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!!!!!!


Alternate Careers: Patent Agents and Intellectual Property Attorneys

Posted in Career Advice

Times are tough for many in the legal profession these days. However, the demand for patent experts including attorneys and patent agents is skyrocketing. Openings for patent attorneys account for more than 15 percent of law firm job openings while only 3 percent of lawyers in the US specialize in this area. The bottom line: it is a great time to be a patent attorney or agent in today’s tough economy.

Not surprisingly, many patent attorneys (and agents) usually have a background in science or engineering. And, because of the scarcity of qualified applicants many law firms are doubling their recruiting spending to meet the growing demand for specialists in intellectual property (IP) and patents.

One of the reasons for the growing demand is passage of the America Invents Act, the largest overhaul in theUSpatent system in the past 60 years. The legislation which changes how patents are reviewed and process is spurring competition between firms to higher IP specialist to ease the transition pain. At present, there are over 230 IP openings among more than 1400 lawyer positions nationwide. Many of the openings have been unfilled for over 90 days and more are added daily.

Currently, there are about 40,000 patent attorneys and agents registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In order to register with the USPTO agents and lawyers are required to pass the patent bar examination. While registered patent agents have taken and passed the exam, they are not lawyers who are required to pass state bar examinations to become licensed attorneys. For those of you who may not know, you don’t have to go to law school to take the patent bar exam nor is a law degree required to take individual state bar exams (however, person who are not law school graduate are likely not to pass the state tests). Patent agents can prepare patents and prosecute cases with the USPTO but cannot litigate in court or draw up contracts. There are roughly 1.2 million licensed patent attorneys in theUSaccording to the American bar association.

The greatest demand for IP attorneys and agents is in information and computing technology and the life sciences. Persons with PhD degrees in the life sciences can sometimes find work at IP and patent law firms. Also, you may be able to find work at a patent examiner with the USPTO! PhD degree holders who have passed the patent bar are even more desirable. However a law degree plus a PhD degree will almost certainly guarantee you employment at most IP firms. That said, before you decide to go to law school, I high recommend that you talk with IP professionals or read a few dozen patent applications (they can all be found at in your spare time. If you find the reading interesting or manage to stay awake after reading the fifth application than patent law may be a good choice for you. If not, I suggest that you consider other alternate career options.

Until next time…

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


Grad School Got You Down? You Gotta Watch This Video!

Posted in BioEducation

Adam Reuben, PhD is a molecular biologist who spent seven years@ Johns Hopkins earning his degree. While not in the laboratory pouring gels and analyzing DNA sequence data, he performed a stand up routine at open mike nights at local Maryland clubs.   He crafted the The Grad Student Rap as part of his routine.

After graduating, he got a job as a scientist at a biotech company where he is currently working on a malaria vaccine.  He also wrote a book entitled "Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School" which is likely an enlightening read for those of you who are still struggling with your decisions.  Also, he teaches an undergraduate class at Hopkins on the stand up comic and society (talk about an alternative career path).

Anyway, check out his video….it rocks but is sadly true!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Viewing!!!

Things to Consider When Contemplating a Career Change

Posted in Career Advice

The tough job market and economy have caused lots of folks to consider changing careers to find gainful employment. While sometimes a career change is warranted, it may not be as easy as you think. With this in mind, there was a great article entitled "The Big Switch, One Step at a Time" by Phyllis Korkki that provides some tips and insights to think about before taking the big plunge.

Of course, not all career changes are created equal and there are a variety of things to consider depending upon whether you are starting out or a midcareer person. I think that the best bit of advice that was offered for all persons considering a career change was a recommendation to read industry trades and follow industry blogs; mainly because they are not translated for the general public. That said, if you find yourself reading these publications and you don’t know what certain acronyms mean or you are having difficulty understanding the points that the authors are trying to make, it is a good indication that transitioning into that career may take a little more training and understanding than you think!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Career Hunting!!!!!!!


On Becoming a Project Manager in the Life Sciences Industry

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Project management (PM) is growing as a career option for life scientists. This is mainly because life sciences companies have begun to realize that team projects with professionally trained PMs at the helm (as compared with research scientists lacking in PM skills) are conducted more efficiently and cost effectively.

Because of the “newness” of the PM option, in the life sciences industry, there is no formal training or a direct pathway to become a PM. However, Bruce Fieggen, Vice President of Project Management and Training at QPharma— who has over 25 years of experience as a project manager (and trainer) in the life sciences industry—offers some ideas and insights on how to become a PM.

On Becoming a Project Manager in the Life Sciences Industry

By Bruce Fieggen

By now you have probably worked as a team memberon several projects and may be thinking that a career in project management may be right for you. So, how does one become a project manager in the life sciences industry?

The best first step is to obtain some formal training in project management (PM). There are many courses designed as evening programs, university classes or three day workshops. You can take them in person or online. While some of these training options may not be as comprehensive as others, it will help interested persons to determine whether or not a career in project management may be right for them. Once you have obtained some formal training, the next step is to take an honest look at your personality. Are you an extremely introverted person who feels uncomfortable talking with others on a regular basis? Do you fear speaking in public? Are you a good listener?  

If the answers to these questions are a resounding “no” or maybe, then PM may not be a good career choice. However, if the answers are yes, then volunteer to run a small project or a sub-project of a larger team effort. Be prepared to learn from the mistakes that you undoubtedly you will make. And, also be prepared to do other people’s work in order to get your small project finished on time! Once you have exhibited some aptitude as a PM, you may be asked to take on larger projects and if you are successful you may be on track for a lifelong career as a PM.

People become successful project managers from almost any discipline or field. In my almost 25 years as a PM (and PM trainer), I have seen PMs hail from jobs in R&D, manufacturing, marketing, purchasing, engineering, quality, and regulatory affairs. No particular group produces better PMs than another. That said, all successful PMs:

  • Are great communicators and know how to listen
  • Know the process of managing projects and can show you the schedule, scope and budget at any time
  • Are rarely at the extreme introverted end of the extraversion – introversion continuum
  • Understand how to motivate people to work for them when they don’t actually report to them
  • Implicitly understand that the project (not their egos or kudos that they may receive), takes precedent over everything else

To learn more about a possible career as a PM, I highly recommend that you join and attend monthly meetings at a local PMI chapter. Network with fellow PMs and learn from them. Pretty soon you’ll be in the thick of things and understand what being a PM is all about! 

Please check out my Round Table Project Management blog for additional information and feel free to contact me.

Until next time…

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


A Guide to Managing Career Change

Posted in Career Advice

In this economy, many BioJobBlog readers may find themselves in the unenviable position of having to consider changing careers to find gainful employment. While career counselors like me can offer job seekers ideas about possible alternate or non-traditional careers, actual navigating a career change can be daunting, painful and often times overwhelming. With this in mind, I came across an article on that helps to demystify career changes and offers helpful hints (and links to useful articles) that describes how would- be career changers can manage and shepherd the process. 

"Changing Careers: A Guide"


The first step in considering a career change is to think carefully about what really drives you. You might find it hard to get past thinking about “what pays the most” or “what is most secure,” especially in today’s economy. However, it’s important to first discover your primary interests and passions. This can open doors to careers that you might not have considered. Once you have that foundation, you can start fine tuning your search to the right career. You may be surprised at how you can fit your passions into a certain career!

Explore your options

  • Focus on the things you love to do. What have you dreamed of doing in the past? What do you naturally enjoy doing? Jot down what comes to mind, no matter how improbable it seems.
  • Look for clues everywhere. Take note of projects or topics that stir your compassion or excite your imagination. Reflect on stories of people you admire. Ask yourself why certain activities make you happy, and pay attention to times when you are really enjoying yourself.
  • Be patient. Remember that your search may take some time and you might have to go down a few different roads before finding the right career path. Time and introspection will help you identify the activities you most enjoy and that bring you true satisfaction.

Overcome obstacles to happiness

It’s always challenging to consider a huge change, and there may be many reasons why you may think changing careers is not possible. Here are some common obstacles and how to overcome them:

  • It’s too much work to change careers. Where would I ever begin? Changing careers does require a substantial time investment. However, remember that it does not happen all at once. If you sit down and map out a rough plan of attack, breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones, it is a lot more manageable than you think. And if the payoff is a happier, more successful career, it’s worth it.
  • I’m too old to change careers. I need to stay where I am. If you have worked for a number of years, you may feel that you’ve put too much time and effort into your career to change midstream. Or you may be concerned about retirement and health benefits. However, the more you’ve worked, the more likely you are to have skills you can transfer to a new career. You may also consider planning a transition for after retirement if you are close to receiving a pension or other benefits after a number of years. 
  • I don’t have enough skills to consider a new career. You may be unaware of the skills you have, or underestimate your marketability due to low self esteem. However, you probably have more skills than you think. Consider skills you’ve learned not only from your job but from hobbies, volunteering or other life experiences. And gaining skills is not an all or nothing proposition. You can volunteer once a week or take a night class to move forward, for example, without quitting your current job.
  • In this economy, I’m lucky to have a job. I don’t want to rock the boat. In today’s climate, it might feel like too much of a risk to consider changing careers. However, if you’re unhappy in your current job, doing research on other options will only benefit you in the long run. You may discover a career with a more stable long-term outlook than your current career, for example. And you don’t have to quit your current job until you are confident of your new career path.

Dealing with underemployment and job loss

Being unemployed or underemployed can be tremendously stressful. You may be feeling the pressures of meeting mortgage payments or other financial obligations. You might be feeling ashamed with your family and friends. And a very real loss is that of your identity at work. This is especially true if you have been in the same field for a very long time.

However, unemployment also has a bright side. It gives you the chance to reflect on your career path where you might not have before. If you’ve been considering a new field, now is the time to research and see what might be the right fit for you. You may end up in a much stronger position than if you had originally kept your job.

To learn more, visit Job Loss and Unemployment Stress: Tips for Staying Positive During Your Job Search&

Identify occupations that match your interests

So how do you translate your interests into a new career? With a little research, you may be surprised at the careers that relate to many of the things you love to do. Many online tools can guide you through the process of self-discovery. Questions, quizzes, and temperament sorters can’t tell you what your perfect career would be, but they can help you identify what’s important to you in a career, what you enjoy doing, and where you excel. One example, frequently used by universities and the government, is the RIASEC/Holland interest scale. It identifies six common areas that people often feel especially drawn to, such as investigative, social, or artistic. Based on these areas, you can browse sample careers that match those interests.

The Career Decision-Making Tool

The Career Interests Game

The Motivated Skills Test

The Career Values Test

Research specific careers

If you have narrowed down some specific jobs or careers, you can find a wealth of information online, from description of positions to average salaries to estimated future growth. This will also help you figure out the practical priorities: How stable is the field you are considering? Are you comfortable with the amount of risk? Is the salary range acceptable to you? What about commute distances? Will you have to relocate for training or a new job? Will the new job affect your family?

Occupational Outlook Handbook (US Department of Labor)

Career Guide to Industries (US Department of Labor)

Best Careers (US News and World Report)

Get support and information from others

While you can glean a lot of information from research and quizzes, there’s no substitute for information from someone currently working in your chosen career. Talking to someone in the field gives you a real sense of what type of work you will actually be doing and if it meets your expectations.  What’s more, you will start to build connections in your new career area, helping you land a job in the future. Does approaching others like this seem intimidating? It doesn’t have to be. Networking and informational interviewing are important skills that can greatly further your career.

You may also consider career counseling or a job coach, especially if you are considering a major career shift. Sometimes impartial advice from others can open up possibilities you hadn’t considered.

Evaluate your strengths and skills

Once you have a general idea of your career path, take some time to figure out what skills you have and what skills you need. Remember, you’re not completely starting from scratch—you already have some skills to start. These skills are called transferable skills, and they can be applied to almost any field. Some examples include:

  • management and leadership experience
  • communication (both written and oral)
  • research and program planning
  • public speaking
  • conflict resolution and mediation
  • managing your time effectively
  • computer literacy
  • foreign language fluency

Identify transferable career skills

  • Don’t limit yourself to experiences only at work. When you are thinking about your skills, consider all types of activities including volunteering, hobbies and life experiences. For example, even if you don’t have formal leadership or program planning experience, founding a book club or organizing a toy drive are ways that you have been putting these skills into practice.
  • List your accomplishments that might fit in. Don’t worry about formatting these skills for a resume at this point. You just want to start thinking about what skills you have. It can be a tremendous confidence booster to realize all of the skills you’ve developed.
  • Brainstorm with trusted friends, colleagues or mentors. They might remind you of transferable skills you might have forgotten, and help you think of how you might want to articulate these skills in the future.
  • Learn more about your qualifications. Take the free online Transferable Skills Survey.

Develop new skills and acquire work experience

If your chosen career requires skills or experience you lack, don’t despair. There are many ways to gain needed skills.  While learning, you’ll also have an opportunity to find out whether or not you truly enjoy your chosen career and also make connections that could lead to your dream job.

  • Utilize your current position. Look for on-the-job training or opportunities to do projects that develop new skills. See if your employer will pay part of your tuition costs.
  • Identify resources in the community. Find out about programs in your community. Community colleges or libraries often offer low cost opportunities to strengthen skills such as computers, basic accounting, or how to start a business. Local Chambers of Commerce, Small Business Administrations, or state job development programs also are excellent resources.
  • Volunteer or work as an intern. Some career skills can be acquired by volunteering or doing an internship. This has the added benefit of getting you in contact with people in your chosen field. Visit Volunteering and its Surprising Benefits: Helping  Yourself while Helping Others
  • Take classes. Some fields require specific education or skills, such as an educational degree or specific training.  Don’t automatically rule out more education as impossible. Many fields have accelerated programs if you already have some education, or you may be able to do night classes or part-time schooling so that you can continue to work. Some companies even offer tuition reimbursements if you stay at the company after you finish your education.
  • Consider starting your own business If you’re getting worn down by long commutes or a difficult boss, the thought of being your own boss can be very appealing. And it may be you can find your perfect niche even in a slower economy. Depending on the specialty, some companies prefer to streamline their ranks and work with outside vendors. However, it is especially important to do your homework and understand the realities of business ownership before you jump in.

Make sure you are committed and passionate to your business idea. You  will be spending many long hours getting started, and it may take a while for your  business to pay off.

Research is critical. Take some time to analyze your area of interest. Are you filling an unmet need? Especially if you are considering an online business, how likely is your area to be outsourced? What is your business plan, and who are your potential investors? Learn more in the resources section below.

Expect limited or no earnings to start. Especially in the first few months, you are building your base and may have start up costs that offset any profit initially. Make sure you have a plan on how you will get through that time.

Final thoughts             

  • Pace yourself and don’t take on too much at once. Career change doesn’t happen overnight, and it is easy to get overwhelmed with all the steps to successfully change careers. However, you will get there with commitment and motivation. Break down large goals into smaller ones, and try to accomplish at least one small thing a day to keep the momentum going.
  • Don’t rush into a change because of unhappiness in your current job. If you are stressed and unhappy in your current job, or unemployed, you might be feeling a lot of pressure to make a quick change. However, if you don’t do enough research, you might end up in an even worse position than before, with the added stress of a new position and new learning curve.
  • Ease slowly into your new career. Take time to network, volunteer and even work part time in your new field before committing fully. It will not only be an easier transition, but you will have time to ensure you are on the right path and make any necessary changes before you are working full time in your new field.
  • Take care of yourself. You might be feeling so busy with the career transition that you barely have time to sleep or eat. However, managing stress, eating right, and taking time for sleep, exercise and especially loved ones will ensure you have the stamina for the big changes ahead.


Continue reading