Considering a new career path in science? 6 tips to get started

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Are you stuck in a career track or discipline within science that you’re not passionate about anymore? Rest assured, you’re not alone. Many scientists choose a career based on interests they developed during their teens or early twenties.

And since our interests and priorities change over time, it’s not uncommon to find yourself in a discipline or even a profession that’s not a good match anymore. The good news? It’s entirely possible to change your focus in science or your entire career path. The following six tips will help you get started:

  1. Use a career test to perform a self-assessment. As Dawn Rosenberg McKay advises in her article “How to Make a Career Choice When You Are Undecided” for The Balance, career tests can help clarify your interests, skills, values, and personality type. Most career tests provide you with a list of science jobs that could be a good match once you’ve completed them. Also take a look at “Alternative Careers for Scientists” by Suzanne Kennedy for some interesting options you may not have considered.
  2. Research the scientific disciplines that appeal to you most. Use online and educational resources to learn more about each career track or profession—visit professional organizations’ websites for further insights. In “The scientific swerve: Changing your research focus,” Chris Tachibana also addresses key questions like, why deliberately move into a new field? What are the risks and benefits? What factors are important to consider?
  3. Research industries and companies you’re interested in. Aside from your scientific discipline, it’s important to be aware that the industry you’re in and the company you work at play a large role in your happiness. Spend some time finding out about various relevant industries, as well as which companies have the kind of projects and ethos you’re looking for. For instance, if a job outside of research might be a good fit, you can some things to start gaining valuable new skills while still in your current position. Check out this article from, “Careers for scientists away from the bench. It offers an overview of some options available, and how to start preparing your skills for a career outside of research, with useful links.
  4. Network. In her article titled “Wrong Career Path (and 4 Steps to Get You Back on Track),” career coach J.T. O’Donnell points out that nowadays, almost all positions are filled as a result of referrals. That’s why you have to leverage your network by constantly making new contacts, cultivating existing contacts, and trying to get a connection to the company where you want to work.
  5. Perform informational interviews. Jessica Abo offers some good advice about informational interviewing — speaking to a seasoned professional in a specific field or company to learn more. In her Entrepreneur article “Successfully Change Gears After Choosing the Wrong Career Path,” she recommends rehearsing your message so you know what you want to say, sending a thank you email, and following up with whatever you agreed to do — whether that’s contacting someone or scheduling an appointment for a more in-depth conversation.
  6. Work with a scientific recruiter. A recruiter can help you find jobs that are a good match for your specific scientific skills and preferences, while still taking your experience into account. Moreover, recruiters hear about jobs before they’re posted on job boards and can help get your résumé on the right desks.

It’s only logical to be a bit intimidated at the prospect of changing careers. But when you’re passionate about what you want to do for the rest of your working life, the time and energy you invest now are nothing short of an investment in your professional and personal happiness.  


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