Don’t forget to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the series on alternative careers in science.
In a previous post, I talked about academia not being designed for people who have depression, anxiety, etc to succeed. I also spent some time talking about imposter syndrome, specifically asking “How can I sit with a student who has imposter syndrome and say ‘No, you’re truly awesome and don’t realize it’ when if someone tells me that, my first thought is how naive that makes them sound?’
And while I know that there are people who can work through these kinds of thoughts and succeed in academia, those thoughts are what drove me to start looking at careers outside of academia. Why? Because I believed that there is a career that would allow me to give back to the scientific community (and non-scientific community interested in science) that did not require me to constantly be at war with myself emotionally.
This particular post is the final in a series about careers in science other than being a research advisor (PI) or even being a researcher in industry, which, during my PhD, were often the only real options I was presented with.
In Part 1, I described how to figure out what alternatives careers in science actually exist for you. I also talked about teaching, working within a business, starting your own business, policy, and administration.
In Part 2, I discussed more possibilities outside of academia proper with non-traditional research, positions in public health, intellectual property specialists, and going into clinical practice.
Wait, are there more options?
Well, truthfully, your options are limitless. I’m sure you can mix your love of science with any of your other interests. For example, do you love the outdoors? Host tours of the local ecology, work at a nearby zoo or garden, create a guided science hike.
But the main option I want to focus on today is science communication.
My Individual Development Plan (IDP) lists science writing as a field of interest to scientists, so let’s start there. It’s a broad field encompassing many different types of writing. When I first heard about it, I thought about the articles that you see online, communicating science to the non-scientific community, but it goes well beyond that. Here are some options that IDP lists:
- Science journalism
- Medical writing
- Medical editing
- Research journal editing
- Science Broadcasting (I’ll come back to this later)
- Scientific Translating
- Public Relations
- Public Information Officer
That already is a plethora of options. If you’ve done any biomedical research or perhaps even drug development, the transition to medical writing and editing might work well for you. If you’re interested in communicating to a broader audience, science journalism is a great avenue to reach non-experts. If you speak multiple languages fluently, scientific translating would allow you access to cutting-edge research while making a difference in globalizing science. Specifically, translating or editing scientific papers is a much needed resource.
Working in public relations involves communicating with different members of an organization or its followers through online and offline means. A public information officer similarly coordinate communication at government agencies.
If you are already a good writer, or if you are willing to improve your writing to get involved in science writing, people with PhDs are critical to this field. Your understanding of the scientific process, critical thinking, and research techniques give you valuable insight that you can use to communicate science to the world.
If you are interested in science writing, here are some organizations that can help you get started.
- American Medical Writers Association (AMWA)
- National Association of Science Writers (NASW)
- Society for Technical Communication (STC)
In addition to science writing, you might consider technical writing. Technical writers prepare documents such as instruction manuals, how-to guides, and journal articles, aiming to make technical information easier to understand. Check out this career path map about Technical Writing, really helpful for seeing future growth.
This field is one that I feel is often ignored, yet something that most of us have experience with. How many of us grew up watching Mr. Wizard, Bill Nye, Carl Sagan, David Attenborough, and other science communicators? There are many possibilities now for explaining science in a visual way. Nowadays, one does not need to be on television to be seen by millions of viewers. The internet and sites like YouTube are allowing many to create amazing videos that explain science in a way that everyone can understand.
When I started looking into science communication, I was met with many people who do science writing. But the more I dig into it and try to think outside the box, the broader range of possibilities that seem open to me. I want to spend an entire post just discussing these new frontiers of science communication, but let me just say that your imagination is key.
Your future is bright and open, and to be successful and happy, you don’t have to confine yourself to the age-old “academia vs industry” argument. Instead, think about the things you love to do and find a way to mix them into a career that you’ll be excited to follow.
Good luck on your path. May it be a fruitful one!
What other interests do you have outside of labwork? How might you mix those interests with your love of science to create something new?
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