ACS Webinars: The Road Less Traveled—Alternative Careers for PhD Chemists, Part One

If you're exploring nontraditional chemistry careers, be prepared for life on the road less traveled. Photo credit: flickr user Horia Varlan.

A few weeks ago, ACS Webinars hosted Steven Carlo, a PhD physical chemist who worked for more than 10 years in R&D, consulting and technology transfer before taking on his current job as a technical manager for the federal government.

The topic: Alternative careers for PhD chemists.

If that’s not a topic appropriate for this blog, I don’t know what is! If you missed it, you can watch the video on the ACS Webinars YouTube channel or here.

You may recognize Steven from previous ACS Webinars, such as this one about the science behind paper money. Neat stuff!

In the first half of the webinar, Steven presented an overview of the various career paths that are available to PhD chemists, touching on both traditional careers as well as careers beyond the bench.

Steven identified and briefly described the four common career paths for PhD chemists, which include:

  • Academia: Become a chemistry professor at a university or college. As a professor, your starting pay is going to be less than if you went into industry and you have to write grant proposals to acquire funding for your research ideas. However, professors can work on whatever research they want, assuming they can convince agencies to provide the funds.
  • Industry: Work for a large company or for a start-up where you can learn about entrepreneurship. In industry, you make a decent salary and don’t have to worry about grants, but you may not have the freedom to decide what you work on, since those choices are made by higher-ups in the company.
  • Government: Work for a national lab or a federally funded R&D center (FFRDC). Many government agencies hire contractors whose employment is contingent on the continuation of the contract. Federal employees receive a competitive salary, and pension and benefits that are comparable to industry. You are a civil servant and there’s a lot of bureaucracy.
  • Consulting: “Can be absolutely awesome only when the dollars are flowing,” Steven says. Consultants work to provide solutions to problems or validate client observations. A huge variety of projects are possible, and you can work for a company or for yourself.

Other less-common “nontraditional” career options available to PhD chemists (with links to previous blog posts that highlight such careers, where applicable) include:

Wondering what you can do with a chemistry PhD? You've come to the right place. There are lots of options that go beyond the bench. Photo credit: flickr user Paulo Fehlauer.

I would also add to the list the following options, which have previously been highlighted on this blog by myself and others:

For those in graduate school who are still undecided about their future careers, Steven said you need to start exploring your options and discovering what you love.

“It’s okay to not know exactly what you want to do,” Steven said, “[But] you need to know enough about yourself to know what you enjoy doing.”

Take a look at my previous posts on how to discover what you love and find your dream job for some practical tips on how to navigate the journey of self-exploration. It might sound scary but it’s a lot of fun, and it’s a good investment of your time!

Stay tuned for a follow-up post with more from the Steven Carlo’s webinar on nontraditional careers for PhD chemists!

Author: Christine Herman

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the great post Christine. I wish there were more supportive people like you and Steven that encouraged alternative careers rather than the straight and narrow academia career path.