Scientists often complain about the job, and here on Bitesize Bio we are no different. For an example, take a look at my rant about why not to be a scientist – written about a year ago after a particularly frustrating couple of weeks in the lab.
Very recently, I decided to leave bench science, which as you might expect, was a difficult decision. Despite the day-to-day frustrations, and sometimes monotony, its not easy to give up your research instincts, and what can be a very rewarding job.
I am now working in scientific publishing and communications. This allows me to stay in science itself- my first career love-while indulging a more recently-developed passion for improving the way we talk about science, particularly using the internet.
But, as human nature dictates, now that I am out of the lab, I can see some of the good points of being in science very clearly. So in this article I thought I’d lay out my views on why science is a good career choice – whether you intend to stay in research long term, or use it as a stepping stone to move onto something else. I gave some less serious and tongue-in-cheek reasons to be a scientist a while back (see here) but I hope this will provide a different perspective to mull over if you are ever questioning your future in research.
As with everything we write on Bitesize Bio, you can add your own perspective on this in the comments section. So join in if you have something to say.
So here’s what I think the positives of a training and/or career in scientific research are:
Science demands a wide skill set.
When you think about it, the range of skills you need to be a good scientist are pretty diverse. For example:
- Getting to the point of conducting a set of experiments takes knowledge building, lateral and logical thinking, innovation and planning.
- Conducting the experiments demands meticulous and skilled work in the lab.
- Analysis of the data requires problem solving, logic and analysis.
- Keeping up your effort when thing are tough demands strong self-discipline and tenacity.
- Communicating your results to your boss, group, peers or public demands an entirely different set of skills like writing, public speaking, and the ability to communicate ideas clearly.
- And on a different level, skills like network building, influencing, mentoring and leadership are all essential to the job.
That is a pretty wide skill set, which can make the job both varied and interesting and give you lots of opportunities for development.
Incidentally, it is a good idea to periodically monitor whether you are still developing these skills or are stagnating in your current post. My article on deciding whether you still growing in your career gives some thoughts on this.
Science trains you to embrace challenges.
Being exposed to the lab environment breeds a certain mindset. I was recently at a meeting where a “management consultant” (a good career, as far as I can see, if you want to earn lots of money for doing not too much at all) actually said something very interesting about scientists in general.
His comment was that in other industries he consults for, challenges are seen as something to be feared and avoided, but scientists thrive on challenge because the very basis of science is to try and solve a complex and challenging puzzle.
I think he is right (so maybe he did something useful for his fee).
This ability to take challenges head on is not only useful in your scientific career. It can also be harnessed in meeting challenges in your personal life and if you decide to leave science, this is a fantastic attribute to have.
Science gives you enviable transferable skills
The last two sections would be the basis for a great CV. There are a ton of transferable skills in there that would equip you well for a job outside science if you ever decided to leave.
For this reason, I think that science is a great platform career for whatever avenues you decide to pursue. If you do decide to leave science at some point then there are any number of careers you can go to directly, or by bolting on some more training. Click here for Suzanne’s excellent alternative careers for scientists article, which lists some possibilities.
In Science, your job changes often
Job security can be an issue in science. Three year contracts are commonplace, and they don’t let you put down many roots.
But that can be turned on its head to be a positive because at least stagnation is not normally a problem in science – or if you are stagnating it is the done thing to move to another job. I don’t know about you, but I am the type of person who thrives on change. The idea of staying in the same job for decades scares the hell out of me.
Because of this, I like the fact that in science your job normally changes every few years. Do you?
The sky is the limit in science, or not.
Another commonly cited gripe about science is the pyramidal career structure, especially in academia, which makes it increasingly difficult to move up to the next step as your career progresses.
Again, this can be turned on its head to be a challenge. And if you are up for that challenge the rewards are limitless.
If you want to you can devote your entire existence to science and push for the top.
Realistically, most of us will want to keep a little of our existence for ourselves and will choose the level we want to work at in science. How much we get back will be a function of what we put in of course, but excellence is there to strive for, if you want it.
So science gives you varied responsibilities, a wide skill set of transferable skills that you can use in almost any career, and it is dynamic career that can be pursued as a 9-5 job or with total dedication.
I think that’s the bright side of a career in science. Do you agree?