Unsolicited Advice: Non-Academic Careers

By Sean Carroll | June 2, 2011 2:16 pm

Since I know nothing very useful about the job market outside academia, I solicited suggestions for specific pointers and helpful websites. A bushel of useful advice and thought-provoking comments resulted.

My original idea was to summarize what I thought was the best advice, and turn it into a single post. This idea has been undermined by (1) me not knowing which advice is best, and (2) a wide variety of occasionally-contradictory advice, presumably all applicable in different circumstances.

So instead here I’m just going to link to some of the most promising-looking resources that were mentioned. I encourage you to read the comments on the original post to get more ideas, and chime in here to keep the conversation going.

Collections of Online Resources

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Academia, Advice, Top Posts
  • http://www.qwertyous.blogspot.com/ John R Ramsden

    Here’s another couple for the book list:

    “A PhD is Not Enough – A Guide to Survival in Science” P Feibelman (1993)

    “Alternative Careers in Science – Leaving the Ivory Tower” (AP, 2nd ed, 2006)

    (Not sure, but I may have mentioned the second in your previous article on this. Apologies for the repetition if so.)

  • Phil

    Peter Fiske’s book ranges from $1400 – $1749 on amazon. It must be good!!

  • mikka

    Some booksellers set up automated algorithms that check other seller’s prices and adjust theirs accordingly. When two or more such algorithms meet on a particular book, they can get coupled to each other leading to hilarious price races. This could be one such case.
    Check this out: http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=358

  • spyder

    Because my brother’s work depends upon them:

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com Lab Lemming

    The Peter Fiske book was published by the American Geophysical Union, so any members thereof could ask the publishing dept. to move it from out of print to print on demand…

  • http://socsci.tau.ac.il/poli-LCE/ Josh Verienes

    @Phil, the price doesn’t mean it’s a good book…Do you know someone who will buy a $1500+ book?

  • nobody

    Here’s a tip: instead of giving advice to people for what to do after they can’t find a permanent job, instead promote a massive reduction to the number of PhD students and postdocs and to bring the total number to what is actually required. This has 2 advantages:
    1) Obviously solves the aforementioned problem
    2) The noise in the literature will be reduced (if you think about it for a sec, it’s obvious)

  • anonymous

    There are two critical problems with reducing the number of PhD students in order to ensure future faculty jobs for graduating PhDs.

    One that has been widely discussed is the difficulty in selecting the best future researchers based on Physics GRE scores and transcripts from the huge variety of undergraduate programs.

    A second problem is that decreasing the number of PhD students will directly lead to fewer faculty jobs in the future. To see why this is the case, imagine asking a Dean to replace retiring faculty in a department that just either eliminated its PhD program or cut its numbers by half. Since teaching graduate courses and supervising graduate students is part of what faculty at research universities do, there is less need for faculty, so why hire in the field without grad students. Moreover, a field with fewer students will be less vibrant because of the poorer selection as noted above.

    The underlying issue is graduate school is about education. If this isn’t working in that few to no graduate students are prepared for anything other than replicating their thesis advisors, then one needs to look at changes in graduate education. I think the evidence favors the view that physics and astronomy PhDs are more broadly useful, but even if this were not true at some point, decreasing the number of graduate students does not really solve the problem.

  • anonymous

    Sean, the most useful thing academic departments and advisors could provide to students is the *idea* that leaving astronomy or whatever other field is a viable and positive thing. The notion that there are good things to do out there in addition to astronomy, and it’s not just something to be whispered about, as in “he/she left the field”, as if you turned your back and left as a failure. It is healthy for people to have choices and to realize that there are other (possibly even better) things out there. Referring people to books and guides is good, but the mentality is what is missing…

  • BenK

    If you would like, I perhaps could provide some information about scientists joining the military; which isn’t typical, but is possible in certain cases. Notably, certain scientists with biology, biochemistry backgrounds can gain ‘direct commissions’ in a manner analogous to physicians and medical professionals.


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Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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