PhD-flooding into alternative careers

J. Johnson siddo at
Tue Nov 19 02:16:02 EST 1996

Hello Sarah,

It is interesting that you bring up the subject of PhD flooding in
alternative career areas.  This is an area that I am obviously concerned
with as you know.  For all of you out there on the newsgroup - I am new to
the group.  And, to make a long story short had a very bad experiences
during my PhD that lead me to quit in my fourth year and after my oral
examinations.  I have to admit now, that it was one of the best decisions
Iever made for myself and for my career.  It was difficult, as I
necessarily had to overcome my advisor giving me a bad reference (which IS
illegal) and much mental anguish associated with the entire experience.
After overcoming the guilt associated with getting a MS I was ready to
leave science entirely.  But as I was determined not to let one person (my
advisor) ruin the experience for me I went into industry to make a living.

Industry (biotech) opened my eyes to many things; mainly the differences
between academia and industry.  I found a much more supportive environment
that did fine work and treated people fairly, and encouraged growth. It is
far less negative and business are far more accountable under the law;
that is, they don't get away with the abuses that I consider prevalent
in academia.  At any rate, the PhD-itis is present to a degree in industry
as it is in academics and I had finally reached my limits in research last
year. I realized it was not the career for me; but I must add that I am
far more employable than any PhD I know - I am confident that I could go
almost anywhere and get a job, as high level and independent "techs" are
in high demand - it is especially sad that many PhDs are applying to
research associate positions (a reflection on the PhD job market).

Bach to the alternative careers.  I have changed my career and am
currently in law school.  A big concern of course is that glut of PhDs
flooding that field.  I am the only science person in my law school class
without a PhD.  However, my boss (a patent attorney) has many words of
wisdom regarding the PhD influx into the law.  PhD means that you can do
scientific research (as does experience with a BA or MS) necessary to
understand the issues and scientific concepts in patents. Being a lawyer
is entirely different, and the ability to practice well may have nothing
to do with a PhD.  My boss warns most employers she encounters, that a PhD
is not necessarily a great attorney - some of the finest patent attorneys
she knows have BAs!  I imagine this would extend to other fields as well -
for instance publishing in a scientific journal doesn't mean you're a
good writer or teacher or can interface well with people in business.  I
think it is important to keep things in perspective and have the
confidence in yourself that NOT having the PhD will not stop you from
having a great alternative career.  Law firms hire attorneys, not
scientists.  The way you think as a lawyer is the real issue, not your
scientific expertise.  In some respects non-PhDs may have advantages in
their breadth of experiences that PhDs do not have.  For instance I have
worked in bacteriology, yeast genetics, virology (mammalian and insect),
mammalian cell biology, liver metabolism and enzyme kinetics, molecular
biology and diabetes; my PhD class mates are chemists or Plant Biologists
with very narrow focus (e.g. signal transduction - and not much more); but
they have the degree and the publications (it's scary).  Anyway, I have
chosen not to worry about it, because here in law school we are all equal.
I admit that the future will get harder and harder for people like me.  I
guess I will have to wait and see if I will be inhibited in law by not
having a PhD. 

Anyway, hello and thanks for discussing this issue.  i would love to hear
from others who have defected from science into alternative careers.


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