What is the educational pathway?
You’ve finished an undergraduate science degree! What next?
There are a few science jobs you can do straight out of
undergrad, or with a masters degree. (Consulting, science
writing, others? I'm regrettably not well-versed in this
but I know they exist). If you want to work in
industry or academia, however, you need a PhD.
- Undergrad: 4 years of mostly coursework, with some research on the side.
- Research assistant / lab tech: 2 years of full-time research,
usually with administrative duties
- Graduate school: 5-7 years of research in pursuit of a PhD. The first two years
have coursework, but starting from year 3 it’s just research. PhDs rarely
go longer than 8 years (people run out of funding) and are rarely as
short as 3 years (you have to be very, very good and lucky). If you
work with animals or clinical populations, expect your PhD to be longer;
if you work in theory or with computers, your PhD will likely be shorter.
Here we diverge. If you want to go into industry at this point, now’s
the time! Industry has higher pay and nicer hours than academia.
Science writing likes PhDs. I’m sure other careers do as well (I’ve
just only looked into a few options). If you do want to continue
- Post-doctorate research: 1-5 years of being a “post-doc”. Post-docs
are paid more than graduate students, but work crazy hard and so
are still considered cheap labor :). Post-docs are the most
productive people in the chain. They know how to do research
(they earned their PhDs) and are doing research full-time.
Post-doc positions are usually for 1-3 years, and people can do
several post-docs. People are often applying for faculty positions
during their post-docs. The goal is to publish as many papers
- Faculty positions. There are several levels of faculty positions.
You start off as an assistant professor (first few years). You
then become an associate professor (years 4-7?). Then you become
a full professor (… and because academia has something called
“tenure”, which means you don’t get fired, this goes on until
you decide to retire). Following this whole track is called
“tenure-track”. If you fail to pass all of the benchmarks
during tenure-track (which involves a lot of things but mainly
publishing papers) you can be asked to leave your institution.
You can also be on non-tenure-track positions, like being a
"visiting professor" or "lecturer" which are paid
less and are usually more temporary. You might be non-tenure
track at an institution and then move to
another institution where you are tenure-track: a lot of people
stay with one institution, and a lot of people move. If you move
when you already have tenure, you don’t have to start again at
the beginning, but I don't know how common this is.
There is a lot of education associated with going into science.
In most cases you’ll need your PhD, which is an incredible
amount of work. Make sure you want to do it before you start,
because you'll need to enjoy the process!