Careers at Nonprofits and NGOs


When we think about jobs at nonprofit organizations (NPOs), we’re likely to envision those big international entities that help displaced populations relocate after a natural disaster, or immunize children in developing countries against common diseases. While these nonprofits — many also classified as NGOs, or nongovernmental organizations — are very visible and play an important social and humanitarian role, they are only the tip of the employment iceberg. NPOs, which can make money and even generate surplus funds but must use those funds to serve the organization’s mission, encompass a very broad range. Charities, foundations, service organizations, patient associations, trade unions, professional associations, and academic societies are almost always NPOs. Most private research institutes are nonprofits, too, but those jobs fit better in a discussion of academic careers.

Just as NPOs take many forms, so do the careers of the Ph.D. scientists who work there. Still, some generalizations make sense: Many of the people who work in NPOs do so because of a deep commitment to the goals those organizations pursue.

Over the years, Science Careers has explored the careers of many scientists working in nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations. This collection is our one-stop shop for advice and insight on how to enter a committed career.

Scientists can make a difference in the humanitarian realm by carrying outin NPOs, whether it’s documenting human rights violations, measuring child poverty, or planning responses to health emergencies in developing countries. Scientists are involved in carrying out research and running international development programs to helpgain access to food, and to protect . NPOs and NGOs implement a broad range of international development programs in fields includingand . Scientists with the right credentials can do field work. Those with clinical training can provide . Scientists with a forensics background can document .offers many career avenues, for clinical, social, and basic scientists. Teaching is another big area of activity for nonprofit employees. Some NGO employees, for example, work toof less well-off regions. Nonprofit careers can be found inand . is an area in which scientists may also develop a nonprofit career. Bioethicist Jennifer Miller launched her own NPO to help the medical industry grapple with everyday and exceptional ethical questions. and public relations (for example, at theor the U.K. ) are two nonprofit career avenues for people who are trained in science. Some scientists, like Margarita Escaler, are also able to find jobs in which they make sure that scientific knowledge and advances arewith developing countries. Sometimes personal interests, like , can lead to a nonprofit career, like it did at the time for Marta Maczel, who helped set up the main office of the World Academy of Young Scientists (WAYS) in Budapest.

Mastering your Ph.D. columnist Patricia Gosling explores theof working for NPOs and highlights some career entry points. Biomedical engineer Sowmya Viswanathan explains her choice of the : neither academia nor industry but, rather, an NGO that maintained close links to academia, government, and industry. Volunteering and traveling widely helped environmental biologist Shilpa Tawariin development agencies. Having entered nonprofit administration, former neurochemist Susan Fitzpatrick offers advice on how to make theto nonacademic careers. Careers talks to two scientists who say their volunteering experiences for NPOs .

Mathematician Begoña Vitoriano Villanueva combines her work as a university researcher withto support humanitarian aid organizations. Johannes Refisch describes his experience working as , contributing to nature conservation and the transfer of knowledge. During her doctoral studies, Nicole Oehlrich and her husband launched the largest German-speaking . There are postdoctoral fellowship opportunities in numerous NPOs forscientists with interdisciplinary or translational interests. A group of Latin American scientists in the United States launched an NPO toin their home countries.

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