Yesterday I gave a talk at San Diego State University to the Biomedical Technology Students Association about matching career goals with graduate education plans. It was an engaged group with lots to say and I appreciated their enthusiasm for continued training and education. The session was more of a workshop than a traditional presentation, but this post contains the slide deck I was originally planning to use. We went into more detail than this deck shows. This post below is a recap of that session.
Decide your career goals first
Decide on your career goals first because this drives all context and parameters for your education plans. If you want to be an academic researcher, a teaching professor, a lab technician, a healthcare setting manager, specialist in clinical and regulatory issues, then define it clearly. This should not be taken lightly and as was pointed out by a faculty member in attendance, it assumes you conduct due diligence to learn (and hopefully match) your interests / talents with the kind of career you are deciding on. Assessment tools like the Meyers Briggs Type Inventory and DISC are helpful. Additional research is suggested by joining LinkedIn groups like “PhD Careers Outside of Academia” to hear a perspective from those that are transitioning career goals from academia to industry after not finding the career options they had hoped for.
Degree plans are driven by career plans
Once you have defined a specific, measurable, and achievable career goal, you can work backwards to determine the requisite skills and credential for this goal. In the case of research careers, which most of the group is interested in, this likely means a PhD. In the case of industry clinical / regulatory affairs or healthcare organization leadership, it points to a few types of masters degrees as well: the PSM, MS, and MPH specifically.
While it is tempting to make this direct connection, it is highly advisable to research these degree paths in more depth because the experiences are so drastically different. Earning a PhD in the life sciences means 4-6 years of study typically while being supported financially before taking a postdoc position for 6-8 years. The postdoc experience has become standard for those seeking university research and academic careers. Unfortunately the median postdoc salary is about $38,000 per year, according to the National Postdoc Association. This is actually less than starting salaries for bachelor’s degree biology majors and very rarely part of the discussion about career goals. I believe undergraduate advisors and career centers should do more to inform students about the implications of these different options, in terms of time commitments, financial outcomes, and probability of career achievement.
By comparison, Professional Science Masters degrees take two years (typically) and require the student to pay tuition, but provide a hybrid of science and interdisciplinary coursework (like business). The average starting salary from KGI’s PSM program is about $71,000 and the employment rate is above 90% at 6 months after graduation.
The slide deck for yesterday’s session is available at this link: