Graduate school prepares students for many types of careers, though often research academia appears to be the clearest path after graduation. Here are some common options for roles and settings once you have your degree:
Teaching academia – These positions can be either professors or lecturers and are, as the name implies, primarily focused on teaching in colleges and universities. A lecturer may be responsible solely for lecturing and administrative tasks associated with his or her classes. A professor is typically involved in more than just teaching even if it is a primary teaching position. Other responsibilities can include advising students, working on department committees, grant writing, and performing research.
Research academia – This is most familiar to grad students doing research based degrees. Upon graduation and award of a research faculty position, the individual becomes a primary investigator (PI) and continues writing grants, networking, conducting studies, interpreting results, and publishing findings. It is common to have students at any level (post-doc, graduate student, undergrad) working with the PI. Positions in research academia may also come with greater departmental responsibilities such as teaching part time and advising students. The PI has considerable freedom to pursue his or her research interests, but his or her income can be directly related to the acceptance of his or her grant applications.
Research in industry – Similar to research in academia, this position is focused on developing studies, conducting research, and publishing results. However, in industry, the company the researcher works for may provide funding, and academic departmental responsibilities such as teaching and student advising may be replaced with internal initiatives and continuous improvement projects. Typically, the company dictates or strongly influences research performed. While less freedom to choose research topics may exist as compared to academia, industry offers a stable salary, opportunity for application and commercialization, and company perks.
Government and national labs – These can be research- or industry-oriented positions. Similar to research in industry, the government or national lab may dictate research performed. Government and/or supervisors may have a vested interested in success, which can increase pressure on the employee.However, these settings have been known to provide stable jobs and good benefits. Roles could be for a scientist or in public policy.
Leader – This can be a manager, PI, or engineering lead. In these roles, the individual has stepped out of his or her individual contributor role and into the role of ensuring team success and making team members successful in reaching organizational or research goals. In academia, this is most often a manager or PI. In industry, this is commonly a product or program manager, director, president, or CEO. An engineering background and in depth knowledge of the field are required at varying degrees depending on the type of role chosen.
Design Engineering – This encompasses entrepreneurs, inventors, and engineers of many sorts (design, structural, hardware, software, etc). These people are involved in product development in some form from conceptualization to manufacturing transitions. They can be very early stage and focused on determining at a high level what mechanisms and codes are required to meet what the customer described, mid stage where we find most people with the title ‘design engineer’ focused on specifying components and verifying intended function, and late stage where they can be focused on documentation and quality output of the final product. These roles are most often found in industry directly with companies or start ups, and typically come with benefits, variable hours, vacation time, and company perks.
Production – Roles that contribute to the direct selling of a finished product for use in industry, research, or consumer settings can be considered careers in production. Examples of roles include manufacturing engineers and quality engineers. Similar to design engineering, these roles typically come with benefits, vacation time, and company perks. However, hours may be shifted outside the normal 9am – 5pm, and employees may be called in after hours in case of emergency.
Whichever path you choose, it’s important to remember to grow and highlight your transferable skills, and network. Transferable skills are those skills that can be applied for success in other contexts. For example, experimental design, leading a team or study, publishing, and reports are all useful and necessary post-graduation. Additionally, you have the ability to excel in non-technical jobs focused on science communication or science policy – and more! Networking is, in a nutshell, the process of continuously expanding your network though conversations, collaborations, and shared information.
Good luck with the rest of the semester!