Next Gen Ph.D.: Tenure not the only “track” for Ph.D. scientists

Contrary to popular belief, Ph.D. scientists have hundreds of highly paid career options and low unemployment rates, and are happy in their jobs even if they are not tenure-track professors at a research university.

That good news is in a new book by Melanie V. Sinche, director of education at The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) for Genomic Medicine. For Next Gen Ph.D.: A Guide to Career Paths in Science (2016, Harvard University Press), Sinche conducted a survey of more than 8,000 Ph.D. scientists who graduated between 2004 and 2014.

“Less than a third of these scientists desire an academic tenure-track position,” Sinche says. “In fact, my survey research shows that they are in more than 590 distinct occupations, fewer than 2 percent are unemployed, and 80 percent report feeling satisfied in their jobs.”

Sinche’s research explores employment patterns of recent science and engineering Ph.D.s. Her work also addresses skills and experiences required to enter different scientific occupations, and illustrates whether these were developed in the educational/training period of the Ph.D. or on the job, thus contributing to the national discussion of effective training of Ph.D.-level scientists and engineers.

Sinche’s book reports in detail on her survey results and provides tips and strategies for finding rewarding jobs in the sciences. “There is life beyond a Ph.D. and postdoctoral training,” Sinche says.

At JAX, Sinche develops programs for undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in genomic education. “JAX has built career development into its graduate training program,” she explains. “Our scientists-in-training not only work with world-class faculty mentors, but also develop expertise in communication, leadership, budget management and many other components of successful careers, whether or not those careers are in academia.”

Sinche also organizes “The Whole Scientist,” a JAX course for graduate students and postdocs held in different locations. Participants explore topics in ethics, teaching, communication and more with a panel of scientists in academic and non-academic positions.

Prior to joining JAX in 2015, Sinche served as a senior research associate in the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, where she conducted survey research on careers for Ph.D.s in science. She was also the founding director of the FAS Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at Harvard University, held the same position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and served as a consultant to the National Institutes of Health in building the first NIH Career Services Center for more than 9,000 intramural trainees.

Sinche received her Bachelor's degree from Colgate University, and graduate degrees from the University of Michigan and North Carolina State University. She is also a National Certified Counselor with a career development focus.