From PhD to Life

By Craig W. Stropkay, (PhD ’13, Molecular and Cell Biology, Ren lab)

Reach for the stars, they said. You should definitely go get your PhD, you’d be great for it, they said. Well, I guess they did have a point. Pursuing my doctorate degree in Molecular Biology at Brandeis was definitely one of the most challenging things that I have ever had to do in my life. I could spend hours telling you about the long hours I spent trying to construct my dissertation or the countless nights that I had to wake up and drive into the lab from Medford just to “feed” my cells — but that’s not the point of this article. I want to talk about something that I wish was more openly discussed when I first started my journey towards pursuing a PhD. Something that I believe is important to anyone who is currently working their way towards earning their doctoral degree: a job.

Now I know what you may be thinking: why would I need to worry about a job when I know I will continue onto a postdoc and then a tenure-track academic post? Isn’t that what everyone does? That is precisely my point. Don’t get me wrong: there is absolutely nothing wrong with continuing a career in academia upon completion of your doctorate. It takes a lot of patience, skill, and dedication to remain in the field after you have literally spent years becoming an expert in everything dealing with Life Science. Maybe you’ve considered going that route, feeling that your choices are limited. Many people believe that apart from academia, their only “alternative” option is to go into industry and work in biotech or pharma.

Image from Naturejobs article

Welcome to a new age my friends. Contrary to popular belief, your doctoral degree can be used in much more than just the educational realm. I’d like to introduce you to a path that many do not even know exists. A path that will allow you to use your degree in more ways than what has been previously assumed to be “the only way”. As the holder of a doctoral degree, you can still have prominent and even high paying research roles outside of the laboratory.

“Surveys indicate that professors often encourage their students to follow in their footsteps, and in some cases, actively discourage careers outside academia.”
Source: www.nature.com/news/the-future-of-the-postdoc-1.17253

I first became aware about these alternative paths when I was about halfway through the program. Dr. Goode kindly took the time to set up a panel of alumni to discuss different options that we could take outside of academia. We all met in the Rosenstiel penthouse, with some pizza and beer if I remember correctly, and I was introduced to some of the other choices that could be made including careers in consulting, scientific writing, and even MSL. The best part? There’s even more than that out there. It’s just not talked about as much inside the world of the PhD student.

Here’s a list of some (but not all) of the top career choices for Life Science PhD holders:

Consulting / Market Research

Consulting is an excellent career choice for PhD students because they have already selected a field to specialize in as they prepare for their dissertation. Management consulting firms look to PhD students to head positions that are specific for certain types of clients (i.e. science and technology). They are especially interested in doctorate students because they have developed a unique set of analytical skills that will be needed to become an effective consultant.

  • Health Advances offers consulting services within the health care industry.
  • ClearView Healthcare Partners is a boutique life sciences consulting firm based in the Boston area that provides premier strategic consulting services to biopharmaceutical companies and investors.

Writing

Although this may be similar to an academic, it’s different in that you do not have to necessarily teach any students.  Your research skills and extensive writing capabilities will serve you well if you’re have an interest in becoming a writer.  A technical writer for a company or even a freelance writer are both excellent choices if you wish to continue with the writing that you have been so accustomed to while a graduate student.

  • Certara is the leading drug development consultancy with solutions spanning the discovery, preclinical and clinical stages of drug development.
  • Plato BioPharma is a pre-clinical contract research organization (CRO) delivering robust in vivo physiological and pharmacological data and biomarker profiles to understand compound activity in the cardiovascular, renal, pulmonary & diabetic therapeutic areas.

Law

Did you really think that law was only for your political science and communication students?  Intellectual property firms will recruit Life science PhD students to become technical specialists/ scientific advisors that must review and write applications for patents.  On top of that, many of these firms will sponsor your law school tuition, so that you have a comfortable salary while getting your degree part time.  Many skills that you have developed in graduate and post graduate school directly translate to what you need to pursue a career in law.

  • Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is the premier provider of legal services to technology, life sciences, and growth enterprises worldwide
  • Clients partner with Cooley on transformative deals, complex IP and regulatory matters, and high-stakes litigation, where innovation meets the law

Entrepreneur

Contrary to what you may have heard, you don’t have to go to business school to become an entrepreneur.  The only thing that you really need is a good idea and a lot of perseverance and patience.  Seeing as how you’ve been spending the last few years pursing a doctorate, it’s safe to say that you have both.  Your advantage is that you know how to think critically and provide in depth research before making any rash decisions.

  • KOLgroups provides physician recruitment, phone interviews, and in-depth interviews for life science and healthcare market research studies
  • PathoVax LLC is developing a best-in-class prophylactic Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine technology RGVax targeting all 15 cancer-causing strains

Sales

When we say sales, we’re not talking about a retail clothing store or restaurant venture.  Sales for a Life Science PhD student would mean giving presentations about complicated products, instruments, or other tools that someone outside of the field may not have enough experience in to sell properly.  A field applications scientist in the Pharmaceutical or Biotechnical sector may be the best option for those who want a smooth transition from researching to sales.  In this role, you are more of the product specialist who talks about the products as opposed to the person who has to seal the deal with the client.

  • Thermo Fisher Scientific is dedicated to improving the human condition through systems, consumables, and services for researchers
  • Pall Corporation is a manufacturer of proprietary filtration, separation and purification products and solutions

There are other career paths, but these are some of the most popular. Take the time to talk with your advisor and other people in the field outside of academia to see which is best for you. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to talk more or have any questions.

Craig W. Stropkay, PhD
Director, Life Science Consultant
KOLgroups, LLC
craig@KOLgroups.com

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