Career Planning

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Return to Professional Development for Research and Career Planning

Considering Careers

There are many alternative career paths and opportunities for scientists. What you choose depends on your interests, personality and abilities. Many people these days think in terms of multiple careers and seek retraining to expand their skills and enjoyability. It is important to not shortchange yourself when considering your prior experiences. Every person brings a constellation of experiences and skills that can be transferred from career to career. When considering a career change it is smart to arrange some kind so internship or shadowing experience so that you see in detail what the new career might entail, and determine if the day to day tasks are compatible with your personality. This will help you avoid putting in a huge amount of effort to train for job that will not enjoy. As you enter a new field it is also helpful to locate one or more mentors who can guide you along the way.

Prospects for Masters

The masters is a versatile and highly employable degree. About 60% of those earning a masters in physics found STEM related employment [1]. Masters graduates had the highest percentage of jobs that related to their degree (44.9%)[2]. Earning a masters gives 23% wage premium, while earning a doctorate averages in a 26% wage premium.

Teaching is a common career for masters. The there is much debate about the shortage or oversupply of science teachers[3]. 34% of current public high school teachers expect to retire by 2010. The student population is expect to increase by 10% in the next two decades. Students are taking more science course because of graduation requirements. The Business Higher Education Forum [4] points to a demand for 280,000 new math and science teachers by 2015 [5]. Some say that there is an adequate supply of STEM teachers a failure to retain them. Job dissatisfaction is a major reason for leaving the classroom. This emphasizes the importance of internships and classroom visits before committing to a teaching career. More than 30% of school districts offer distance learning courses. There a likely demand for 165,000 for masters level specialists (instructional coordinators) to design distance learning courseware [6]. It is also worth considering a Professional Science Masters [7] degree which combines academic training in a discipline as well as professional workplace skills to prepare students to enter the workforce immediately.

Prospect for Ph.D's

The economic downturn of the last few days has created a temporary surplus of Ph.D. with respect to academic positions [8] [9] As a result more recent graduates are taking post doc positions than moving directly into jobs as in previous years MIT [10].

Bright Spots Videos

Here are some videos that explore careers in research that may offer some guidance.

Suely Black - NSU education

Sam Graham - GT- research career

Sam Graham - GT- technical interests

Bob Norwood - UA - device research

Nasser Peyghambarian- UA On Entrepreneurship

Employment Sectors

There are many opportunities for Ph.D. besides the traditional academic role. In fact today academic might be consider "non-traditional" because so few Ph.D.s actually end up finding employment at an R1 university similar to the place where they were trained. It is important to keep possibilities open and to adapt your job search and application process for each kind of job. Consider differences in your resume, cover letter and interview that you would prepare for each of these sectors.

At the CMDITR 2012 retreat a Careers Panel was held in conjunction with the Preparing for Life After Graduate School workshop sponsored by the ACS and led by Dan Eustace.

R1 Research University

4 year colleges

Community college

Post Doctorate

Industry Research

Government Labs

Government policy or admin


AAAS Careers away from the Bench

AAAS slideshow

Career Planning Links

Selecting a Career

Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010

Careers in Chemistry- Alchemists Lair

ACS Careers in Chemistry

Careers in Chemistry from U of Alambama

Careers in Photonics Videos

Advanced Technical Education TV

NAS Careers in Science and Engineering

Professional Science Masters

Preparing for the GRE

Finishing School

Success factors for completing college

MentorNet- E-mentoring for diversity in engineering and science

Professional Organizations

SPIE Career Portal

ACS careers portal

OSA Career resources

Job Search

Optics The business of photonics

Jobspectrum - Global Job Markets

Science Jobs

New Scientists Jobs

AAAS Science Careers

Ph.D job search

Increasing Diversity

National Association of Mathematicians (NAM)

National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers

National Society of Black Physicists

Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science SACNAS

GEM Fellowship

National Physical Science Consortium

Hispanic Scholarship Fund

American Fellowships Support for Women Doctoral and Post Doc Candidates

National Institute of Science

National Technical Association

Growth Sectors

OECD Fostering Innovation for Green Growth

Brookings Sizing the Green Economy

Wall Street Journal Statistics for Employment Rate for majors


  1. American Institute of Physics survey
  2. NSF Science and Engineering Indicators 2010
  3. Mathematics and Science Teacher Shortage: Fact and Myth
  8. Economist Article Dec 16th 2010
  9. Education:The PhD Factory Nature 472, 276-279 (2011) | doi:10.1038/472276a
  10. Ph.D. career directions survey