As a graduate student you are among the most well-educated members of society. You have tremendous strengths and transferable skills to oﬀer employers. There are many types of careers open to PhD students—we’ve included the more frequent options for students in the sciences here. Please feel free to schedule an appointment to speak with a CCE career counselor regardless of where you are in your career decision-making process.
You will ﬁnd many opportunities in industry research. If you enjoy the day-to-day work of research these positions are a great ﬁt. These positions are often very competitive and may require a couple years of postdoctoral experience. This is especially true in the biomedical sciences. To apply for positions in industry you will need to convert your academic CV to a resume before submitting it.
Think about diﬀerent industries that may need research and development scientists, including (just to name a few) perfume and ﬂavor companies, cosmetics companies, textiles companies, and energy companies.
Where to Look
There are job databases for industry-speciﬁc positions; you’re probably familiar with many of them. Both indeed.com and simplyhired.com are job search aggregators that pull from diﬀerent databases. Use these to check out common job titles, qualiﬁcations and descriptions. Also check out the careers website or LinkedIn page of particular companies that you are targeting.
- Materials-related employment
- American Chemical Society job database
- Perfumery/Flavor Chemistry—International Flavors and Fragrances
- Optics, Photonics and Imaging—Spieworks
US Government Jobs
NOTE: Most federal government jobs are limited to US citizens.
The federal government hires engineers and candidates with advanced degrees in the sciences. There are jobs ranging from international development to systems design for NASA. Much of the government’s critical national security research is now in the biological sciences. Most government scientists do primary research, and advanced degrees (PhDs or MDs) are required.
Here are some examples of professions and the agencies which hire them:
- Engineers : The Department of Defense, NASA, and the Departments of Transportation and Agriculture
- Wildlife Biologists : The Department of the Interior hires wildlife biologists
- Molecular Biologists : The Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control
- Cognitive Psychologists : The Department of Labor
Where to Look
Many scientists have found satisfying work making and inﬂuencing national policy. You will ﬁnd these roles both within the federal government and in the many nonproﬁt organizations that work to inﬂuence policy on wide range of issues—the environment, science education, healthcare, and energy, for example.
Where to Look
- AAAS Science and Technology Fellowships
- American Chemical Society
- United Nations (various oﬃces)
Secondary School Teaching
If you love teaching you may ﬁnd secondary school teaching to be a rewarding career and opportunity to mentor young scientists and engineers. You may want to choose private schools as a ﬁrst step in a teaching career because, unlike public schools, they do not require teaching certiﬁcation. Charter schools are another good option. Teachers say that the opportunity to interact with young students and a sense of making a diﬀerence in students’ lives are why they enjoy the profession.
There are a number of organizations that enable a-typical candidates and career-changers to become certiﬁed quickly. The New York City Teaching Fellows Program recruits dedicated individuals to teach in public schools, allowing them to become certiﬁed within a few months of joining the program. Teach for America notes that many of their corps member have full-time, post-college work experience or completed a graduate degree program prior to joining.
Public schools often have emergency needs for teachers in the sciences and mathematics and will award emergency certiﬁcation.
Remember that experience with adolescents and teenagers is considered important. While your PhD states that you are clearly qualiﬁed to teach a particular subject, you need to emphasize your interest in younger students and your ability to work with a diﬀerent kind of curriculum. To gain experience in this area you might contact local schools for substitute or part-time openings, choose to volunteer, work with individual students as a tutor or providing after school support. You could also look for jobs teaching in a summer program run by independent schools.
Where to Look
- Parent’s League (maintains a list of independent schools in New York)
- National Association of Independent Schools
- Carney Sandoe and Associates
- Independent School Placement
- Teach for America
- New York Teaching Fellows
- Math for America
- National Science Teachers Association
- NYC Charter School Center
- Department of Education
Scientiﬁc/Technical Writing and Publishing
Scientiﬁc/medical writing and publishing is an excellent alternative for PhDs. This ﬁeld requires strong writing skills. It oﬀers the opportunity to be involved in the scientiﬁc community without spending hours in the lab or ﬁeld. Academic and technical journals like to hire PhDs for editing positions. Publishing ﬁrms hire PhDs for editing, marketing, sales, production, design, information technology, and business positions. There are many diﬀerent contexts in which a PhD can use writing skills:
- large and small scientiﬁc journals
- textbook publishers
- medical writing companies that produce content for pharmaceutical companies
- technology companies that need strong writers to produce “how-to” content
Where to Look
- American Medical Writers Association
- National Association of Science Writers
- Also check Nature Jobs which often posts publishing positions
Patents and Intellectual Property
Law ﬁrms hire patent agents or scientiﬁc advisors to assist ﬁrm partners in due diligence, litigation, opinions, and other tasks similar to those of associates, but do not hold law degrees. A scientiﬁc advisor at a law ﬁrm works with cutting-edge science every day. This kind of work may expose you to a broader range of science and technology than would a career in research.
PhDs hired as scientiﬁc advisors do not have to go to law school but are often expected to become patent agents and to draft, prosecute, and secure patents. Some ﬁrms will pay for an employee’s law school in order for him or her to become a patent attorney. Look for law ﬁrms with a focus on intellectual property.
Where to Look
People who work in technology transfer identify technology that is appropriate for commercialization and support researchers in that process. Most US research universities and hospitals have a technology transfer oﬃce that helps researchers to apply for patents, explore licensing possibilities, and establish start-up companies. Many PhD scientists and engineers have found work in technology transfer to be satisfying. The work blends the worlds of science and business in an engaging way. Many companies like Monsanto will have an intellectual property or technology oﬃce.
Where to Look
PhDs. in consulting provide advice to ﬁrms in trouble, on the move, or trying to do what they do better, faster, and more cheaply. Consulting ﬁrms oﬀer you the opportunity to use and expand upon your knowledge base in exciting, varied positions. You will also work with highly motivated colleagues. Consultants make an impact within the companies they work and are able to see the results of change quickly.
Consulting is a rewarding yet demanding ﬁeld. Most consultants travel a lot—they may spend three weeks a month on the road—and often work 60-80 hours a week. Be sure to consider the costs and beneﬁts of this demanding profession before diving in. To decide if consulting is right for you, attend information sessions, network with industry professionals, and research companies.
In addition to general management consulting, many ﬁrms have specialized practices in energy, IT, government, and healthcare. As an example, we’ve listed a few of the specialized functions in IT below. These are just a few of the specialized functions a consultant might undertake during their career.
- System Integration: This is one of the traditional jobs of the IT consultant and a growth area today as companies add more IT systems to their business processes. When two companies merge, or a single company wants to implement new hardware or software, they turn to consultants to make all the technology compatible.
- Outsourcing: Business process outsourcing (BPO) is the bread and butter of many ﬁrms. Some companies ﬁnd it easier and more cost-eﬀective to pay somebody else to manage their technology for them. The consultants become the client’s IT department. They handle everything from help desk and call center operations to server maintenance to passkey and ID tag issuance.
- IT Strategy: IT assignments may involve aligning a client’s IT infrastructure with its overall business strategy. You will get a broad view of the client’s business or high-level technology decisions. These assignements are usually called simply “consulting” or “strategy” projects. Most of the large, brand-name management consulting ﬁrms have technology strategy practices. Booz Allen has a technology strategy group. Accenture’s Strategic IT Eﬀectiveness group is within its business consulting (i.e., distinct from IT consulting) division.
- Web Services: Along the domain of design and hosting companies based in Silicon Alley (New York’s tech center), web services include e-commerce implementation and other secure-transaction work, though consultancies do some page design and site hosting as part of their overall deliverables as well. This specialty is receiving a lot of attention from major technology players such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Accenture.
- Security: IT businesses have realized there’s money to be made in designing and implementing better security and identiﬁcation methods. Strides have been made in biometrics (the science of identifying a person via retina patterns, voice, ﬁngerprints, and other unique biological characteristics), contraband detection, and secure communications.
- Research and Development: Some consultants spend their time in the lab creating new hardware and software. Often, this work is geared toward creating new products (servers, analysis software, and the like) that will help the consultancy sell work or complete the engagements it undertakes. In other cases, the consultants must create something entirely new for a client’s use; for example, military contractors such as Raytheon.
Where to Look
Here are some useful sites to learn more about consulting and two ﬁrms know to hire PhDs. Also be sure to read Case in Point written by Marc Cosentino.
- Columbia Graduate Consulting Club
- Vault and WetFeet Guides
- The Boston Consulting Group (look at the Bridge to BCG program)
- McKinsey (look at the Insight Program)
Many PhDs have found that ﬁnancial services need their high-level quantitative (in particular statistics, stochastic calculus, and related disciplines), research, and programming skills. Large and small companies (universal banks, to hedge funds, to private trading companies) need PhDs from the sciences, mathematics, and engineering to ﬁll a wide variety of roles. Some of these roles are:
- sales and trading
- product development
- risk monitoring and assessment
- ﬁxed income and equity research
You will ﬁnd these roles in ﬁnancial engineering and/or risk management departments. In these roles quantitative, analytical, and programming skills are used to the identify deviations in the price or value of securities, commodities, and markets. People in these roles assess and manage risk, portfolio value, and the analyze investment opportunities. There is a very broad range of opportunities within ﬁnancial services for students with skills in mathematics, engineering, and the sciences.