing some of the jobs in industry. Dave Jensen, our Tooling Up columnist, has written about some specific industry job types in the last year: The Medical Writing and Corporate Intelligence Career Tracks, The Applications Scientist Career Track, The Project Management Career Track, and The Biomanufacturing Career Track.

As the Prodigal Academic mentioned, sales is an important career sector. Read articles about scientists in these jobs in Careers in Sales and After-sales Service


Perhaps you have an outside interest that you're really passionate about. Read about a coffee roaster, a comedian, an artist, and more folks who left science altogether in And Now for Something Completely Different. See also The Itinerant Artist and Finding the Way Back to a First (Career) Love.


The Science Careers outreach program has a bunch of materials you might find interesting, too. Check out these slides, this booklet, and this handout on alternative careers (perhaps suggest to your department that they use this at the next alternative careers event ...).

This is not an exhaustive list, but it hits the major categories of so-called alternative careers that aren't really discipline-specific. Please feel free to offer more suggestions below in the comments. Best of luck!


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