Book Review of Guide to Non-Traditional Careers in Science

Karen Young Kreeger

Taylor & Francis

263 pages; includes two brief appendices and an index

Published in 1999

We tested this book by sharing our office copies with several postdocs and grad students who happen to live near one of our editors. She reported that many of them initially refused to leave her sofa because they were too busy checking out the first-person "how I did it" Q&A sections in the book. "Ohhh ... !" an enlightened postdoc kept mumbling. The copies were returned with numerous yellow and blue Post-it notes that flagged well-liked sections.

The book's main attractions for our testers were its edited interviews with scientists who have left bench science and moved on to nontraditional careers that either require or readily make use of skills developed during scientific training. The testers also liked the specific job-hunting and networking tips provided in each chapter, which focuses on a specific career path. And two grad students were very fond of the summary boxes listing "Characteristics of a Switch to [Name of a Non-Traditional Career]."

The book is mercifully concise, snappy, and practical. There are no long-winded discussions of the soul-searching that scientists must embark on before locating a nontraditional career. The first two chapters do provide a well-versed guide to transferable skills (plus a near-comprehensive checklist for making a switch) and general issues that scientists need to be aware of when following nontraditional career paths.

Our testers were generally pleased that there wasn't much sermonizing about self-evaluation tests or other "first-round" evaluation modes that many other career books have incorporated. ("I'm tired of reading about self-tests," complained a second-year postdoc.)

The heart of the book, eight chapters on career paths, covers:

Science education

  • informal science education (museums, science centers)

  • classroom teaching

Scientific and medical illustration and imaging

  • natural history illustration

  • medical illustration

Science and technical writing, editing, and publishing

  • science writing and journalism

  • public affairs and information

  • journal and magazine editing and publishing

  • book editing and publishing

  • other outlets


  • bioinformatics

  • medical informatics

Technology Transfer



Science policy, advocacy, and regulation

  • science and environmental policy and advocacy

  • science and environmental regulatory policy

Each chapter contains at least four (sometimes up to eight) very detailed interviews with scientists who have switched to a new career. Some former scientists have been in their current field for over 10 years, while others have joined more recently.

Our testers gave the interviews, which clearly had been edited and generally used a standard set of questions, great reviews. "I feel much better knowing that James Laughner [one of the interviewees] also thought that getting a teaching certificate was a pain! I thought I was being a slacker for thinking that. I like the fact that he was extremely honest about his preparation for job hunting," said a first-year postdoc who had obviously been thinking about making the switch for a while.

In addition to the interviews, each chapter contains a "characteristics" box, a resources listing, a summary of general education and training options, and the best liked job-hunting and networking section. This last section was most heavily flagged by our testers. ("Be sure to tell them that ... we thought it was worth reading just for these sections," said two otherwise skeptical grad students.)

And because most chapters cover more than one type of career within a career path (see the outline above), there are very specific resources, training, and networking suggestions provided for each career type.

The most popular critique by our group of five testers (three postdocs and two grad students) was that the book, while pretty thoroughly covering many careers, could have covered a lot more topics. Two of the postdocs took the book to task for not covering software development, and one of the grad students kept asking questions such as "What about Web development? What about management consulting? How can I get a job in science policy? ... I want answers!" until his colleagues shushed him.

In general, we thought the book was an excellent introduction to general types of career paths that don't involve research. (Industry job seekers need to look elsewhere for research-related job-hunting tips.)

Many of the interviews were downright enlightening and honest (hats off to the author for locating receptive interviewees), while others were merely useful. The carefully chosen interviews are an incredible resource for supplementing a job search; they could even "stand in" for informational interviews for scientists who are having problems locating a friendly source of information. Overall, we very strongly recommend this book for any scientist who is thinking about making the transition to a nonresearch career.

If your research institution or university runs a career center or a scientific career workshop or center, you may want to ask that they add this book to their reading and/or loaning list. (One of our testers purchased the book via after reading the first few chapters so that he wouldn't have to share.)

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