Finding work in a science-related field: where do you begin?

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Sandra Porter
For aspiring technicians, who live in the right parts of the country, biotech jobs are out there and waiting. But what if you don't want to be a technician? Or what if you're in graduate school, in a post-doc, or have a Ph.D. and simply want to do something else? Where do you begin? How do you know what sorts of positions are going to be a good match for your skills and talents? Is the outlook really as bleak as it may seem? First, the prelude. Most of what I'm going to write will apply to many more people than the small population with Ph.D.s. This little bit of advice is an exception. Lose the attitude that doing something other than the clear cut academic pathway of student -> post-doc-> professor - is some kind of consolation prize. Academics is a pyramid game and there are far fewer professor positions than training grants for students. And these days, far fewer research grants than professors. To do science in another way is simply that, doing science in another way. Leave the lofty attitudes to those who enjoy them and don't carry them with you when you go interview for other work. Some commenters (and quite rightly) called me out on using "leaky pipeline" language to describe people who look for work outside of academic professor-researcher types of positions. It didn't occur to me beforehand that I might be perpetuating the idea that academia = good and anything else = failure., simply by using that familiar phrase. They were right. Dr. Awesome has a great post on this subject that I highly recommend. Onward. I don't have any kind of magic advice, but I have changed positions a couple of times and I spent many years advising students on job hunting. I have a few suggestions from these experiences that are listed below and will be discussed in turn. Five things you can do to help find a position that works
  1. Make a list of the things that you like, want, or think you like to do.
  2. Make a list of the things that you're good at and the skills that you already have.
  3. Learn how different jobs are described and what each kind of job entails. Do your interests and skills really match the job descriptions?
  4. Network and talk to people in informal settings about kinds of jobs to find out what people do in those positions, maybe even do an internship.
  5. If you're in graduate school or you're a post-doc, consider getting your institution or department to help out.
  6. Grab bag stuff
I write more on this later and I'll incorporate some of the excellent suggestions that have come from commentors like Lora, VCD, and others.
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