Alternative careers. Everyone calls jobs for PhDs outside of academia “alternative careers.” No one calls careers that undergraduates pursue outside of academia alternative careers. No one calls lawyers who don’t teach at law school alternative. Why is it that PhDs are different? You might say, but peirama, PhDs are being trained to be in academia. Are they really? PhDs learn how to ask questions. They learn how to do science. But run a lab? Ok, you say, but don’t most PhDs go on to be professors? No, they do not. Infographics showing how few PhDs end up as professors float around my facebook feed every month or so (i.e. http://ascb.org/where-will-a-biology-phd-take-you/).
Nonetheless, people continue to call them alternative careers. Even articles about how few PhDs stay in the academic pipeline still call them alternative careers. There is a stigma in academia against alternative careers (it is decreasing, but it is still there). Yes, most of us will go on to do great things with the skills we gain in graduate school, but some people look down on how we “squander” our graduate training (a concern shared recently by Curiouser&Curiouser).
Let’s change how we talk about science careers. Let’s start with the name.