Exploring Career Paths
There are many reasons why doctoral students and alumni begin to consider careers outside of the traditional tenure-track path. Some begin to feel that the academic path that they were on is no longer the best fit for them. Others find that geographic or family concerns require them to expand the scope of their job search. Others decide that in the face of a tight academic job market, it’s worthwhile to develop a “Plan B” whether or not they put that plan into action. If you have found that your priorities and career goals have changed since the time you started graduate school, you are not alone.
Approach your exploration of expanded career paths as you would any other project. This one will have three elements:
What is self assessment? Self assessment means taking some time to think about your own definitions of what it means to be happy and successful in a career (and setting aside some of the messages you may have gotten from friends and family, advisers, and peers). What are your interests and values? What are the skills you would like to put into play in your next role? Self assessment can be informal (keeping a journal) or formal (taking a career assessment like the MBTI or the Strong Interest Inventory).
Read everything—books, blogs, professional association websites—you can about the fields that have caught your attention. Learn the lingo. Most importantly, read job postings (see the Directory section for where to find them). Reading job postings in various fields, though it sounds a bit prosaic, can help you to see where your skills are a match for different positions (and identify gaps that you might be able to overcome with some experience).
Try Something New
Not sure if you would like working in a given field? Find a way to try it out. Do an internship or shadow someone for a day. If that seems too bold as a first step, take on a role in your program you’ve never tried. Organize a conference. Volunteer to manage the speaker series. Work on a digital project at the New Media Lab. Get active in the DSC. Trying something new is one of the most important things you can do to get your career moving in different directions.
General Job Search Resources
Our job boards and search engines database is a good starting place for finding job openings in various industries.
Our office provides free access to a couple important online career resources:
- The Versatile PhD’s Career Finder provides users with general information about various industry sectors and success stories (including sample job search documents and Q&As) of PhDs who have gone on to work in those fields.
- Vault’s Industry Guides are great for learning the ins and outs of a given industry, as well as for getting an in-depth perspective on employers in a wide variety of careers.
STEM-specific Job Search Resources
*For more field-specific resources & opportunities, visit our STEM career options page.
Divides By Sectors: biochemistry, bioinformatics, biology, biomedical sciences, biophysics, biotechnology, cancer research, cell biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, faculty, genetics, genomics, health sciences, immunology, life sciences, materials science, mathematics, microbiology, molecular biology, neuroscience, physical sciences, physics, virology
- Discipline Filter: life science, biomedicine, health science, chemistry, physics, engineering, computing, environmental science, applied science, earth science, mathematics
- Job Type Filter: postdoctoral, faculty member, researcher, PhD studentship, bioinformatician, principal investigator, editor, director, research assistant, engineer, project manager, manager, head of department, health professional, marketing, sales, writer
- Employment Filters (hours, duration, required qualifications)
Divides By Sectors: research, accounting & finance, information technology, editorial/publishing, communications & media relations, administration, marketing & sales, interns & fellows, contracts & grants
All positions for any government agency are posted through this job board. Agencies of interest to STEM students may include:
Fish & Wildlife Service
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
Environmental Protection Agency
Department of Agriculture
Food & Drug Administration
National Park Service
Dept. of Energy
National Institutes of Health
National Science Foundation
Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities
Example facilities: Columbia University’s Biomarkers Core Laboratory, Princeton University Biomolecular Electron Microscopy, University of Pittsburgh’s Genomics Research Core, Nebraska Center for Biotechnology’s Microscopy Core Research Facility, Harvard University’s Chan Bioinformatics Core, Ohio State University’s Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis