It’s been about a month since my last post where I introduced 7 non-labwork industry jobs I wish I knew about during grad school. In that one, I talked about medical writer, field application scientist, medical science liaison, sales scientist, museum scientist, and others!
I did want to mention a few more fields, or realms, that you can work in with a life sciences Ph.D. in the U.S.
I couldn’t NOT mention these to you all, because during my job search I genuinely thought these seemed really cool – and they may be right up your alley!
Once again, I’m not an expert on any of these jobs and don’t know much about any of them. I’m simply the messenger, telling you that they exist. If any of them sound interesting, feel free to look into them further. I share links for each one to get you started on the research.
I hope these posts help you see that there’s seriously so much you can do with a life sciences Ph.D.!
I say this all the time but it’s really important to understand the market, as in, actually know the breadth of job options that are out there for you, so you can make the best decision for you.
I emphasize this a lot because I remember being in grad school and not knowing anything about any jobs out there. My worldview was so tiny! So I hope these posts help you see all the options you have in front of you.
1. Tech Transfer
Technology transfer, or tech transfer is a field that not a lot of people really know about, but it’s a great one if you’re interested in helping research results get to the market without performing the research yourself.
Here’s a great, concise definition of tech transfer from techtransfercentral.com:
Technology transfer (or tech transfer), in the context of research institutions, is the process by which new inventions and other innovations created in those institutions’ labs are turned into products and commercialized.https://techtransfercentral.com/what-is-technology-transfer/
Typically tech transfer agents work for universities and other research agencies. These universities and research agencies create inventions and make discoveries that they would want to then have produced in industry for profit. Technology transfer agents work on the IP or intellectual property and patents that are associated with these discoveries and products. They register and maintain intellectual property and patents that are associated with these discoveries or products. Tech transfer agents use their scientific and technical background and expertise bring their product to the market by assessing the commercial potential of new products, helping form business plans for startups and companies associated with the inventions, and getting in touch with potential licensees and partners.
Many research universities have technology transfer offices – see if yours does! They sometimes offer internship opportunities for graduate students and postdocs. If your university does not have a technology transfer office, see if you can find one at other large universities near you. Even if they do not offer internships the people working there could be really great options to contact for informational interviews.
My university has a tech transfer office and offers tech transfer internships for grad students and postdocs. I remember going to a career seminar and one of the panelists was a tech transfer officer from the university. They told us that they got their Ph.D. at my school and while they were doing so, they did the internship at the tech transfer office. They were able to stay on and get a full-time job at the office after they defended. Here are some resources to help you get started on learning about the tech transfer industry!
Great article/blog post: The Best of Both Worlds: Careers in Tech Transfer
Examples of university tech transfer offices & internships (obviously, not an exhaustive list!):
- MIT Technology Licensing Office Internship
- Vanderbilt Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization Internship
- University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Office of Technology Commercialization Internship and Fellowship
- Emory Office of Technology Transfer Internship program (has examples of students who’ve done it and what they want to do next)
2. Associate Product Manager
Product managers are responsible for the strategic planning and execution of certain products associated with a company. A product manager is a liaison between sales operations, technical support, legal, and technical or scientific development of the product. Basically they are the hub of knowledge about everything related to the product for the company. They’re responsible for its success and are the go-to person for anything related to the product.
Product manager roles are largely company-dependent. You could become a product manager straight out of your Ph.D, or you could start off in sales, or a medical science liaison position and then move laterally to the product manager role (all roles I mentioned in my first “7 non-labwork industry jobs I wish I knew about post!)
If you want to get a product manager position straight out of your Ph.D., try looking for “Associate” positions, which tend to be lower in rank than the top product manager positions (that’s a tip for other positions as well). It’s something I realized when I was looking for jobs. If a position I wanted required a Ph.D. and like 5 years of industry experience, I slapped on “Associate” and sometimes saw the same type of role but at a more approachable level. You have to start somewhere.
I just went to LinkedIn and searched “Associate product manager” and found a few listings that were perfect for those with Ph.D.s who are freshly graduated or in postdocs and have experience in immunology, cell separation, oncology, etc.
As a PhD student or postdoc, you have already developed technical understanding of various research related products, tools and reagents which can automatically qualify you to be a good candidate for these product manager positions.
Here are 2 really great blog posts that go into the Product Manager position in WAY more detail than I ever could, and are honestly worth a read:
- Product Management: The Career for Ph.D.s You’ve Never Heard Of
- The Grad Student Way, Ph.D. Career Series: Product Manager
3. Startup Lab Manager
This one probably requires no explanation. If you’re not totally against doing labwork, like it’s something you wouldn’t mind doing if it wasn’t your main job responsibility, being a lab manager could be a really great option for you.
I was actually kind of considering roles as a lab manager for a little bit. I knew I could handle everything related to being a lab manager, since I ordered all of my own reagents, scheduled maintenance, organized lab calendars and activities, kept good records of purchases/plasmids/RNA/antibodies/all that kind of stuff, liked to coordinate people, etc.
I didn’t get into this position too much because I ended up wanting to be a medical writer more, but I did apply for and get kind of far into the process of a few lab manager positions at small companies/startups. I wasn’t qualified to run a BIG lab, like at some major pharmaceutical company where they place like hundreds of orders and manage like hundreds of staff of course, so the smaller ones sounded more reasonable for me.
There was this one startup that I was invited to fly out to after an interview, and I was possibly going to be their lab manager. I turned it down for logistical reasons, but I think in another lifetime or if I had a slightly different overall personality I would have jumped at that opportunity.
I know startup life can be a lot for some people and that’s why I turned it down, but I think there’s something for everyone out there. Try looking into startups if you feel you want a challenge and want a lot of experience in a short amount of time.
I can’t speak much on startups because I don’t have experience in one but here are some great resources for startups in general!
- What you need to know before taking a biotech startup job (from one of my favorite sites I always link to from my blog, Biospace!)
- Startups create career opportunities for scientists (Nature)
4. Science Policy/Government
If you’re interested in pollution of any kind, resource quality (water, air, soil, etc.), agriculture, regulatory, policy, etc., then there are positions for you in government.
Governmental jobs hire all sorts of scientists – chemists, biologists, toxicologists, agricultural scientists, botanists, engineers, etc. You just have to look, like with any of the other jobs out there!
- The Secret Service
- State resource boards (look up your state’s name + environmental resource board, environmental protection, air resource board, water resource board, etc.)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- US Geological Survey
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
- Parks and Recreation for your state
Look for positions that have the titles “Specialist”, “Analyst”, or “Scientist”. These jobs tend to have longer application timelines and more requirements up front (like paperwork) but if you have more time to find a job or are interested in work in a specific geographic location, they are excellent to check out.
Here is a super insightful blog about applying for jobs in the U.S. government with a life science graduate degree: https://jabberwocky.weecology.org/2021/06/14/usajobs-guide/
5. Science Communication
Science communication is a big category of many different kinds of jobs, but the goal of scicomm is to educate the public about science.
It can be posters, magazines, social media posts, books, newsletters, even podcasts! Academic publishing isn’t considered science communication due to the fact that a lot of articles are behind paywalls and aren’t easy to understand by the general public.
Scicomm is important because it allows the public to understand important topics that directly affect them, inspires new scientists, and informs key decision makers.
You can find actual positions related to science communication in this blog post that does a great job of outlining opportunities for scientists (their blog is really great too in general): https://scicommjobs.wordpress.com/2019/01/06/types-of-science-communication-jobs-a-list/
A couple amazing resources on science communication jobs for Ph.D.s:
- A solid overview of how Ph.D.s can get into scicomm: Science Communication: A career where PhDs can make a difference
- A really thorough and practical guide: Finding science communication jobs – with transferable skills worksheet!
I hope that this post gave you more insight into how many different types of positions there are out there for life science Ph.D.s.
I obviously don’t know that much about any of these industries and specific opportunities for each one, because I went into medical writing and this blog post is more like a launchpad for your own research into these fields. So I hope you’re inspired to look into any that interest you!
Leaving academia and going into the real world is a bit daunting. I totally remember that feeling – less than a year ago I was still in grad school trying to finish up troubleshooting a protocol and convince my toxic former PI to let me defend!
Getting an industry job is not a quick process. I’ve never claimed otherwise. Just reading these types of blog posts is really commendable, because learning about all that’s out there is super important and so you’re definitely on the right track! You got this!
My ultimate resource list for getting industry jobs is here, which has all my blog posts’ most important takeaways, interview responses, and resume + cover letter templates! http://science-latte.com/2022/03/23/phd-to-industry-ultimate-resource-list/