Thursday, April 20, 2017

Scientist jobs that don’t include teaching or research . . .

At the recent 2017 Northeast/North Central joint section meeting of the Geological Society of America, I ran into a thirty-something alumnae of my undergraduate college who had finished her Ph.D. in geology in 2009. I first met this woman on a metamorphic-geology field trip several years ago while she was still a grad student. It was great to see her again and catch up. She told me she is STEM coordinator and adviser for a leadership scholars program at a major university, but was apologetic that it was not a position actually doing science. I said no apology needed! What a better adviser for students considering STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) careers than someone who has done science research and personally navigated undergraduate and graduate science education?

This interaction also reminded me of grad school classmate who, just before finishing her dissertation at what is a major research institution, felt she was sensing disapproval from faculty for expressing an interest in post-grad academic positions that focused mostly on teaching and little on research. But there is not just one valid career path for persons educated as scientists or engineers: teaching, research, advising/consulting, academic or corporate leadership, public policy are among possible pathways, depending on one’s talents, interests, and opportunities.

Teaching science includes a range of university (post-secondary) positions from those at top-tier research institutions to community and junior college. Research may be an essential part of many university departments and a requirement for tenure; directing student research is an important component. However, at institutions such as community colleges, teaching may be the major or sole job requirement with limited opportunities for one’s own or student research. However, that does not diminish the important task of educating the students on the methodology of science, its role in society, and the specifics of the science field chosen for a major or distributive course requirement.  In addition, science education begins way before college: science subject K-12 teacher certifications start at the middle school level (~age 10), if not before.

Careers that have science as a base, whether one has a bachelor’s, Master’s, or Ph.D. degree in a science field, are numerous and varied. Teaching is only one career line. Those who do research or applied science work for a variety of institutions: academia, industry, government. Some scientists or engineers in industry, as they advance their careers, may transition into a corporate leadership track (example: Rex Tillerson, engineer and former CEO of ExxonMobil). In academia and government, those who start in research and/or teaching may choose to advance to institutional administration.

Scientists have also made career transitions into public policy, working for non-profit science institutions, as staff for elected representatives, or themselves holding elected or appointed government leadership roles. In the US, Congressional Science Fellowship programs sponsored by many professional scientific societies, under the oversight of AAAS, is one avenue to participate in public policy for a year or a basis to make a permanent transition into public policy. One could also apply directly for Congressional staff jobs through the US Senate employment office or the equivalent in the House of Representatives. AAAS and some other scientific societies have fellowships in other government agencies.

Science communication is a career path where a science background is a plus. Some professional societies (American Geosciences Institute, AGI; American Geophysical Union, AGU; American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS) offer media internships or fellowships. University schools of journalism, like at Columbia and Missouri, may have concentrations in science and/or environmental writing.

It was recently pointed out in an opinion piece in the AAPG Explorer (March 2017) by AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists) Executive Director David Curtiss that General Colin Powell was an undergraduate geology major.

     He “completed his degree in geology from City College of New York and was immediately sworn in as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He never worked as a geologist. But, . . . his knowledge of geology and how the Earth works informed his entire career. Whether it was moving troops over rugged terrain or the delicate balancing act of the geopolitics of oil and natural gas, his understanding of the planet helped him navigate these challenges. If ever there was an endorsement for studying the geosciences – even if you want to pursue a career outside of traditional geological professions – look no further than Colin Powell.

So don’t be ashamed of whatever career path you take after getting a science degree! Your best contribution will be in a job that makes you happy.

Below is a limited list of scientists who made career choices where they eventually were not teaching science or doing research:

Rush Holt- physicist, former Congressman, CEO American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Harrison Schmidt- Geologist, Astronaut (Apollo 17), Senator (1977-1983)

Joanne Liu- President of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF),

Marcia McNutt, Director, US Geological Survey (2009-2013); President, National Academy of Sciences

Melody Brown Burkins- Congressional Science Fellow (1999-2000); US delegation chair, 2016 International Geologic Congress (IGC); Director for Programs and Research of The John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies (ENVS), Dartmouth College

Steven Chu- Physicist, Nobel Prize winner, US Secretary of Energy (2009-2013)

Ernest Moniz- Physicist, US Secretary of Energy (2013-2017)

Maria Honeycutt- Congressional Science Fellow (2007-2008), Coastal hazards policy analyst (NOAA)

Kevin Wheeler- USAID, science and international development consulting

David Curtiss- Congressional Science Fellow (2001-2002); Executive Director, AAPG

Wendy Hill- Neuroscientist and Provost, Lafayette College (to 2014); Head, Agnes Irwin School (private secondary school)

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