It seems quite strange to me, being an industrial scientist-
manager-researcher, turned semi-academic, to hear my
colleagues talk about alternate careers in industry as going
to the “dark side,” so to speak. It is a common attitude many
students and post-docs speak to me about. [Their PIs often
say, if you go into industry or government or commercial
fields, you will not be able to follow your passions any
longer. Your life will be dominated by profit-loss-risk
and your motivations will be “less-pure.”]
To give it legs, my colleague R. Bretz [an academic] shared
a blog piece about NIH offering “non-academic career
training” for PhDs and Post-docs. One of its pillars
is the writing of C. Fuhrmann as she relates to the biomedical
field. [but it seems many academics ascribe to this line of
Perhaps wiser perspectives on the matter of choice of
career paths, in many scientific, engineering and technology
fields are offered in the comments section of a “harebrained
scheme for science curriculum training.”
People should resist the temptation of the “path of least
resistance” of going to grad school because I got good grades
in courses and seemed to like the free flow of ideas in an
academic setting. They might want to take up, as we have in
certain programs, a realistic self assessment and tactical
action plan of exploring different career paths. It is more
than “have you thought about going into business or consulting?”
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It puts students in the self imposed position of asking themselves
without recrimination and with data of likely outcomes in terms
of life span paths, what does it mean if I earn my PhD in
biochemistry or physics or electrical or computer engineering?
In the view of academic career paths, it means needing to do
a post-doc or two over the next three to five years. Then, tirelessly
working to develop your application package before similar
challenging grant-seeking applications, with tighter and tighter
In the view of industrial career paths, there are different challenges
many of which are hard to predict. Thus, the uncertainty dilemma.
Nonetheless, we have been trained in our careers to reduce
uncertainty by experiment and gain perspective by asking good
questions and make progress despite challenges and uncertainty.
Government service positions can be assessed, yet often involve
doing a post-doc in a government lab. It seems to be a combination
of academic tenure process and willingness to change directions
as in industry.
There are other entrepreneurial routes that should be explored and
paths not defined because they have not existed before and we will
be developing them. Again, this is what the graduate degree program
has been teaching us if we have been paying attention.
Thanks for sharing, Rich.