Thinking ahead in graduate school | May 9, 2016 Issue - Vol. 94 Issue 19 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 94 Issue 19 | p. 14 | News of The Week
Issue Date: May 9, 2016 | Web Date: May 6, 2016

Thinking ahead in graduate school

Chemistry Ph.D. students know the odds of getting an academic job but need more information about other careers, study shows
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: education, science education, postdoc, graduate school, training

When pondering whether to pursue postdoctoral training, chemistry graduate students understand what their chances are of getting a faculty job, a new survey shows.

How postdoc plans impact career outlook
A survey published last week in Science asked graduate students to pick the career path they find most attractive. The authors then compared those who say they plan to get postdoctoral training with those who do not. Here are the responses for chemistry graduate students.
Note: Numbers do not add to 100% because students could select more than one answer.
Credit: Science
A survey comparing the results of the career paths of graduate students.
How postdoc plans impact career outlook
A survey published last week in Science asked graduate students to pick the career path they find most attractive. The authors then compared those who say they plan to get postdoctoral training with those who do not. Here are the responses for chemistry graduate students.
Note: Numbers do not add to 100% because students could select more than one answer.
Credit: Science

But the results confirm educators’ fears that students don’t feel well-informed about what training they need to work in industry R&D, start-ups, or government (Science 2016, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2061).

The survey results are “intriguing,” says Michael Doyle, a professor at the University of Texas, San Antonio, who was on an American Chemical Society panel that recommended changes to graduate education. “It’s really going to cause a stir.”

Educators have long worried that students do not get enough training or mentoring to make informed career choices, Doyle explains. That could lead them to waste years in a low-paying postdoc position that won’t help advance their career.

Until this study, knowledge about what graduate students understand about the labor market was mostly anecdotal. That’s why authors Henry Sauermann of Georgia Tech and Michael Roach of Cornell University surveyed almost 6,000 graduate students at 39 research universities—including around 670 chemistry students. They followed up with those who did a postdoc.

“We wanted to get into people’s brains” to find out what they knew about the job market and how they thought about their career options, Sauermann explains.

The researchers found that graduate students across scientific fields had a good understanding of the academic job market. Those who choose to do a postdoc were more likely to pursue careers in academia, which requires additional training. Chemists had a more realistic view of their own chances of getting a tenure-track job than life scientists, who tended to overestimate their odds of getting a position.

However, a large percentage of those getting a postdoc were most attracted to careers outside of academia, the study found. It’s not clear whether they need postdoctoral training for those jobs.

Many students don’t have a sense of how many jobs are available or what background they require, Doyle says. Chemistry students think they need a postdoc for some high-level industry jobs in the pharmaceutical industry, for example.

Sauermann agrees that’s a problem. “We don’t know enough about the industry labor market,” he says.

But the issue could also be a lack of training. Cynthia Fuhrmann, who created a jobs training program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, says it’s important for graduate students to think about their career early. Students at her campus start mandatory career training their first week on campus and it continues through graduate school.

“It is concerning that early-career scientists who we invest so much in—as a scientific community and as taxpayers—are making career decisions without being well-informed about the options available to them.”

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © American Chemical Society
Rider Barnum (May 6, 2016 9:04 AM)
This is sadly true and more. I wanted to go into industry, and was told that you needed a PhD to get anything more than just a lab tech position. Unfortunately that is not the case. I find that there are far more jobs open for BS chemists than PhD chemists, and it made the job hunting difficult. One company I applied towards had 40 candidates for a position requiring a BS degree, and the company rep said he was surprised that 50% of those candidates were PhD chemists. The market was hard. But after finding a job in industry, I can say that people care far more about your experiences in industry than they do about a post-doc. At least in my field. My advice to any chemists wanting to get into industry that I wish I had before.....whether in undergrad or grad school, apply for internships and co-op positions. Those few/several months of industry experience will make you FAR more desirable than the years of post-doc experience.
Anwar Jacintomoreno (May 6, 2016 6:39 PM)
As I student, and aspiring graduate-student. Please tell us, HOW do we become educated on what type of career-path is best suited for our desiring professions? I would like to be a researcher for the Department of Defense, or scientist for The Food and Drug Administration, or Department of Homeland Security. I would even go for a position with the CIA or FBI. I am veteran of the US Armed Forces, thus my interest in the federal government. Would a PHD and possible a Post-Doc be too much? too little?

Or where may I find the information which I should be seeking?

Thank You
Alexander Peacock (May 9, 2016 11:54 AM)
Look at their websites for recent openings. Find what they are looking for. Look at LinkedIn (WITHOUT LOGGING IN) for people that currently work there. See where they started and studied. If you are brave, contact them as well, state your intentions and ask for advice. Finding their path can help you decide your own path.

As for further education, I am unsure. Not too versed in that.

Other than that, good luck with your search.
LM (May 12, 2016 5:53 PM)
Look into the ORISE scholarship program or SMART fellowship program. I currently work for the Army Corps of Engineers, and am quite envious of my colleagues that came through those programs. They were paid a much better stipend than I ever received in grad school, and were guaranteed a job for the same number of years they were in school. Getting a PhD may be too little or too much. It really depends on what you want to do. It seems that a majority of the PhDs do not get to do much work in the lab, but are constantly in meetings for acquiring more funding and brainstorming ideas.
Alexander Peacock (May 9, 2016 11:51 AM)
I'm a chemist that went into industry directly from undergraduate. I found a lot of places requested PhDs, however a lot of places that wanted BS chemists went through temp agencies. Even if they asked for PhDs, they valued experience over it.

The best way to become educated is to literally teach yourself. When my professors found I was not going to graduate school, they darn near stopped helping me. The most they did was forward job opportunities. I had more help from my career center than others. This is honestly one of the places the ACS is lacking. They could be picking up the slack, yet don't. Heck, a lab was telling me that $15/hr was too much and that they had gotten people with more experience for less. This is a failure of the ACS to help their members understand their worth.

As for entering industry, getting a lab tech position, then immediately looking for something better works. It shows you are in the industry and building skills. After a year or so, you should be able to get out of QC.

If any undergrads are needing help from another recent undergrad, look me up on LinkedIn.
Megan Jacobson (May 9, 2016 1:58 PM)
I teach organic chemistry at a community college. With nearly half of the General Chemistry students in the country taking those courses at a community college, it's a career that graduate students who love teaching should be aware of. At the 2013 National Organic Symposium, I encountered many graduate students and post-docs who were interested in what my job is like. So, I organized a career panel of instructors from primarily undergraduate institutions and another from industry - especially those not in pharmaceuticals - for the 2015 NOS. I'm hoping to do it again next summer! The options are a lot wider than they can seem from an R1 Research lab.

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