How to find your way through non-academic careers

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Having a doctoral degree in a STEM field is a great asset. There are in fact a great deal of career opportunities for young doctoral graduates and postdocs outside of academia. But how to choose the right one for you? If you don’t have yet a clear idea about what your vocation is, it may be difficult to decide what to do next. The “Career Events for Life Scientists” that NGC co-organises with the International PhD Programme (IPP) student’s representatives in Mainz are aimed at helping young researchers on campus to know, identify and network with suitable non-academic careers and professionals.

How your own skills and values can help you identify your best career-fit

The career workshop “Career Crafting based on a Skills and Values Coaching” set out to help early career researchers to define what their career goals are. In November 2020, a group of PhD students and postdocs approaching their job hunting phase embarked on a journey lasting three half-days. Led by the trainer, Silke Oerlein-Karpi, they worked in groups, pairs or individually to concretize their personal core competencies, values and life concepts, thus sharpening their individual life-profile. “Already the personal preparation for these three days, based on a questionnaire received before the start of the course, was very extensive and included the recognition/discovery of our personal skills and competences as well as the values of our childhood” says Mirjam, who is currently writing her thesis and starting to look for jobs. Based on this individual foundation - the life-profile - future career options were developed and concretized, so that by the end of the course each participant had developed their individual Plan A and B for the upcoming career steps. The trainer also provided many strategies on how to identify the positive and unique aspects of a person and their individual career path, as well as on how to use this knowledge for their personal career development.

Non-academic careers have many faces

Essential to the development of a career plan is the information on which careers are available. With our career talks, we endeavour to familiarise PhD students and postdocs with the wide array of non-academic jobs that may be a fit for them. When talking about non-academic careers, the most common one that comes to mind is a research position in the Pharma or biotech industry (such as postdocs or group leader positions). However, there are many other opportunities out there.

For instance, it is possible to join a trainee programme to get the skills you are missing for the job you want to do. This is what Sebastian Weingart, doctoral candidate in Heidelberg, did. Sebastian joined us on 24 August for a very interesting online talk about his experience as a trainee of the GoGlobal Program Inhouse Consulting at Merck KGaA. What are the requirements to apply for a trainee position, what you will learn and how you will develop a network within various areas of the organisation were only some of the topics clarified by Sebastian. Additionally, he dedicated some more time to a small group session after his talk, to answer more questions by some attendees with an interest in consulting careers in the pharma industry.

Another exciting career is the one of Dr Anneke Hibbel, who joined us on 28 October 2020 to talk about her transition from academic research to scientific management. Anneke is not new to Mainz, as she worked as an IPP Coordinator before moving back to Zurich, where she is now Department Manager at the University of Zurich. Her talk was very earnest and explained how science managers are at the interface between research and administration, making sure that researchers have the support they need for their work. Thus, science managers organise and coordinate training and recruitment of young researchers, organise scientific events, help researchers communicating about their work, assist them with the preparation funding proposals and much more. Seven young researchers also benefitted from a group session with Anneke, to delve more into what a career in scientific management has to offer.

While scientific management interfaces between admin and science, there are also jobs that are between science and law. On 3 December, Dr Dirk Bühler told us about his job as European patent attorney. He engaged participants to his online talk by giving some real-life examples of scientific patents and the process they go through. This overview helped to understand how a patent office works, what he does as a patent attorney and how his scientific background is required for the job. Moreover, he clarified that patent attorneys are not only found at patent offices, but also in industry or in law firms.

While there are many areas in which a doctoral graduate could work, there are only few careers that will fit you. Have you already found yours?

Written by Mirjam Ax & Chiara Galante; Edited by Radhika Menon. Featured Image: NGC/Design.

We thank the Gutenberg Nachwuchs Kolleg from Mainz University for the financial support in organizing this event.

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