Better late than never


Alice and her friends answer questions that you don’t want to ask your preceptor, peer, or colleagues regarding your career in science.

Dear Alice,

Should you enjoy the challenges of a research career, don’t let the current tight job market dissuade you from pursuing it.

Should you enjoy the challenges of a research career, don’t let the current tight job market dissuade you from pursuing it.

I finished my bachelor’s degree 8 years ago. I wanted to pursue a career in neuroscience, but life intervened and I had to take a job in the environmental field, which I don’t enjoy. I still think about neuroscience all the time. Should I try to do something about it? Do you think it is too late? I worry a lot about my lack of experience in the lab, my age (31), and limited job opportunities in science.

Thank you so much.

—T. Solis

Dear T.,

Scientifically, neuroscience is exploding. There are many opportunities for you to become involved—even if you find that you are inept at doing laboratory work. Beyond traditional academic careers and the usual “alternative” science careers, there are “para-science” careers. These require a deep, solid science knowledge base but don’t involve doing research directly, or not in the usual sense. Examples include neuropsychology, neurological testing, neurological rehabilitation, genetic counseling, ethical and philosophical issues, psychopharmacology, and probably others I’m not thinking of. You can enter many of these fields in less time and with less training than a Ph.D. plus a postdoc, and they can provide as much satisfaction as research, teaching, or clinical medicine.

Should you enjoy the challenges of a research career, don’t let the current tight job market dissuade you from pursuing it. The limitations have to do with the tightening of government money to support research and the structural problem of academic scientists who continue to work well beyond the usual retirement age of 65. The structural problem should work itself out in the next few years, and research funding is being replaced in part by philanthropy and industrial sources. Academia will always need replacements. In the meantime, if you set your sights on careers outside academia, you will find many more opportunities.

—Alice

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