Is Another Degree Necessary After Your PhD?

Posted in Career Advice

There was an interesting article in Science Careers Magazine this week entitled “Should you consider another degree after your PhD.” The article traces the journey of several people who earned PhD degrees in science-related fields who transitioned into new careers including law, regulatory affairs, business development and science writing.

The gist of the article is that if you can afford the costs of earning another degree, it may be worth it for persons with PhD degrees who want to get “out of the lab.” However, based on my own experiences and those of the persons mentioned in the article, most graduate students and postdocs lack the financial resources to enroll in professional degree or certificate programs after completing their PhD programs. Consequently, most of the people showcased in the article were able to leverage unpaid internships and volunteer work into new jobs that paid for additional training or professional degree programs.

I have long posited that obtaining another degree after a PhD degree may not be in a  best interest of PhD degree holders for a variety of reasons. First, as mentioned above, the financial obligations of a degree or certificate program may be too onerous  or unrealistic for graduate students who worked for minimum wage for many years to obtain their PhD degrees; the funds simply are not available. Second, by the time a PhD degree is award and postdoctoral training is completed, most science PhD degree holders are in their mid 30s to early 40s and ,in many cases have families,which may not be conducive to going back to school full time. Also, who wants to be a student for most of their adult lives? Finally, the mere exhaustion and stress associated with spending close to 10 years in a laboratory may discourage even most ambitious individuals from pursuing another degree or certificate. Put simply, there may not be “enough gas left in the tank” to obtain another degree in the hopes of possibly a changing a career trajectory.

Based on my experience as an instructor in a program offered to PhD students and postdocs who had already decided that a research career was not for them, internships, volunteer work and an unrelenting pursuit of an alternate career is probably the best way to navigate a career change. What I observed about all of the students in this program (over 70% of them obtained non-research jobs after completing their PhD degrees with no postdoctoral training) was that they were highly motivated and did whatever was necessary to network and leverage the resources offered to them by the program (which included mixers, invitations to professional meetings, and guest speakers outside of the research world including pharmaceutical executives, venture capitalist, medical writers and clinical study managers) to get “where they wanted to go”.  For example, one student, who was interested in regulatory affairs, went to the dean of her medical school to get the funds necessary to go to a national regulatory affairs meeting rather than attending an annual society meeting to present her research findings. Today, she is a director of regulatory affairs at a major biotechnology company. Another student, wrote reviews for an online financial services company regarding the technology behind various private and publicly traded biotechnology companies as a graduate student, now works for a financial service company as an analyst. Finally, another student who was interested in technology transfer was able to leverage an unpaid internship in his university’s technology transfer office into a full time job (he is now a director of the office).

The bottom line: while obtaining another degree or certificate may better position you for a possible career change, it may not be emotionally or financially possible or likely. That said, rather than fantasizing about what may have been if you simply chose law or medicine or business over a graduate career in science, you best shot at changing the direction of your career may be to identify alternative career options and obtaining the necessary skillsets, qualifications and real life experience to make it a reality, Once you have identified those things, the next step is to devise a financially-viable plan to obtain them and then spend the majority of your waking hours successfully implementing the plan. It won’t be easy but as the old adage goes “if there is a will then there is a way.”

Until next time……

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!


Statisticians and "Big Data" Analysts in High Demand

Posted in BioEducation

When I was a graduate student back in the dark ages, I took an advanced statistics course and then briefly worked in a laboratory where statistical analysis of data derived from animal models of disease (in this case the guinea pig model of tuberculosis) were essential. After leaving that lab, I developed an appreciation for the power of statistics (when appropriately designed according the laws of parametric statistics) and actually used statistical analyses of in vitro data for my PhD thesis. Unlike me, most of my contemporaries never understood statistics and thought that statistics can be used to manipulate data to confirm any hypothesis put forth by an investigator.

Imagine my surprise when I read in today’s NY Times that statistics are one of the hottest new career opportunities in technology and related industries. This is because billions of bytes of data (aka "big data sets")are generated daily and someone (usually a statistician or a person with knowledge of some arcane statistical analyses) is regarded to tease out trends and interpret the data. Companies like Google, Facebook, as wells as marketers, risk analysts, spies and companies that engage in competitive intelligence are desperately seeking new employees who understand applied statistic, analytics and trend analysis.

According to a recent LinkedIn survey, from 2009 to 2011 the number of new jobs with titles related to analytics grew 53%. Unfortunately, there are not enough trained or qualified persons available to fill these positions at most of these companies. Because of workforce shortages, universities like Stanford, Harvard and North Carolina State (NC State) have created graduate programs to train students in statistics and advanced analytics. 

Ninety per cent of NC State advanced analytic students (a 10 month program created in 2006) annually found jobs. The average graduate’s starting salary for an entry-level job is $73,000. Stanford and Harvard statistics department graduates head to Google, Wall Street and in many instances bioscience companies and start with salaries of over $100,000.

Not surprisingly, competition for entry to these programs is getting fierce. NC State takes only 40 new students per year in its program (185 applicants last year). Moreover, this year, Stanford received over 800 applications for 60 openings in next’ years class; nearly twice the number of applications that it received three years ago.

Like it or not “big data” and analytics are de rigueur and persons with advanced analytics training may be the new rock stars. That said if you like statistics or love to look for trends in large data sets then a career in analytics may be right for you. Now, you have to figure out where to get the training.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!.


Some Troubling Unemployment Statistics

Posted in BioEducation

By now, most people have heard that the average national unemployment rate has fallen from close to 9.0% to 8.6%—the lowest in almost three years. While this may be cause for celebration, a closer inspection of other statistical findings is necessary to get a real picture of American unemployment (notwithstanding the fact that unemployment rates for African Americans and Hispanics are in double digits).

The source of these revealing stats was an article by Phyllis Korkki published in the New York Times this past New Year’s Day entitled “The Year of the Multitaskers’ Revenge” According to Ms. Korkki, while the overall unemployment rate is 8.6%, the jobless rate for persons who earned a college degree is 4.4% while the rate for those with a high school diploma is 8.8%. The unemployment rate for those individuals who did not graduate from high school is a staggering 13.2%. However, a more troubling statistic offered by Ms. Korkki is that less than 30% of United States population of 25 years or older has a bachelors or higher degree. To make matters worse, 30% of jobless Americans have been unemployed for a year or more.

Ms. Korrki contends that large groups of American will continue to be unemployed or underemployed unless more training and educational opportunities become available to the public. Further she asserts that if the long term unemployed do not get some government help than this groups risks falling so far behind that it will never be able to catch up.

Most analysts predict that unemployment rates in the US will remain high for five years or more. Like Korkki, I believe that the only way to reduce unemployment among non-college graduates is to fund programs that are designed to retrain workers for jobs in emerging technologies. Further, bringing manufacturing jobs from overseas back to the US will also help!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!


Some Sobering Statistics About Today's Job Market

Posted in Career Advice

I mistakenly received the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) rather than the NY Times today and while I think that the WSJ is a great example of unabashedly biased journalism, there was an article in the publication about today’s job market that contained some interesting statistics.

The article entitled “Gloom Widespread As College Grads Face New Math” offered the following:

  • Unemployment among college graduates is 4.2% vs. 9.7% for high school grads
  • Eighty percent of recently-polled white male college grads believe the economy is heading in the wrong direction
  • Wages for employees with four-year college degrees fell 8.6% between 2000 and 2010
  • The unemployment rate for recent college graduates is 10.7% as compared with an overall unemployment rate of approximately 9.1%
  • More than 14% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 (ca. 5.9 million) are living with their parent and nearly 25% of them have college degrees

These are pretty sobering facts about the job market in the one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Is it any wonder why the Occupy Wall Street movement is gaining traction among American college age youths?   As recommended by the article’s author it may be time for Americans to follow the advice of the actor Peter Finch (Howard Beale) in the satirical 1976 movie Network

"I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs… And go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!"

If you truly feel like doing this maybe you ought to find your way down to the Occupy Wall Street protest!!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!


Reputable Online Master's Degree Programs in Science, Engineering and IT

Posted in BioEducation

Online degree programs have exploded in the past 10 years or so and are now considered to be a legitimate way to earn a second or third degree to enhance the chances of finding a job in a tough economy. Further, an article that recently appeared in the NY Times “The Masters as the New Bachelor’s” suggested that Master’s Degrees were supplanting bachelor degrees as the minimum requirement for employment in the US. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to enroll in a traditional bricks and mortar Master’s Degree program. This has forced many would-be students to enroll in online programs to earn a Master’s Degree.

Like it or not, the reputation of the online institution that confers the degree will make a difference for jobseekers. In other words, an online Master’s Degree from Penn State University will likely impress a hiring manager more than one from the University of Phoenix. With this in mind, my colleagues over at recently sent me an article entitled “The 15 Most Prestigious Online Master’s Programs” Most of the programs included on the list (see below) are relevant for those jobseekers interested in broadening their knowledge in the life sciences and healthcare, engineering and information technology (IT).

Auburn University: Electronically Delivered Graduate Education (EDGE) courses are offered online at the student’s convenience. Engineering programs include: Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Computer Science and Software Engineering, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Materials Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. Business programs include Accounting, Business Administration, and Management Information Systems. A combination MBA/MISE degree also is available.

Boston University: Boston University Distance Education offers master’s degrees in art education, criminal justice, music, computer information systems, health communication, management, manufacturing engineering, and social work. These programs provide students with an in-depth theoretical foundation as well as practical strategies for meeting demands of the marketplace. Many students have gone on to shape the future of their professions through their knowledge and leadership.

Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon University’s H. John Heinz III College offers distance learning programs for Master of Science in Computer Science & IT (ranked #1 by U.S. News and World Report), Master of Medical Management (some onsite sessions required), and Master of Public Management (part-time and full-time tracks; work experience is required rather than GRE and GMAT).

DePaul University: Developing and providing degree programs for working adults for over 100 years, DePaul has been able to expand its reach by offering fully online master’s degree programs in various disciplines within the College of Computing and Digital Media, College of Education, and School of Public Service.

Duke University: By utilizing Duke’s resources in environmental science, engineering, policy, and business, the Nicholas School of the Environment’s Environmental Leadership Master of Environmental Management program gives students insight into the many aspects of environmental issues. The faculty includes recognized experts in the field whose research and publications affect important environmental and natural resource challenges.

Georgia Institute of Technology: Online master’s degrees are offered in aerospace engineering, computational science and engineering, electrical and computer engineering, industrial engineering, information security, mechanical engineering, medical physics, and operations research, in addition to a Professional Master in Applied Systems Engineering. Students study at their convenience, accessing a wealth of technological and industry knowledge while building a network of Georgia Tech faculty and industry professionals.

Indiana University: Kelley School of Business, through Kelly Direct, offers fully online MBA program, along with Master of Science degrees in finance, global supply chain management, and strategic management. There are also MBA dual-degree programs (mostly, but not fully, online) with Thunderbird (Master’s in Global Management) and Purdue (MSE and MS in Food and Agribusiness Management).

Johns Hopkins University: Here you’ll find master’s degree programs in bioinformatics, computer science, environmental engineering and science, environmental planning and management, and systems engineering — all can be completed fully online.

Michigan State University: In the online Master of Science in Criminal Justice program, students may choose to follow the general requirements for the Master’s in Criminal Justice, specialize in security management, or follow an international focus. Courses are offered entirely online, and are taught by the same faculty members that are involved in the on-campus program.

Pennsylvania State University: Over 100 years ago, Penn State founded one of the nation’s first correspondence courses. Now through their World Campus, they offer online master’s degrees in a wide range of areas including (to name a few) education, business administration, homeland security, nuclear engineering, and supply chain management. The online courses are flexible, yet the same academically challenging courses as on campus.

Stanford University: Students whose employers are members of the Stanford Center for Professional Development can earn Master of Science degrees while attending classes online on a part-time basis. Courses of study include aeronautics and astronautics, biomedical informatics, chemical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, computational and mathematical engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, management science and engineering, materials science and engineering, mechanical engineering, and statistics.

University of Florida: Most distance degrees may be taken on a part-time basis through this university. However, all degree programs require formal admission to the school. Master’s degrees are offered in various disciplines within the Colleges of Agriculture & Life Sciences; Business Administration; Design, Construction, and Planning; Education; Engineering; Fine Arts; Liberal Arts & Sciences; Nursing; Pharmacy; Public Health and Health Professions; and Veterinary Medicine.

University of Illinois: The Department of Computer Science offers a fully online Master’s in Computer Science program, which is restricted to off-campus professionals and is not intended for those who have access to on-campus courses and programs; although, all students receive the same lectures, class assignments, exams, and projects as on-campus students. The degree can be completed in as little as three years (at one course per semester), but must be completed within five years.

University of Southern California: USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Distance Education Network (DEN) students view online the same lecture as on-campus students either live or at their convenience. Students interact by calling a toll-free phone number to ask the professor questions. Lectures are archived for the entire semester and can be downloaded.

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing: Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing offers a Master of Science in Nursing Health System Management. A Health Systems Manager is a registered nurse whose focus is on the management of health care delivery in various organizations. Graduates have the breadth of management knowledge and skills needed to perform effectively and assume leadership positions in health care delivery organizations.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Studying!!!!!!


Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Getting a PhD Degree…And Then Some!

Posted in BioEducation

While getting a PhD degree in the life sciences (or most other disciplines) is no longer de rigueur, those of you out there who are courageous enough to make the attempt may benefit from an article entitled “25 Q&A Sites for PhD Information and Requirements.

The folks over @ sent me the link and the information offered in the post is very good. That being said, let me state for the record that if I had to do it all over again—despite my somewhat unconventional and circuitous career path—I will still choose to obtain my PhD degree. If nothing else, earning a PhD builds character and shows you that if you try hard enough almost anything is possible!

For those of you who may be on the fences between a Masters or PhD degree, sites like Did the PhD Kill the Masters Degree? and Master’s vs. PhD Programs may be helpful. For those of you who are considering PhD degrees but need to learn more about the degree, check out PhD explained & FAQs or Questions to Ask When Thinking About Pursuing a PhD. Those of you ambitious types or may be interested in pursing an MD/PhD degree may want to check out What’s the difference between MD/PhD programs and MST Programs or NIH MD/PhD Partnership Training Program FAQs [PDF]

Finally, those of you who may not yet be convinced that a PhD degree in the life sciences is right for you may want to visit On Getting a PhD Degree in the Life Sciences.

And, if none of these sites answer your questions, you can always ask me!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!


The Top Ten Fastest-Growing Career Options for Life Scientists

Posted in BioJobBuzz sent me a list of the  ten fastest growing jobs expected in the US from 2008 to 2018. While career options like skin care specialists (vocational training), physician assistants (MS), athletic trainers (BS), financial examiners (BS), dental hygienists (associate degree) and physical therapist aides (associate degree) appear on the list, the fastest growth and greatest need is for biomedical engineers (#1), network system and data communication analysts (#3), medical scientists (#5) and biochemists and biophysicists (#7).

 The Ten Fastest-Growing Jobs You Should Go To School For Today

With the exception of medical scientists (which require a PhD degree), bachelor degrees are required for entry level biomedical engineers, systems analysts and biochemists and biophysicists. While I am not convinced that there is a growing demand for more PhD life scientists, I think the other options listed are viable career choices especially in the area of health information technology.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!


Is a Bioscience Career Worth the Aggravation?

Posted in Career Advice

While this isn’t a new topic, I wanted to raise the question again because I recently received a message  from a reader that greatly troubled me. The person who posted the comment has a PhD degree in biomedical engineering and is extremely angry with the existing system because of the lack of employment opportunities in her field. Put simply, she is so frustrated with the system that she no longer believes that it is ethical to advise young people to pursue careers in the life sciences. I know that she isn’t alone and that many of you share her anger and frustration with the lies (as she put it) about employment opportunities for life sciences PhD candidates and postdoctoral fellows

From time to time, I am invited by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to talk about alternative careers in the life sciences. I try to remain upbeat and positive during my presentation but generally I can’t control myself by the Q&A session. Invariably, I rant and rave about how dysfunctional academia has become. Interestingly, I recently was uninvited by my former graduate department where I was slated to present a seminar on alternate career choices for life scientists. As the tenured faculty member (you know how I feel about tenure) who would have sponsored my visit told me “the seminars that we offer our students are scientific in nature and much different than many of the topics that I discuss on my very interesting blog.” Consequently, he informed me that I was no longer invited to give my talk (I was previously invited by the Department Chair who happened to be a former colleague of mine who decided to move to another institution before my visit). In an e-mail response to his un-invitation, I told him that I wanted to visit the Department and give the talk because I believe that my graduate education is what enabled me to maneuver the minefield that ultimately became my career path. Also, I told him that I wanted to share my insights and career experiences with current graduate students and postdoctoral fellows because I thought that many may benefit from them. Not surprisingly, I never heard back from him. 

The point that I am trying to make is that my message about alternative careers for PhD students is diametrically opposed to the mission of most PhD programs; which is to prepare 100% of their students for academic careers. Unfortunately, as I have stated many times in the past, only about 10% of those who receive life sciences PhD degrees land academic appointments. What are the remaining 90% of the folks who toiled long and hard for their PhD degrees suppose to do with their lives? In the past, as many as 50% or more of these students were able to garner jobs as research scientists at biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies or with government agencies like the CDC, FDA, EPA and others. Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical industry has laid off over 200,000 employees in the past 3 years, funding for biotech companies has hit an all time low and we are experiencing the worst recession in almost 70 years which is causing government agencies to stop hiring! This begs the question: what are graduate students pursuing PhD degrees and postdoctoral fellows suppose to do to put food on the table to feed their families and themselves? 

While I don’t have an easy answer to that question, I can tell you that getting angry and frustrated or dropping out of the system isn’t going to change anything. I will also tell you that the system isn’t going to change by itself! To that end, it may make sense for all of you angry and frustrated graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to band together and tell your advisors and mentors that “you are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” To show them that you are serious, I highly recommend that your offer them a plan to address your concerns about finding gainful employment (not decade long postdoctoral fellowships) following completion of your PhD degrees. For example, you may suggest that they add alternate career certificate and degree programs to their existing curricula. Or, if new programs are too costly, suggest that they offer courses that showcase alternate career options like entrepreneurship, science writing or medical communications. Finally, at the very list, insist that they work with local companies and organization to create sponsored internship opportunities and get them to commit to supporting annual career development symposia or job fairs for graduate students and postdocs.

For the past decade or more, I have struggled to convince many of my academic colleagues to consider any and all of the above suggestions. Unfortunately, my pleas for creation of new courses and programs have fallen upon deaf ears! Given my current lack of success, I suspect that it is going to take more than one person (me) to induce the academic establishment to consider systemic change. That said anybody who may be interested in joining the “cause” to improve employment opportunities for PhD life scientists, please feel free to contact me!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Organizing!!!!!


Is Biotechnology in Your Future?

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Despite its humble beginnings in the late 1970s, the biotechnology industry has transformed itself into one of the most vibrant sectors of the American economy. Pharmaceutical companies, once the bell weather of the life sciences industry, have finally conceded that biotechnology and not small molecules are the industry’s future!

While growth of the biotechnology industry has slowed somewhat in the past couple of years—mainly because of the recession—it still represents a viable career option for students interested in the biological sciences. Contrary to popular belief, a PhD degree is no longer required to gain employment in the biotechnology industry. The PhD degree option is slowly being replaced by biotechnology masters and undergraduate degrees and certificate programs readily available at many two year colleges. Put simply, there is a decreasing demand for PhDs at many life sciences companies—mostly because of technological advances and a growing reliance on outsourcing to carry out drug discovery and development. However, the demand for non-PhD employees with solid biotechnology backgrounds particularly in the areas of regulatory affairs, licensing, business development, medical communications, health informatics and biomanufacturing is rising.

For many students (especially high school and undergraduates), the plethora of biotechnology degree and certificate programs can be overwhelming. With this in mind, I came across a cool website called Biotechnology Degree Guide which helps students decide which program is right for them. The site is run by Webster Jorgensen who sent me the following information about the site.

“Biotechnology Degree Guide was developed to be a complete and comprehensive guide for finding colleges, universities and technical schools offering biotech and related programs. The site also features a rating system that allows registered users to rate various biotechnology programs. This feature was added to help separate the great programs from the not-sop-great ones. In the future, we plan to start highlighting "Hidden Gem" programs section that helps schools with lower profiles and great programs receive more exposure. The sites members section is open to prospective students, students, professionals, teachers and biotech hobbyists.  A social media component is planned for the future.”

While the Biotechnology Degree Guide may not answer all of your questions, it certainly is a good place to start when considering a career in biotechnology!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!


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Can Scientists Be Effective CEOs?

Posted in Career Advice

Over the past 30 years or so, the vast majority of chief executives in the drug business have made their way to the top via the sales and marketing departments. Few senior executives have toiled in a research laboratory or for that matter, know the difference between NMR and protein purification. However, things may be changing in the industry. A quick perusal of the CEOs of the top 20 pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies (see below) reveals that 11 of 20 have degrees in engineering (4), medicine (2) and science (5). The remaining 9 have degrees in business and finance (3), sales and marketing (4) or law (2). Several of the scientists (2), engineers (3) and one physician also earned MBA degrees.


Conventional wisdom suggests that scientists usually do not make good CEOs (they are not formally trained in business). However, doesn’t the lack of scientific sensibility put non-scientist CEOs at a disadvantage when it comes to making strategic and operational decisions about R &D?  One would think so….!!!!


A careful examination of my top 20 list suggests that some of the most successful companies are run by scientist CEOs, e.g. Genentech, Gilead, Novartis and Lilly. Expect to see more scientist CEOs at large biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in the future–R&D have become way too complex for non-scientist to truly understand its nuances and potential pitfalls. Plus, we scientists know that obtaining a MBA degree is a “piece of cake” as compared with the PhD degree! Hmmm, I wonder what business people think about PhDs?

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