Posts Tagged 'alternative careers'

Creativity in Science Careers: why I love AAAS

When I first started this project I was warned by Fran the editor that by suggesting there are many options for scientists other than the straight and narrow path to academia, I may hit some nerves. I had agreed with her and even wrote about how the “science establishment,” needs to be more open to different career options. But maybe we were more pessimistic than need be (although to some extent this is what happened with the recent Nature review of the Motherhood book – more on that here.)  This month, through a number of “outlets” the AAAS and their journal Science clearly show their support for scientists who venture off the academic track, and it’s refreshing to see a major organization be so supportive and creative.

First, was the April 3 Science Editorial by Bruce Alberts who writes:

“A recent survey of more than 1000 of these young scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), reveals an unusually broad range of career aspirations. Less than half select becoming academic researchers like their mentors as their first choice. One senses that we are reaching a tipping point, where students who prefer to work in the world of public policy, government, precollege education, industry, or law will no longer be viewed as deserting science. Faculty and students can then begin to talk honestly about a whole range of respected, science-related career possibilities. This is crucial, because we must promote the movement of scientists into many occupations and environments if our end goal is to effectively apply science and its values to solving global problems.”

Read it and cheer!

Next up is Science Careers upcoming Webinar, Nontraditional Careers: Opportunities Away from the Bench,  and finally, a really interesting NewFocus Profile (in Science) on Jorge Cham, researcher in neural prosthetics turned successful cartoonist, who amuses and reveals the life of PhD students and advisors through comics (see his blog at or check out his books.) Cham is quoted as saying about his career shift,  ” ‘if you have the drive and creativity, you can forge your own path,’  and ‘you can choose your own definition of success.’ ”  My thoughts exactly.

My dad always said do what you love and you’ll succeed. For many it’s a luxury to be able to do what they love, for most scientists that’s exactly what they’re doing.   We just need to appreciate and support all the different ways scientists do what they do.


Moving a school-aged family – one hazard of having the family first and the career second

(Posted by Admin for Pia Abola)

Welcome to the blog portion of Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory! I hope you have had a chance to read the excerpts from the book that Emily, our wonderful editor and project champion, has posted. I wrote an essay on the painful decision I made to take a break from a research career upon the birth of my twins (I already had one child and we were only planning on two children), and the joy I found in returning to the bench and climbing back on the academic career track. I wrote that essay over a year ago, and a lot has changed since that time. My underlying message of hope is still the same – the children are only small for a very short time and then you can put your life back in motion. However, there are hazards involved in waiting for your kids to get older while you restart your career. The big one that has really stymied my academic aspirations is the prospect of moving. Academic job searches are conducted nationally and even globally. While its not impossible to obtain an academic job in your own neighborhood, especially if you live in one of the hotspots like Boston and San Francisco, its unlikely. Before I had children and even when they were small, I only thought of moving as affecting two people – me and my husband. So if the move was okay with him we could go for it. But now my kids are all in elementary school. They have a very strong network of friends, they have activities they like, they have a home in the community. It feels like I’m being selfish when I contemplate tearing them out of this home and forcing them to start again somewhere else just for me. Especially when, living in one of the biotech hotbeds, I should be able to find some sort of position locally, either in industry or academia, that makes use of my PhD and expertise in protein biochemistry.

After much thought, I’ve put aside the traditional academic career again. It was much more painful the second time. If you’ve read my essay, you’ll know that I came to this country with my parents so they could attend graduate school. I was only two when we came to this country, but we moved after three years as my father transitioned from graduate work to postdoctoral work in another state. Three years into his postdoctoral work his advisor moved to another state, and three years after that my father finished his postdoctoral work and found a more permanent position back on the other coast of the US. This meant I attended K to second grade in one state, third to fifth grade in another state, and sixth grade on in yet a third state. I never really made or maintained friendships and I always felt like an outsider until I went to college and we were all new together (except for the kids from prep schools). With this background, I look at the community my children live in and I want them to have what I never did when I was growing up – a stable community and lasting friendships. Once again, I’ve put my career aside for my children.

However, as I write this entry, I’m actually very pleased with my decision. I went through six months of deciding what parts of the academic job I find appealing and looking for these qualities in non-professor jobs. I have two really promising leads that stem from my love of writing, my analytical skills, and my scientific background, and that don’t involve moving! Whether they live up to my expectations, only time will tell. But the new message I have is to be flexible. Be flexible in defining your goals, be flexible in how you realize your goals, and remember what is most important to you.

I’m curious what other people think about the question of moving your family. I hope this is something that can be discussed in the comments, or perhaps in other blog entries – to move or not to move?