November 2009

From the Bench to the Capitol

The other major direction is implementing policy at government agencies. Scientific expertise is needed to interpret existing regulations and determine how they apply to specific situations. The goal is to ensure that existing policies are carried out — hopefully with an eye toward helping people comply with the regulations.

Skills You Didn’t Know You Had

Ever since leaving the bench, I have learned that a lot of the skills I used in research are also applicable to other jobs.

Communication, whether by reading, writing or giving presentations, is crucial. In general, you will need to present concise, nontechnical information, in contrast with the highly technical experimental details of your scientific research. If you do not enjoy reading and writing, whether it is policy news, regulatory submissions or legislative language, this will affect what types of jobs you will want. Research presentations, participation in student/postdoc government or articles for your institution’s student newspaper can help polish your skills even as your daily focus remains on bench work.

Your research career also builds qualities that employers will be looking for. You have independence and drive, with the Ph.D. and/or publications to prove your ability to complete a project. You have analytical skills, which work on qualitative questions of policies and budgets. You also have experience working in a group environment and in training your fellow researchers, both of which can play big roles in any number of careers beyond the bench.

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Finally, as with bench research, your search will take patience and persistence. The harsh economy may seem to have made a tough job hunt even tougher, but the dedication that gets you through your research should be enough to handle one more challenge.

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