One thing I have discovered over the last few years is that no matter what career you choose, it is not always fun. However, you also shouldn’t dread going to work every day! If you are truly unhappy with your job, don’t get stuck just because you think that is all you can do.
As scientists, we are very specialized and this can be a benefit or a curse. We spend years researching one molecule or cell type, one signaling pathway, or one specific disease, but few of us feel like we are ready for the “real world” when we graduate. Most of us aren’t even sure what we want to do, so we just go ahead and look for a scientist job in academia, government or industry.
Luckily, there are plenty of other options to choose from. Some of them are just a little less obvious. There is a plethora of roles within biotech and pharmaceutical companies that need to be filled in order for the business to run smoothly: business development, project manager, pharmaceutical sales, medical writer, and medical science liaison just to name a few.
In addition, other careers such as patent law, scientific recruiting, or graduate school/postdoctoral career advisor may appeal to scientists as well, and while a PhD is not required for those careers, that science PhD could give you an edge and help you succeed.
There are also plenty of companies in business, finance and consulting that recruit MDs or PhDs for positions in their companies that have nothing to do with science or medicine. Those companies believe that if you have the ability to complete an MD or a PhD, they can teach you the rest – you have already shown that you have perseverance, intelligence, and a work ethic.
The most important thing to remember when looking for jobs outside of your specific area of expertise is that you have transferable skills. Look at descriptions for the jobs you are interested in and think about what qualities would make someone a good fit for that job. Do you have those skills? If yes, then add those skills to your resume and cover letter.
To use an example, if you are looking for a job in pharmaceutical sales, your future employer may care what specific project you worked on during your PhD. More likely, he or she will be interested in your communication skills, your assertiveness and your ability to engage people in conversation.
Knowledge about a specific product is important but that can be taught. Personality is much more difficult to alter. If you are naturally outgoing and engaging with a strong business acumen, that is going to matter much more to a potential employer than having the specific knowledge in their area of business.
When I applied for my current position, I didn’t think I had a chance!
The position was a Medical Writer for a company focusing specifically on oncology. My initial thoughts were that they weren’t going to take a second look at my resume since I had never worked in cancer, had no science industry experience, and had been working as a recruiter for the past 1 ½ years.
But I had transferable skills! I had experience writing research papers and grants, I had experience editing research papers, and being a recruiter had helped me learn about the drug development process.
Most of all, I knew how to work on a team and in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment. A few years back, I would have never imagined going back to science, let alone writing. However, I gave it a chance and I am really enjoying it!
Remember, don’t underestimate yourself and don’t be afraid to try something new. Don’t settle for unhappy! I am not saying to jump ship if you are having a bad day or a bad week, but if you are truly unhappy in your job or your career, it is time to consider other options. If you keep an open mind, you may end up enjoying a career that you never even considered a possibility!