- Event Feature -
Neurosciences Alumni Panel on Non-Academic Careers
An interview with the graduate students behind the event
With the Neurosciences Alumni Panel on Non-Academic Careers just around the corner, our student website representative, Jacob Blub, connected with Ian Ballard and Edrtiz Javelosa to learn more about the origins of the event and why it is such a hot topic among current Neurosciences Graduate Students.
Jacob: What inspired you to organize a Neuroscience Alumni Career Panel?
Ian & Edritz: I think there is a big information asymmetry problem when students make career decisions. Most people have very little idea of what other careers look like. What are the day-to-day responsibilities? What is the trajectory like? What is the job security and income like? Even if you ultimately decide to pursue an academic career, it’s better to make an informed decision based on clear idea of your alternatives. Second, I think that many PhD students are very credential-focused, and are worried that they are missing X thing in order to work in industry Y. I think that outside of academia, specific credentials matter a lot less, and students should be pushed to think about how the skills they already have can land them the job they want.
Jacob: The tides seem to be shifting among graduate students, and 'industry' is no longer a dirty word. What explains this trend?
Ian & Edritz: People with PhDs do valuable and interesting work outside of academia. I think most PhD students are driven by intellectual curiosity and a passion for learning. It’s become clearer that there are careers in industry that can fulfill these drives. Outside of the question of “will I get a tenure-track job?”, there is also a growing awareness of the downsides of a faculty position, and an acceptance that those downsides are going to be felt more potently by some people. Finally, I think that typically many PhD students have come from backgrounds of high financial stability. There is a growing awareness of the fact that many people from different backgrounds may have good reasons to be earning much more than they would as postdocs.
Jacob: During your time in graduate school, have you seen the career ambitions of your classmates shift from academia to industry/biotech/business?
Ian & Edritz: There is a diversity. I think most people have spent some time seriously considering alternative careers. Some have decided already that they will leave academia. I think the majority are leaning towards academia but are keeping an open mind.
Jacob: Neuroscience is such a heterogeneous field--encompassing elements of psychology, cell/molecular biology, computer science, and others. Did you try to select speakers that would be relatable to the maximum number of graduate students?
Ian & Edritz: We tried to focus on selecting speakers from a broad array of industries. Although there are some very skill-specific career paths, such as biotechnology or programming jobs, I think most industries generally value a PhD. I think students should be thinking in terms of their ultimate career goals, and not about whether their specific skills are useful for their first job out of graduate school.
Jacob: So many career opportunities depend on personal connections and professional networks--can you advise students on how to begin developing professional relationships outside of academia?
Ian & Edritz: This is a really important point. I recommend a targeted approach. First decide on a type of job, then narrow to a few companies, and then reach out to your network and go and talk to people at those companies. You might have to do some digging, but I think most of us have been in academia long enough to have some second-order connection to most of the bigger companies. Don’t feel awkward drawing on those connections. If it’s a smaller company, reach out and try to make them yourself. You can always pay for the upgraded Linkedin during your job search process and contact recruiters or people at the company with similar backgrounds. Also don’t forget the alumni networks at Stanford and your undergraduate university. If you have a company and a position in mind, and don’t have any connections to that organization, reach out to the alumni office.