Is A PhD Degree Worth It?

Posted in BioEducation

There is no longer any question that it is becoming increasingly difficult for PhD life scientists to find jobs. Further, there is no longer any doubt that the academic system responsible for the current glut of PhD life scientists on the market is broken and needs to be fixed. However, it is important to point out that the decision the get a PhD degree is a very personal one and, in most cases, is not based on the prospect of future long term employment.  In fact, most graduate students and postdoctoral scientists that I have talked to over the past 10 years, don’t think about the need to find a job until they learn that their funding is running out.  The point  is, that just because you have a PhD degree it does not entitle you to a job. Further, looking for a job takes commitment, time and a lot of work and unfortunately some PhD scientists mistakenly  think that the “jobs will/should come to them.”  Put simply, if you aren’t willing to put in the work to find a job, which may mean additional training or a possible career change, then you have nobody to blame but yourself.

In 1974, shortly after I was admitted to the graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I received a congratulatory letter from my soon-to-be PhD adviser. In the letter he made a comment about “the blood, sweat and tears” that are required to earn a PhD degree.  At the time, I was a youthful, ambitious 21 year-old, who thought he could do anything and I had no idea what he was talking about!  Seven painful and often tearful years later, I finally understood what he meant by those words; because I had lived them!  I  have no doubt that many who are reading this post have had similar experiences. However, earning your  PhD degree is only the very beginning of your journey. And, like it or not,  the only thing that a PhD guarantees is that others will call you “doctor”and that you can add the letters “PhD” after your name!

For the past several months I have been following a question on a LinkedIn group that asked: “If you had to do it all over again, would you have still chosen to get your PhD degree”. For me, the answer is an unequivocal YES!  And, like the first time, that decision would not have been based on the notion that there would or should be a job waiting for me at the end of my training.  My decision was a personal one based on my “love of microbiology” not the guarantee of future employment.

So,  to those of you who feel like the system has let you down and that you have been abused, I feel your pain but offer the following. If you wanted a guaranteed job at the end of your training than you ought to have considered a career in medicine, nursing, law, engineering, physical therapy, carpentry, plumbing or any other profession where a license is required to practice. These professionals offer a “service” to people and, in exchange for services rendered, they get paid for their efforts.  Like it or not, laboratory research is a not a service or fee-based industry and consequently has minimal short term personal value to people. And, not surprisingly, the demand for PhD life scientists, well trained or not, is not high.

In closing, nobody said getting a PhD degree was going to be easy. And, as somebody once said to me, “if getting a PhD degree was easy, then everybody would have one!”  That said, be proud that you earned your degree; but the hard work has only just begun!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

Alternate Careers for Life Sciences PhDs: Some Interesting and Edgy Job Opportunities

Posted in BioJobBuzz

There is no doubt that it is becoming increasingly difficult for persons with PhD degrees in the life sciences to pursue traditional career paths. To that end, Anne Miller of sent me a link to a post that offers some interesting career options that might be of interest to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows training in the life sciences. While not for everyone, some of these jobs are tangentially related to the life sciences and may be worth considering if your current job search isn’t panning out.

The jobs with asterisks connote those where a scientific background may be beneficial.

1. MMO Gold Farmer : Gold farming has little to do with gold mining, as the workers are actually responsible for sitting at a computer for hours on end playing World of Warcraft and other massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) in order to amass a large amount of in-game currency to sell for the real thing.

2. Animal Insemination* : Artificially inseminating livestock is a necessary job if one wants a healthy food supply, but few will deny that it is an extremely unusual line of work.

3. Chicken Sexer* : The idea of a chicken sexer likely brings up a series of giggles and blushes, but in actuality involves deciphering the genitalia of newly-hatched birds and inventorying how many males and females crop up in the bunch.

4. Odor Judge : With strong stomachs and a much stronger olfactory system, odor judges do exactly what their job title implies. Sometimes they even have to jam their nose into a participant’s armpit to see how well their deodorant works.

5. Garbage Bin Archivist : A step up from dumpster diving, some people make money off scouring files and archives retrieved from filthy garbage bins for legal reasons.

6. Fish Liver Sorter* : They sort fish livers. Actually, the job description also entails slicing the organs out before organizing them as well as discarding any that appear sick or spoiled.

7. Organ Procurers* : Organ procurers work for organ banks, helping to seek out donors and transplants for those in need of a new kidney, liver, or other body part.

8. Vomit Collector : Some theme parks employ cleaners specifically designated to mop up puke near rides that tend to inspire motion sickness.

9. Pet Food Taster : Most people would jump at the chance to taste-test chocolate, booze, or ice cream or other snack, but it takes a special stomach, palate, and probably mind to want to nosh on gourmet dog and cat food.

10. Gumologist : Food chemist Jessee Keifer of Cadbury Schweppes is one of the only people in the world paid to develop the perfect stick of chewing gum.

11. Dice Inspector : A dice inspector’s job involves inspecting the little cubes for any flaws that may give an unfair advantage or disadvantage when gambling.

12. Fake Review Writer* : Unethical? Yup. But a weird job is still a weird job, and this one involves professionally writing fake business reviews – positive and negative alike – for consumer-driven sites like Yelp, Citysearch, and Urbanspoon in order to artificially bolster ratings and verbally slam the competition.

13. Gross Stunt Tester : Nobody would eat worms on television for money if the network feared a lawsuit. Before chomping down on a cockroach, though, gross stunt testers and chefs have to whip up the night’s challenge and make sure it is safe enough to stave off litigation.

14. Hand Model : Some models make their money off the runway, appearing in television commercials, print ads, and as movie and show stand-ins without ever even having to flaunt more than a pair of pretty phalanges. There is an entire industry built around feet as well.

15. Citrus Fruit Dryer : All fruits need washing before being shipped off restaurants and grocery stores, and somebody has to be around to towel them off.

16. Furniture Tester : One of the cushiest jobs possible, furniture testers get paid to sit and lounge about on chairs, couches, beds, and other elements of home décor to help manufacturers gauge their safety and comfort.

17. Pet Detective : Real pet detectives help scared owners find their beloved animal companions. Generally, they don’t go chasing after missing dolphins.

18. IMAX Screen Cleaner : Because without the dedicated work of these brave men and women, nobody would ever be able to see the Great Barrier Reef or Mount Everest as the filmmaker intended.

19. Crocodile Wrangler *: One of the most dangerous jobs anyone could have involves wrestling crocodiles, alligators, and other aggressive animals. A simultaneously awesome and insane line of work.

20. Light Bender : Both dangerous and creative, light benders work in extreme heat to bring people flashing neon signs for businesses and home décor (in some circles).

21. Hoof Trimmer* : Cows and horses need their hooves trimmed for their own safety and comfort – really not much different than a dog or cat owner clipping the nails of their pets.

22. Wrinkle Chaser : Anyone who buys a pair of shoes has to send a bit of thanks to wrinkle chasers, who wield their irons with the intent of keeping them smooth and attractive.

23. Worm Picker* : With lighted miner’s helmets and aluminum cans at the reader, professional worm pickers snatch up their wiggly prey from the ground and sell them to local anglers for bait.

24. Ski Resort Illustrator : Glamorous when compared to many others on the list, ski resort illustrators apply their creative talents to…um…what was it again?

25. Fart Sniffer : People actually get paid to smell gas given off by cows in order to determine their diet, hormonal balance, and overall health. There are no words.

26. Pathoecologist* : Oh sure, telling someone you’re a “pathoecologist” at a cocktail party probably sounds all impressive. But have fun watching their expressions plummet when explaining that it involves dissecting and analyzing fossilized feces for a living.

27. Golf Ball Diver : Experienced deep-sea divers sometimes take on second careers applying their talents to retrieving golf balls from the murky depths of lakes.

28. Professional Sleeper* : As amazing as sleeping for money sounds, it also serves an excellent medical purpose. Professional sleepers help scientists and doctors figure out the mysteries of insomnia and other disorders.

29. Livestock Masturbator* : Similar to the animal inseminator, individuals who masturbate cows and other barnyard animals in order to acquire the body fluids necessary for conception play an integral role in the food supply.

30. Ocularist : These specialists create custom false eyes for individuals in need of one following an accident or degenerative disease.

31. Oyster Floater* : Before finding their way to consumers, oysters need to be floated in specially attuned water in order to remove any impurities.

32. Ostrich Babysitter* : Some kibbutz workers pass their days keeping an eye on ostriches to make sure they do not wander off, get into fights, or end up stolen.

33. Gum Buster : Littering is bad and all that, but if nothing else it at least means that cities and sanitation businesses create jobs specifically for cleaning gum and gum stains off the street.

34. Snake Milker* : Chuck Norris is so 2007. Snake milkers are the real tough guys, farming venom from the poisonous, slithering reptiles to help cure people of their bites.

35. Fortune Cookie Writer : Most little blips on the fortune cookies served at Asian restaurants comes not from some wise ancient sage, but rather a man at a desk being paid to crank them out.

36. Paper Towel Sniffer : A paper towel sniffer is responsible for letting manufacturers know if their products harbor any unusual smells before, during, and after use.

37. Lipsologist : Like a cross between a handwriting and palm analyst and a fingerprint archivist, a lipsologist claims to be able to read and identify a person’s personality based on their unique lip prints.

38. Neck Skewer : In spite of sounding like a line of work disconcertingly attractive to Leatherface, neck skewers actually pin the neck meat of beef halves to keep things more compact for transport.

39. Potato Chip Inspector : This delightful job entails looking through a conveyor belt full of potato chips for burned or unappetizing specimens.

40. Safe Cracker : A couple notches below James Bond exists safe crackers, who have to bust open locked boxes using their ears and fingers as tools.

41. Knife-Thrower’s Assistant : There is no way that any insurance company would offer a policy to someone who lets people throw knives at them for a living – but it probably makes for some great stories all the same.

42. Smoke Jumper : Smoke jumpers are extensively trained professionals sent into devastating wildfires on mountains, in brush, and other wide expanses to keep the environment and humanity safe from as much harm as possible.

43. Citrus Fruit Dyer* : No relation to the citrus fruit dryer, the citrus fruit dyers pop bright colors onto lemons, limes, grapefruits, kumquats, and other delights to make them seem more appealing to consumers.

44. Stand-In Bridesmaid : Eerily obsessive brides scouring over every single petty detail of their weddings and under the impression that the day would be absolutely ruined without a certain number of attendants (spoiler alert: it won’t) can actually pay women to stand in the ceremony to fill out the ranks.

45. Professional Whistler : Professional whistlers lend their talents to television shows, movies, commercials, and other media to add delightful music to their listeners’ days.

46. Turd Burner : Everyone who’s anyone loves fire, but not everyone is cut out to maintain equipment that burns human waste for a living.

47. Hair Boiler : Animal hair gets poured into giant vats of boiling water in order to make it curl up – and somebody has to stir it. Why does that sound eerily like the opening scene of Macbeth?

48. Phone Cord Sorter : Phone cord sorters (who, thanks to the advent of cell phones, are a rare breed these days) have to root through piles upon piles of the electronic components to weed out any that appear damaged or frayed.

49. Condom Tester : Before any boys in the audience drop out of school to pursue this career path, be forewarned that it actually involves stretching the prophylactics over a machine to test their strength and durability.

50. Cheese Sprayer : The powdered cheddar (or reasonable facsimile) on popcorn and other wonderfully salty, greasy snacks that wreak havoc on the heart and waistline has to get there somehow.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting (try it you may like it)!!!!!!!