In evaluating my own job prospects in a difficult job market and limited by personal circumstances that confine me to a very small region, I have been forced to widen my job search to related disciplines. There just isn’t a bounty of jobs in cell and molecular biology out there for young researchers. As a result, I’ve applied to jobs ranging from microbiology validation to leukemia diagnostics in just the past three months alone, just to survive.
Mine is a special case – I get the impression that most young postdocs cast wider nets (geographically speaking) with more narrow focus (their specialized field) in their job searches following grad school. But what about those who must, or choose to, open their search to related disciplines?
As with starting out in your original field, I think that the biggest difficulty is becoming familiar with (a) the new methodologies and techniques, and (b) the literature and mentality prevalent in the field. If you’re just going to be a technician following established protocols, that may only take a week or two of practice and figuring out how to avoid mistakes. If you have to make judgments regarding what data to gather for research however, you could rapidly find yourself not up to the task.
In this case, I think that reaching back to your basic undergrad training becomes vital. It’s in undergrad that I achieved the breadth of instruction across disciplines in biology, afterall. How much attention you paid in lecture, and how hard you worked during lab courses, might pay off. It also helps if you had kept the course textbooks and notes, for you to look back on and use as a refresher.
Of course, I sold my textbooks, discarded my notebooks after graduation, and lost focus at times, just as so many other students in undergrad at the time.
Related article: Switching Disciplines, in the Chronicle for Higher Education (June 10, 2004)
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I do not think that it would be so difficult for someone to switch disciplines after grad school if they take the appropriate measures. Attending the lectures of as many visiting scientists as possible(regardless of field) is an easy way to stay current, see what else excites you, as well as discover novel approaches to problems that your field hasn’t explored. Being socially involved with students across disciplines is also a great way to expand your perspective. One’s depth AND breadth of knowledge should expand during grad school. I think that this is the great success of the new interdisciplinary programs.
Funny, I just wrote about the same thing. Found you through the DNA Network.
Switching disciplines is daunting, but definitely doable. I think the key is ‘transferable skills’. And and ability to B.S. 😉
All the best,