Ok, so the luster of the ivory tower has worn off.
But you spent at least five years getting that degree, and maybe have struggled through your 4th and 5th post-doctoral positions. Now what? Is it time to rock it like a hobo, traveling across the U.S. in search of your next great adventure?
Is it time to pack it all in and open a bar instead? Something with kitchy happy hour cocktails like “Cold Fusion” or the hangover cure “Dihydrogen Monoxide?” Maybe, but you could also consider some of these other jobs.
(Associate) Program Officer. This is a pretty sweet gig. Program Officers get to run programs and allocate funds to extramural research scientists to do good work. This position exists at the NIH (of course), the federal government, foundations, non-profits, and probably a few places I’m missing. This position requires you to become more of a generalist, which some of us find more gratifying than knowing every little detail about one cell type or subcellular protein.
This is an administrative role, with no lab work. You generally need to be good with financials & project management, and have pretty good communication skills. Often, program officer positions are for an area of research, like “Cancer Research,” so being comfortable with not knowing everything and depending on outside resources is often important.
So how about salary? Associate positions can start at around $60k or higher, with more senior positions often north of $100k, sometimes significantly so. So do your research when looking into these positions!
Patent Examiner. Patent examiners generally work for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). And no, you don’t need another degree. The USPTO looks for content matter experts to serve as examiners, and offers perks for things like pursuing a law degree. Totally worth checking out. So if you’re looking for a solid career path with advancement opportunity, and opportunities to learn new skills, this is something to consider.
What areas of expertise do they look for? Well, I’m thinking that if you can patent something in a given field, then that field qualifies. So just about every field qualifies. Now how about that salary? Patent examiners are subject to the GS scale, and examiners with a PhD and three o of professional experience often hit the GS-11 portion of the scale, which in 2016 in Washington DC ranges from $65k to $85k annually.
Consulting. This is a catch-all phrase for “I have expertise in Area X, which is worth something to you, and I would be happy to accept payment in order to provide you with that expertise.” Now, this can be in a firm/company, or you can freelance it (just make sure to pay those estimated taxes if you freelance it!).
This can be a 40-hour-a-week gig, or a few-hours-here-and-there gig. You can work for a private industry (law firms, biotech, etc.), the U.S. government (often as a SETA, or Science, Technology & Engineering Technical Assistant, a.k.a. Systems Engineering Technical Assistant, a.k.a. Project Specialist, Project Analyst, Program Analyst, etc.). On to moola. As an independent consultant, you can set your rate wherever you want to. Just remember to consider your market and what people are willing to pay for your services. Other positions, like a SETA, can range widely from the $80k range annually to well over $100k annually.
Business Development. Ok, I like Business Development a lot. Some scientists think that those who do BD failed at science, so there might be a stigma. But it’s a job that requires so many skill sets, and you can often learn these on-the-job, especially if you find a small start-up looking for hungry, intelligent, motivated people (like yourself).
I learned quite a bit at my first start-up, and currently find myself in a BD role at a research institute. And it’s a lot of fun! BD can mean bringing in money to a non-profit or a for-profit in the form of grants, revenue, licensing, etc. It can also mean identifying markets and partnerships with other companies and academic institutions that will benefit all those involved. It can mean outlining larger strategies for success.
I’m also going to tuck Technology Transfer under this heading – most tech transfer positions are at universities. It means taking seedling science projects and figuring out how to mature it along a development pipeline to benefit humanity, or bring in profit, or whatever your institute or company mission is. This position is usually team-oriented and requires a significant breadth of knowledge. BD often has “incentive-related” bonuses, where you get a percent of whatever profit you bring in. This is on top of a base salary that is usually $100k or more. Often quite a bit more. Tech transfer associates start in the range of $70k, but can certainly progress to north of $100k.
Science Writing/Editing. This is a pretty big opportunity space, with lots to consider. There are scientific journals, but there are also institutes, foundations, biotechs and other entities who need to develop marketing literature, write research articles, develop web content, and draft white papers. The pay for this job is in the $60k range to start, but goes up into the $70k and $80k range.
So there you have it. While this list is by no means exhaustive, here are seven options for escaping the bench: 1) Hobo; 2) Bar Owner; 3) Program Officer; 4) Patent Examiner; 5) Consultant; 6) Business Development; 7) Science Writing/Editing. Choose wisely.