Sometimes the science career track can feel like a track you are stuck on. If you are starting to feel like your career options are limited to being faculty or failure, or that you just want to give up and go back to school to learn a trade, you might not be aware of some of the really interesting career resources that are out there. Since I’ve been working in career education, I’m in touch with a number of interesting resources that might be useful to people who need some inspiration looking outside the tenure track box for their career.
One of the best, most comprehensive resources is O*NET, which links a number of different services that are helpful in linking skills to jobs. A lot of the sources I am highlighting are linked from this federal website.
A great place to start your hunt is My Next Move, which is a labor-focused personality test that will connect you to jobs that you might be well suited for. It asks questions about how appealing you find a variety of activities (Would you like to compose music? Manage a retail store? Lead group therapy? Create a database?), and the tool uses your preferences to link you to careers.
The quiz is short, which means it’s not super detailed. This is great if you are in a career funk, since it is more likely to connect you to careers you probably wouldn’t have considered or aren’t aware of. For example, because I am what they call Realistic and Investigative, it suggested I might enjoy working as a Fish and Game Warden. Each of these careers is then connected to Department of Labor resources that will indicate the likely growth and market for that career. This is a nice place to start if you can be very open-minded about where your career is headed.
If you want a more in depth look at your interests, look for a career profiler. There are many free career profilers available, I recommend taking several. These tend to help you assess your passions, as well as the type of work environment you are likely to enjoy. For example, after taking several career profiles I have come to peace with the fact that I don’t like being told what to do, and that I don’t like telling others what to do. My ideal position is quite autonomous. Career profilers tend to ask different questions, so taking a few can be enlightening if you are really starting from a blank slate.
My Next Move also has resources for perusing industries and for matching up specific skills to jobs. When you run a search for “spreadsheets,” it will remind you of all the careers that might take advantage of that skill, like budget analysts, fuel cell technicians and purchasing agents, to name a few. They also highlight careers that have a Bright Outlook. This designation indicates predicted growth, a large number of openings, or a new field. When you click on a new career, it will take you to a summary page that briefly describes what the job is, and the skills, abilities and knowledge required for it. My Next Move has some information about the job outlook, but for a more indepth look, I recommend the O*NET Online complete report.
From the summary page, you can link to the O*NET Online complete report of any occupation you are interested it. I found it terribly helpful to see careers broken down into their component parts. The complete report ranks the various skills, knowledge and tasks for a huge number of jobs.
For example, a food a scientist needs to know a lot of science, like you expect, but they also need to understand policy and governance, as well as administration and management. You can also learn that a food scientist sends emails every day, and often works with time pressure. While many of these factors depend on your work environment, this is a resource that can help you understand how responsibilities change as you progress in a field or switch industries, and can help you decide how to optimize using the skills you enjoy, and minimize tasks you dislike.
O*NET can also provide links to crosswalks, which is a buzzword for translating buzzwords. In my current work, we tend to think about military crosswalks; if you were a Biological Defense Officer in the Navy, you might be well suited to be an Emergency Management Directors as a civilian. I recommend you check out the education crosswalks; you put in your degree and O*NET will suggest job titles that use that degree. The other crosswalks can be used to help you cast a broad net in your search.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/) is a resource that is meant to describe the industry, work environment, and job opportunities of a number of very specific careers. This is a great resource for the numbers- the Occupational Outlook Handbook will tell you that there were 15,700 Biomedical Engineers in 2010, and that it is expected that there will be an additional 9,700 by 2020. That’s huge growth, but it’s also not that many jobs. It breaks down the career opportunities by environment, only 9% of biomedical engineers are at universities, while 25% of them are in medical devices.
For any given occupation, the handbook also links to similar jobs. This is great for helping you figure out that the job with engineer in the title (Biomedical Engineer) will make slightly more than the Biochemist, and that there are a lot more jobs for those engineers. The work environment part of the handbook is meant to address the potential for work-life balance, but the listing for Post-Secondary Teachers (Professors) states that professors have flexible schedules and can set their own hours. You may want to take this with a grain of salt. The Handbook is very user friendly, and you might consider directing your well-meaning friends and family here when they ask you “What does that mean you are going to be a biostatistician?”
The hope is that you can use those tools to set your expectations, and to identify the skills you need to develop to get a career you can be happy with. This should give you an idea about the types of companies you’d like to work for, and the job titles you might be applying for. But chances are good you will still need to develop some of the skills required for your dream job, and that can be hard to juggle when you also need to graduate, or get your next paper out.
For that, AAAS and Science Careers want to help. They have created a tool called myIDP, for my Individual Development Plan, that provides coaching for your career. You create a profile, take some skills assessments and create goals, and it will connect your to resources and send you reminders about your goals to help keep you on track.
The focus is on setting attainable, trackable goals, so that you can work on meeting those goals. You might choose to create a teaching portfolio, to find and attend a management seminar, or to develop contacts through informational interviews. Having reminders and a structure for support has been demonstrated to make a big difference on whether you actually accomplish these goals. The tool is free, and might be just what you need to stay on track in that last year of postdoc while you are trying to wrap up projects, network, and find your dream job.
Let me know in the comments if there are other resources that I am missing. Good luck out there!
Sandlin Seguin, Ph.D. earned her doctorate in molecular biology in 2011 from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a Curriculum and Faculty Development Specialist at the Life Science Informatics Center at Bellevue College. She is the Executive Director of Education Programs at HiveBio, Seattle’s new biohackerspace and DIYBio Lab.