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Five Common Career Choices For Science Ph.D. Grads

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Author: Dr. Leah Cannon | Category: Career Development | February 02, 2017

If you have a life science Ph.D., or are on your way to getting one, and are thinking about what to do next, here are five commons jobs people choose after graduating:

Academic Postdoc

Unsurprisingly, 80 percent of life science Ph.D.s grads go on to do an academic postdoc. This is because 95 percent of Ph.D. students want to stay in academia and a postdoc is the next logical step in an academic career. However, it may not be the best choice for you, as there are far more Ph.D. grads than tenured and tenure-track positions and only 5-16 percent of Ph.D. grads will eventually have their own lab. Also, for the first 15 years of their careers, postdocs, even those who eventually transition into an industry job, earn 17-21 percent less than people who go straight into industry after a Ph.D.

Industry Postdoc

Yes such a thing exists. Most big pharma and many big biotech companies including Pfizer, Janssen, AstraZeneca and Genentech (now part of Roche) have postdoctoral programs. They offer many of the same benefits as an academic postdoc, with mentors and opportunities to publish and present work both internally and externally at conferences however, with the added bonus of learning how scientific discoveries are translated into products in an industry setting. Salaries are also much higher than for academic postdocs, starting at around $70 000/year with additional fringe benefits usually including: medical, dental and vision insurance' life and disability insurance; 401(k) and paid vacation time.

Scientist Position In Industry

These positions differ from industry postdocs in that you are not working on an entire project, you are contributing to a project. You will be told what experiments to do and will have less freedom than a postdoc. However you will still have the opportunity to learn how a pharma or biotech company works and will be able to move up in R&D or move laterally into communications, business development or other roles.

Science Communications

When Ph.D. students and postdocs are thinking about non-academic careers, science communications is often at the top of their list. Science communications is a huge diverse field encompassing many different types of jobs and sub-fields including: science journalism; marketing; public relations; institutional communications; medical and technical writing; medical science liaisons; public education and outreach. The list is huge. If you like to write and present information and think this field would suit you, talk to someone who works in SciComm to work out which job would be the best fit for you.


If you want to work in industry but don’t want to do bench research, sales can be a good entry-level position. It allows you to learn about how the company works and you can work your way up and across into business development, product management or project management.

It takes time to find a new job so it really helps if you can make the time to start researching jobs, building skills and networking at least 12 months before you want to transition.

This article was originally posted on the Life Science Network and was written by Leah Cannon, a Career Advisory Council member at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the content editor for Life Science Network.

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