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Volunteer for Your Career

Submitted by Lori Conlan November 4, 2010
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"I don't have any experience." "I'm only trained to do one thing." "I don't have the skills employers are looking for." Sound familiar? These are sentiments I've heard in counseling appointments with graduate students and postdocs in the past, typically from those exploring careers outside of academia. While I do think that many, if not most, of the skills developed through graduate programs and postdoctoral fellowships can be transferred fairly easily to a variety of careers, there is no doubt you will be a more attractive candidate to a given employer if you have had some experiences in that particular field. How can you possibly gain experience while you're conducting dissertation research? Or working full-time and caring for a family? Or a house? Or volunteering in your community part-time? It is difficult, but it can be done. Following are some ideas for gaining experience in a range of career fields. This is not a complete list of careers available to Ph.D.-trained scientists, but suggests some ideas for exploration. Consider some of these activities, but be sure to discuss your ideas and career goals with your PI, as your first priority is to your program/postdoc. SCIENCE EDUCATION What You Need:

  • Passion for and ability to education others
  • Ability to communicate science to a broad audience

Getting Started:

  • Get involved in community outreach programs
  • Volunteer at museums or schools
  • Offer to lecture through FAES, at a local community college, etc.


  • Love of science combined with artistic skills and interests

Getting Started:

  • Volunteer for projects to build your portfolio
  • Build images and diagrams into your current projects
  • Take classes or workshops in this area


  • Must be comfortable communicating science to a broad audience
  • Ability to absorb new information and learn quickly
  • Interest in writing, books, words, language

Getting Started:

  • Write a few articles for NIH publications, alumni newsletter/magazine, local newspaper, your scientific society
  • Take course in journalism
  • Find writing fellowships


  • Facility with computers and programming
  • Ability to keep up with research in a variety of fields

Getting Started:

  • Get hands-on experience using relevant programs
  • Take courses to develop skills


  • Experience. Most positions are not entry-level. Try to volunteer some time at the NIH Office of Technology Transfer.
  • Interest in bigger picture, application of science.

Getting Started:


  • Strong analytical skills
  • Ability to solve problems and communicate very well
  • Affinity for working with different kinds of people

Getting Started:

  • Read business journals to get a sense of where/how the market is growing right now
  • Talk to people involved with business development currently
  • Attend workshops at the MD Technology Council exit icon1


  • Interest in and comfort with dealing with issues, policy, and politics around how science is conducted
  • Knowledge of how government functions
  • Ability to communicate in a different style and culture

Getting Started:

  • Get involved with politics at the local level
  • Take writing courses
  • Be aware of/volunteer with/write for the NIH Office of Science Policy
  • Consider policy fellowships

Again, as you map out short-term and long-term goals, be sure to communicate your ideas and interests to your PI and mentors. It is critical for you to be on the same page as your PI regarding your hours, projects, and research-related goals. Enjoy exploring these and other exciting career fields!

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