Book review: Career Options for Biomedical Scientists

CareerOpBioSci_fCareer Options for Biomedical Scientists
Edited by Kaaren Janssen and Richard Sever
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-936113-72-9

PhD students in biomedical sciences are often trained only for a future career in research. Their supervisor only had experience in research, and might expect their students to follow the same path, but much has changed in the past generation of scientists. There is a dramatic shortage of academic research jobs beyond postdoc level, and yet there is still very little support for PhD students who might be interested in a different career path.

That’s why this book, Career Options for Biomedical Scientists, comes at exactly the right time. In the introduction, editors Richard Sever and Kaaren Janssen, write: “Fortunately, there is now increasing recognition within academia that career options once labeled as “alternative” are not in fact the alternative but the norm.” Not because students fail, but because these are jobs that they are interested in. This book helps them explore options beyond the lab.

The book contains thirteen chapters, each written by one or more scientists who have taken their skills outside of the academic research lab. They include medical writers, patent lawyers, science policy directors, startup founders and other professions that make good use of their scientific training, without being at the bench.

The bulk of each chapter is general background information and advice about working in that particular field. Some of the information is very much aimed at a North American audience, though. Careers in undergraduate teaching, university administration or science policy are possible in many countries, but the information and examples presented in these chapters are particularly focused on the USA and Canada, and may not fully extend to other countries. For some of the other jobs this isn’t as much of an issue, and the chapter on patent law in particular makes it clear how you can use your skills internationally.

Each chapter also includes a box with the personal back story of the author of the chapter. This section reminded me very much of what we’re doing at MySciCareer. The personal stories show the route the author has taken to land their current position. It’s rarely a straight path, and always a very unique story. It’s often very different from the well-defined PhD to postdoc to professor path, and that’s important for students to realise: Here are people who have done things their own way, and they have pretty good jobs right now.

This book should be required reading for all PhD students. Those that are already thinking about a career outside of research, but also those that are seeing themselves as future professor. With the current job prospects for researchers, they might need to consider a different career later on, but even if they do end up as professor, I want them to know about this book so that they can properly support their own future students with their career choice.