Apr 20

To a PHD and Beyond!

Extremely easy action Items to get you started on your ‘alternative’ PhD path TODAY

Nowadays, life science PhDs have a great number of career options open to them. InSITE has ramped up its STEM recruiting, large business consulting firms have increased PhD recruitment in the past years, and PhDs are everything from writers to policy liaisons. The path to those ‘alternative’ options can sometimes seem daunting though. Graduate students might know they want to leave the lab, but between classes, experiments, seminars, and Netflix, who really has time to focus on expanding their career horizons?

But consider the trade-off. You may spend 5 years with your head down in lab and congratulate yourself for making it in 5! But after those years of hard work, you have nowhere to go and spend the next 2 years trying to catch up. Every other graduate degree program is job-focused, and it’s time PhDs caught up with the times. So start early. Because even if extracurricular career exploration takes time, it is better to spend that time now and have an offer in hand at the end. Don’t make excuses for delaying. You are not that busy.

And the amazing revelation is: it doesn’t take much to start exploring. You find yourself speaking to your friends, colleagues, and mentors about the next step in casual conversation. You speak about joining pharma or teaching at a liberal arts college. I think Ryan Jacoby of Machine said it very simply: “the best way to start is to start.” Every ‘alternative’ PhD I speak to tells a similar story. They got involved with one thing that led to another. It’s the snowball effect at its finest.

Here are 4 extremely easy things you can do to start exploring today:

1) Make business cards. Talking to people about their careers and your future path is great. Now have a business card in hand to follow up.

2) Don’t delete. Read your emails and join at least one list-serve or LinkedIn group. It’s amazing how much your local graduate student list-serve can offer. Of course there is a lot of spam, but change your habits right now. Don’t just delete, skim each one to see if there’s an opportunity. Additionally, join at least one more list-serve that suits your interests. One example is the NY Biopharma Networking Group (see

3) Add events and deadlines to your calendar, even if you aren’t sure you can attend. Then aim for 1/month to start. Now that you’re plugged in via email to helpful career events, at the very least put them on your calendar. You will probably miss 95% of them at first, but having events on your calendar will keep career exploration front and fresh in your mind. And that 5% you do attend might make all the difference.

4) Want to go the formal way? Apply to a program. There are a number of programs out there that take PhDs and give them real-world experience. InSITE, for example, has been a pivotal program for me. It has not only introduced me to some basic principles of business, it has given me confidence in my exploration. Even if you think you don’t qualify, go for it! You may be more distinguished than you think. Here’s a list of a few more programs to get you going:

Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship
InSITE Fellowship
Locations: Stanford, Berkeley, DC, Boston, NY. For new Philadelphia chapter recruiting contact allydeee at

Start a science advocacy group

Call your representatives about science policies you find important and interesting
Find your Senators at:
Find your Congressman at:

Science and Healthcare Consulting Projects
PreScouter Global Scholars Program
Location: Nationwide

The Solution Lab
Location: NY

Cambridge Consulting Network
Location: DC and Boston

Consulting Competitions
Local graduate consulting clubs hold competitions nationwide. Competitions typically pose a broad strategic problem that may or may not relate to science. Teams of 3-5 come up with a solution to the problem, then present it. Typically, both students from that school and other local schools are invited to participate. Competitions are held from Feb-August, but check your local school for specifics. Search your school or nearby schools plus “consulting competition.” Some examples are listed below:

Cornell Rockefeller Case Competition:
University of Michigan Case Competition:–healthcare-case-competition1.html
Yale Case Competition:
University of Virginia Case Competition:

STEM Outreach and Teaching
Plan your own outreach day
Potential funding sources:

NYAS Science Education Programs
Location: NY

Alisa Dong is a PhD candidate at Weill Cornell Medical College and an InSITE Fellow. Her research focuses on gene transfer for the cure of ß-thalassemia and sickle cell anemia.

1 Comment

  1. Alec Stranahan
    August 27, 2015 at 6:10 pm · Reply

    Just wanted to say that I loved this article. It really hits home the point that career exploration is a self-motivated process that does indeed take time. This is especially true as Ph.D programs are really structured to train scientists to do one thing, which is stay as researchers in academia. However it seems this is changing, as various programs have been cropping up around the country that act as what I might call “kiddie pools for career exploration”. These really help Ph.D candidates build their networks and test various alternative careers.

    I would just add that after initiating this process it’s best to keep an open mindset. Went through one bad consulting competition? This doesn’t necessarily mean that consulting isn’t a good fit for you. Repetition and trying to get as many experiences as possible is how you can make the most well informed decision!

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