Tuesday, February 21, 2006

So you have a Ph.D now what?

I am approaching the end of my Ph. D. and am looking for jobs. The good news is there are jobs. The bad news is I am not sure which I want. The sad thing is that I have been in school for almost 10 years and I am not sure what I want to be when I grow up.

There are really four kinds of positions available to someone with a Ph.D.:

1. Work for the government. For me that means USDA, usually in a plant geneticist or plant breeding position. Once and a while there is a germplasm curator position. More and more of these positions are molecular biologist positions. I think the reasoning is that molecular markers allow dissection of traits, etc. etc. but the long and short of it is that they publish more.

I don't think that I want to be a molecular geneticist, otherwise I think USDA positions are great because of steady research funds, job security, and good pay. I want to be actively involved in research, and I am not sure that I can sustainably work with markers. Currently, there is a Sudden Oak Death position in California and probably some postdoc positions.

2. Be a Professor. Teaching 1-3 classes a semester, advising graduate students, being on committees, writing grant proposals, publishing papers, trying to get tenure. Will the fun never end?

Life after tenure seems pretty good and pay ranges from 60,000 - 90,000 . Working with students is rewarding and there is a lot of lattitude for research and time. I have applied for three or four positions, including one here at A&M in cotton breeding. Too many professors seem to find better things to do than work at the bench or in the field.

3. Private industry. Make good money, see the world, sell your soul. Trade secrets and the bottom line make publishing in journals and presenting at conferences a very low priority. The good thing is that they also focus research into economically viable, and I guess that could mean important areas.

Seed companies are the main source of employment options for me such as in cotton: Bayer, DeltaPine, Phytogen, Monsanto, and a number of small companies. Outside cotton, the big players are Dupont which owns Pioneer, Seminis, DeRuiter, and many more depending on crop.
I have a job offer from Ag alumni seed, a small seed company in Indiana. They are looking for a popcorn breeder. There is also a possibility of a job with Bayer Crop Sciences as an experimental breeder. It is an interesting position because they seem to want someone that can pull together molecular as well as field data and start to integrate information that is coming out of genomics and mapping. They want to start interviewing candidates next couple of weeks and I would find out in the next month. I think that I would have a decent chance at it, but the popcorn company would like an answer before I would hear from Bayer.

The beauty of a private company is that there are no grants to apply for, no tenure to earn, no classes to teach and no graduate students to advise. The negative is that profitability drives promotion and retention. I have not worked in that environment and it is intimidating to jump in.

What to do? What would you choose? Is McDonalds hiring?


Anonymous said...

Hi Brian,

This is Douglas. Remember me? We once ate fried chicken together with a man dressed as a Klingon in Boise, Idaho. And we knew this guy named Austin who never took baths. Remember? I last posted here in reply to your comments about Life of Pi (horrid book), but only signed with my initials, and I'm not sure you knew it was me. Sorry for being inadvertantly vague. I presently work for a technical publisher in Boulder, CO. We have members in academe as well as industry (mainly engineering and architecture). I looked at your list of job possibilities (congratulations on the PHD, by the way; I always knew you were brilliant) and wondered if you'd thought about how easy or difficult it might be, in the future, to switch between them, that is, to move between government, academe and industry. Folks around here do this all the time, but it seems to work better if you go from academe to industry than from industry to academe. It's rather like the problem of hobbits and dwarves. The industrious dwarves, when they visit the Shire, devour everything in sight, break the plates, and conduct themselves clamorously. They hasten to galvanize everyone with their latest schemes. The hobbits, by contrast, pay short visits to the dwarf kingdoms, are playful and adventurous, and by the time they leave, dragons are vanquished and internecine squabbles resolved. This is explains why professors can work temporarily in industry, but corporate types have difficulty transitioning into universities.

Hope you and your family are well,


Jon said...

I wish the best for you and your decision. I feel like I am in a simular boat up stream. I don't have any answers for you but if you need to vent on me you can. Also, Look in the attic above the washer and dryer. I think I remember something up there.


Brian Gardunia said...


It was good to hear from you. How is your family? Are they all still in Boulder?