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Alternative ad for alternative careers

by Eva Amsen

Look at this alternative careers ad I spotted in Nature, in the jobs section, nestled between ads for PhD positions.

Here’s what I don’t like about this ad:

1. It presents research as the only possible career for people with a science degree, and everything else merely as an alternative to that. A non-research career is actually a FIRST choice for many people. The fact that they are doing research NOW, as part of a PhD or postdoc does not mean they want to do that forever. It might be a requirement, or a solid background, for the job they’re aiming for; or they might have planned to do research for a few years as a relatively short-term project, but not as a lifetime job. Last year I wrote a feature for Development about people who had a research background in developmental biology or genetics, and ended up working away from the bench. They describe when they made their career decisions, and how they still use skills from their PhD today. The article does not contain the phrase “alternative career” anywhere.

2. The ad suggests that non-research careers are for people who have tried research, but are now desperately looking for a way out. The “no exit” image and the phrase “if the bench gets too much” both portray this idea. There is already a stigma that editors and full-time university teaching faculty are failed researchers, and ads like this are not helping.

3. It’s entirely uninformative. Which “alternative” (to use the ad’s phrasing) careers can you find via Naturejobs? I’ve seen ads for journal editors, science writers, medical writers and project managers, but I’d hazard a guess that they probably have more than that. If someone was flipping the job pages of Nature looking for a particular job, their eyes would be primed to look for something that said “editor” or “project manager” – depending on what they were looking for. They wouldn’t be looking for an ad that appears to dismiss their chosen career path as that of burnt-out researchers. And even if the ad does catch someone’s eye, where will they go? They are already in the printed section of the job ads, and there is no URL to find the rest.

4. Naturejobs and its parent company NPG are themselves employers of people with science backgrounds. Is this how they feel about research? Was working in publishing a last resort for the team responsible for this ad? Because it wasn’t for me, and it isn’t for many others.

Here’s my suggestion for an alternative ad: I’d design an ad that highlights the variety of job ads as a positive thing, and that informs people that they can find positions in a number of science-related careers. Maybe phrase it as “We have ads for many careers in science, not just research careers”. I’d list some popular categories of jobs that they’re usually running ads for, such as scientific editors, news editors, medical writers, education-based positions, project managers, etc. I’d also add the URL, and/or a QR code, to the print ad (that maybe even points to a selection of those particular ads).

Just a few weeks ago I was really optimistic about the acceptance of the variety of careers that come out of a PhD education in the sciences, but this ad made me think that we’re not quite there yet…



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