Teaching Outside of Academia

One thing I hear a lot of academics say when they tout the things they love about academia is that they enjoy teaching and that’s why they stay and don’t consider industry.

Ummm…what?

Hearing that makes me think they’re not aware of the plethora of job options that you can have in industry or non-ac jobs that involve teaching/education.

When I was in grad school, I DEFINITELY didn’t make that mental connection about how there are so many opportunities to educate my community, patients, businesses, and colleagues outside of academia.

It’s funny to me because when I thought about it, my toxic former PI, other faculty I knew in my program, postdocs, and star grad students all seemed to have this attitude that going to industry was shameful and selling out. Many of them made it seem like working in industry isn’t as noble and meaningful as academic research.

That’s some major cult-like vibes right there.

These academics touted their noble quests to “advance human knowledge” through their research but so many faculty I knew barely taught actual classes, had terrible mentorship skills, and weren’t even communicating their scientific findings with their communities.

Having been at my industry job as a medical writer for almost 2 months now, and generally having more experience in the non-ac world, I wanted to dive into the topic of teaching outside of academia and what that really entails.

What I like about a lot of these jobs is that they tend to actually make way more of an immediate, practical difference in so many aspects related to human and environmental health through direct training and education.

Yes, it’s totally possible to teach and educate outside of academia in direct and practical ways, learn lots of cool stuff while doing so, and be paid an actual salary that you can plan your future with. Because you deserve it!


There are definitely great opportunities to teach, educate and mentor in the university setting. It’s usually in the classroom or lecture hall setting, but other opportunities include mentoring grad students and postdocs in the lab or research environment and general academic/career mentoring. They can be great ways to decide if you’re actually interested in teaching in the first place and to develop key communication skills that you can take with you into industry.

But if you think that most opportunities to teach or to be involved in education are in the university or even the school setting, you’re sorely mistaken.

When I was first starting out in college, I already had an inkling that I really enjoyed teaching, mentorship, guiding people, and that I generally had a passion for education. But I didn’t really know how that would lead to a career. Even as I started grad school, I was kind of putting those interests on the back burner or as a side hustle while I finished my Ph.D.

In undergrad, I was a campus tour guide and during grad school I tutored on the side (I have a whole blog post about my tutoring side hustle if you want more information about how that went and how you can get started yourself!). I didn’t think it would lead to anything, but I did it because I enjoyed it.

It turned out that my tutoring experience was what sealed the deal for me in my industry job that I got out of grad school/my postdoc. My managers always bring up how they loved seeing my tutoring experience in my job application. The ability to condense scientific or complex information and present it in a learner-centric way was super valuable for my job application to my medical writer job, because I make educational materials about drugs and diseases.

It goes to show that you can do education-related work outside of the university setting, and that you can still perform in very important teaching-related roles in industry. You just have to expand your mind to beyond thinking that teaching/education = students in classrooms.

It’s way more than that! Here are some examples related to life sciences.


So there’s a whole industry called continuing medical education, or CME for short. It’s an umbrella term (like medical writing) that refers to the continuing training and education for medical professionals and staff in the medical field. It’s for new and developing concepts, techniques, and technologies in the medical field, but it’s also just for making sure people remember how to perform their duties properly. Essentially, it provides lifelong training and education for medical professionals.

The basis of this kind of business is that you have to keep being re-trained on a regular basis to retain information and do the best work. It’s just human nature that we don’t remember as much as we used to when we first take trainings and classes.

Here’s a list of a ton of continuing medical education companies to check out so you can get an idea of the kind of stuff they make. See if they have any job openings or people you might want to connect with and message on LinkedIn! https://www.namec-assn.org/Members_List


Now when it comes to medical writing, it’s not always directly related to teaching or education. But, the point of writing is for other people to read it, which means in many cases it is related to education.

My role as a medical writer isn’t in continuing medical education, but is loosely related to it. I prepare educational products for people who are involved in various industries in medicine, and those products are about drugs and diseases – whatever my clients need.

The people using those educational products aren’t always doctors – they can be staff at clinics, patients, sales people, legal people, and medical science liaisons who have to understand the product inside and out. My work directly educates all sorts of people like that, so that their work is high quality, they understand what they’re getting into, and they are successful in their sales, pharmaceutical research organization, and other endeavors.

Some products that medical writers prepare that are totally related to teaching and educating others includes patient decision aids, magazine and newspaper articles, informational brochures, slide decks and Powerpoint presentations to communicate product information, sales training information, health education materials, etc.

So many different companies and organizations hire medical writers and writers in general who understand science and can do literature search really well! They include clinical research organizations, healthcare organizations or providers, news outlets for medical/health news, pharma and medical device companies, and biotech companies.

This site has a TON of information about how to become a medical writer, products that medical writers prepare, companies that hire medical writers, and much more. It’s where I got a lot of the information above! https://info.amwa.org/ultimate-guide-to-becoming-a-medical-writer#what_do_medical_writers_write


We can’t forget science communication either! Have you ever looked up what science communication, or scicomm, means?

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 through 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/

I think the concept and field of science communication is EXTREMELY important and one of the most ideal outcomes for someone with a Ph.D. who wants to make an actual difference. Honing your communication skills, relaying key scientific concepts and practical information, and informing various people in your communities through various mediums is so important and is a great form of education.


Other fields that you can get into with a life sciences Ph.D. that involve teaching or are education-adjacent include K-12 education, non-profits, journalism, instructional design, educational technology/eLearning, counselor, museum or park educator/guide, etc.!

Conclusion

Now, I have to make a really important point: You don’t have to be interested in teaching.

You don’t have to be interested in educating others. You don’t have to have a knack for teaching or guiding or communicating science. You could just be interested in doing work to satisfy your own personal interests.

You’re free to do WHATEVER YOU WANT with your Ph.D., you earned that right and you do you. If teaching high school intro biology sounds super fun, go for it! If you want to become a sheep farmer after getting your environmental science Ph.D. because you’re sick of research life, go for it (I actually know someone who did this)! If you want to write magazine articles about popular science, or makeup, or tech, or wellness, go for it.

What I want you to get out of this post is to realize that concepts like teaching (and research too for sure) are totally possible to find outside of academia, and tend to be more diverse in application and practical in their effects.

Are you interested in teaching or having education be a part of your job after getting your Ph.D.? What sorts of positions do you think would suit you?

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