Employment in Science

Last week I wrote a post on the STEM job market. While I try to be a positive person, most of what there is to read on this topic is doom and gloom. Nevertheless, I would like to stay employed in the realm of science. I’m a postdoc, which means it’s basically my job to find another job.

phdcomics, Jorge Cham

phdcomics, Jorge Cham


phdcomics, Jorge Cham

I have to admit I’ve been on the ‘academic track’ for some time now. This means I’ve been working towards staying within the university system for a research and teaching career as a faculty member. This is a quest fraught with perils for any young scientist. It is especially hard on female scientists because the time in which you should be most dedicated to your research, your family responsibilities are also kicking into high gear. I wrote a guest post for thepostdocway.com on my experiences as a postdoc trying to play this game.* I am definitely not alone in considering other career paths given personal circumstances. However, there are other pressures in being seen as a drip from a leaky pipeline.**

So what’s my plan? Diversification.

I still think I would make a great faculty member somewhere, even if I had to spend a lot of my time writing grants for funding, but the odds are not in my favor. I have to be realistic because I’d really like to continue earning a paycheck. I’m also applying for science positions with different governmental agencies. I think my communication skills and problem-solving abilities could be put to good use by a variety of agencies. Even if it is ‘away from the bench,’ helping to effect the necessary changes to the system to facilitate the process of science via advocacy and policy would be rewarding. There are a few fellowships available in those areas with deadlines looming this fall. I could also thrive in the fast-paced nature of the private sector. For my area of expertise, this would mean working for an alternative energy company or agricultural giant (Monsanto!?!), but those options mean struggling with PR issues. My training has been heavier on the research side of things, but I enjoy teaching and could contribute as an adjunct faculty member at a university or community college.

Of course my backup plans are a bit more colorful. In my head, I have this imaginary business called Photosynthesis, Inc. (yes, homage to Mystery, Inc.) I get my current PI to retire and we buy all of the specialized photosynthesis equipment on the cheap from the university (no one else will want it). Then we throw it all in a van (The Photosynthesis Machine) and travel the country doing the scary biophysical experiments we know and love for other plant physiologists. We do our fair share of collaborating in this way already, and it would be a great way to see the country. I think I could get my PI to enjoy the traveling life enough that I could stay put and manage the business and data analysis from home. I just haven’t found a way to make this economically feasible without a serious initial investment. Maybe if my husband went on the road too and it was also a food truck? Hopefully there would be no Arabidopsis salads, but maybe GMO-only food could be our specialty niche.

And if I ever manage to win the Powerball, I plan on setting up my own private research institute for other postdocs (itinerant academic workers, as they have been called on phdcomics.com).

So, as you can see I have lots of employment options. I’m sure one of them will come through before the grant money runs out and I have to resort to subsistence farming. Good thing I planted that fig tree and we already have those chickens, right?


* You should check it out, but- Beware, this one is highly personal, but hopefully there is some inspiration in there.

** The ‘problem’ of women in science is often framed using the metaphor ‘leaking pipeline’. Despite the fact that women leave academia for a myriad of reasons, the system views it as a leakage problem. This also gives the connotation that a tenured position is the only successful endpoint and everyone else leaked away into the walls. Really, most of them got rewarding jobs in other sectors.

One thought on “Employment in Science

  1. ihstreet

    Yes. Exactly. You’re doing a much better job of exploring alternate ideas than I am currently :-/. I know it’s different for women, but the pressure applies to guys too; unless I go on to do something truly fantastic and amazing, I’ll be seen as a wash out of the academic system too. Oy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s