“Alternative” has to go

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/).

workforce infographic ASCB COMPASS

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.

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7 Responses to “Alternative” has to go

  1. Curiouser&Curiouser says:

    I love this idea, but what should we call these careers? Non-academic tracks…?


  2. peírama says:

    I think that we should not assume that the academic track is the default. Thus they are all, including academic and non-academic, science careers.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. SweetScience says:

    I just heard that faculty teaching in a grad program at my university did not even know that most PhDs do not go on to work in academia. I think that is a huge part of the problem – the majority of people doing the training are only focused on academic careers. Really, they do not have the knowledge or training to do otherwise, but that can change.


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  6. StrongerThanFiction says:

    I cannot express in words how important I think this post is. It is so true. Having a default of academia is a disservice. I also dislike how that comes hand in hand with the assumption that anything different would squander our skills. I have found the opposite to be true, in-fact. I spend way less time stressing about all the things I “should” be doing but LOATHED during my postdoc. All that stress caused me to spin my wheels, and always feel like I was playing catch up. Now, I feel like I am developing my skills even more and gaining traction in a field I am excited to spend the years to come.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Ideas (About Science Careers) That Should be Retired | A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman

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