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alternative careers for PhDs

Rae Nishi nishir at ohsu.edu
Fri Aug 22 12:39:50 EST 1997

After a long absence I was thunderstruck by all the bad vibes in the
threads about postdocs and futures for PhDs.  I would like to insert a
few more positive comments:

1.  If you are deciding on whether to go to grad school or are already
in training (for PhD or postdoc), remember that it is very competitive
for traditional academic jobs.  It always has been.  When I applied for
grad schools in 1975, there was serious talk about cutting back on
graduate training.  And one institution even sent me a letter telling
me it was competitive and I should re evaluate whether I really wanted
to do this.  All this means, is you have to ask yourself whether you
are willing to put out the little extra it takes to distinguish
yourself from the crowd.  You can't go into training expecting to just
"get by".  This doesn't mean working 24 hrs a day.  It means spending
more time thinking, reading, organizing yourself.

2.  Even if you find that the traditional academic track is
distasteful, all is not lost.  I know a variety of PhDs who have taking
different career tracks.  Some examples:  I had a postdoc in my lab who
was clearly not "inspired" by doing research.  I talked with her and
suggested she try something else other than academic science.  She went
to law school at Duke university and now has a very lucrative career as
a patent lawyer, which she loves.  Another friend of mine got a PhD,
did a postdoc, and decided that science wasn't for her.  She enrolled
in a two year science journalism class and is now working full time for
Science magazine.  The technology transfer officer at my university has
a PhD from Caltech and did a postdoc at Stanford.  She worked in the
tech transfer office at NIH and now is director here.  Another friend
of mine did not want to be a PI (even though he has a PhD).  He is a
valued senior research associate in a lab here.  He never has to write
grants, gets to do all research and is very happy.  The imaging
specialist at a microscope vendor in the northwest is a former asst.
prof. Another friend of mine "bailed" out of science and is now putting
together science presentations and demos for the local elementary
school.  I don't consider these people "failures".  Rather, they are
successes because they found jobs in which they are considerably
happier than when they were in the lab.

Rae Nishi, PhD
Professor (Yes, Sarah, the promotion came through)
Dept. Cell & Developmental Biology
Oregon Health Sciences University
Portland Oregon 97201
**that's Orygun, NOT Ora-Gone**

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