Am I Being Realistic?


Dear CareerDoctor,I am currently in an MSc programme at the University of Toronto and will be finishing (I hope) by August 2003. I read your previous article, "Help! What do I do with my degree?" but have run into a different problem. I know what I want, but I am not sure if what I want is realistic.Here's a synopsis of my situation: I did my BSc in life sciences, and my MSc is in laboratory medicine. My current area of research is in insulin signalling and lipid metabolism (read diabetes and cardiovascular diseases). I like benchwork, but I would prefer to see the application of research in the "real world."Because both my husband and I paid our own ways though our education, we have accumulated a huge combined debt. At this point, I do not want to pursue a PhD because (1) I am tired of school, (2) I want to get out of debt, and (3) I probably want to have children in a few years. So, the bottom line is I would like to find a job instead of more education.Here's what I know about myself.Want:I would like to find a job that is related to my education, especially to diabetes or cardiovascular diseases.I want to work in industry or health-care institutions.I would like to do clinical research, but I don't mind doing benchwork.I want to be paid well (certainly, I would like to start at a level above people with a BSc)I want to start work as soon as possible after graduation.

Don't Want:

I do not want to do a PhD.

I do not want to go back to college to do a "technician/technologist" diploma. Along the same lines, I prefer not to do a certificate programme (e.g., a clinical research programme) but will consider it if absolutely necessary.

I do not want to do sales of any kind.

I do not want a repetitive job.

I am unwilling to relocate.

Given the list of "wants" and "don't wants," it seems to me that I'm rather picky. Am I being realistic? What are my options? How would I go about finding such a job?

I look forward to your reply. Thank you in advance!



Dear Crystal,

Never apologise for being picky when it comes to your career--in fact, I encourage you to continue to be picky because the alternative is thousands of hours regretting that you weren't more discerning! You've made a great start by investing time in working out what you do and don't want from your career. You have three main questions for me, which I'll tackle in order:

Am I being realistic?

What are my options?

How would I go about finding such a job?

With your qualifications and obvious interest in laboratory medicine, I think I can safely say that you ARE being realistic to want to remain in this field and use your experience directly. I'm not sure what the situation is in Canada, but in the UK, one of the implications of our sedentary lifestyle and fatty diet is a dramatic rise in the incidence of diabetes. This should lead to increased research funding and even more commitment from the pharmaceutical industry, hospital laboratories, and academia to improve diagnostics, therapies, and cures. The same can be said about cardiovascular problems, and although I'm not a medical scientist, it would seem to me that you have chosen to work in a growth area!

So, what are your options? You are already being realistic about potential employers--industry and hospitals are the obvious places recruiting in your areas of interest. You now need to start thinking about the particular roles that will appeal to you. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry ( ABPI) has an excellent Web site that describes the huge range of careers offered in this sector, with profiles and details of employers in the U.K. You may also find information on the Web sites of international companies; Pfizer's, for example, carries another good overview.

As for the kinds of jobs that are available in hospitals, you will need to check on specifics in Canada--an area where the Career Centre at the University of Toronto should be able to help. Something akin to the U.K.'s Clinical Scientist would surely interest you. These scientists follow a lengthy training programme while working and being paid. Recruitment is competitive, though, as few posts are available and only at set times each year.

Now, are you being realistic to want to start well-paid work soon after graduation? YES! You'll need to get information on salaries in Toronto but, generally speaking, pharmaceutical companies pay well, and they either time their recruitment to tie in with the academic year or are reasonably flexible. Some may be willing to offer a higher starting salary because of your MSc, but it will depend on how relevant it is, so it's important that you target your applications to employers who will be attracted to those extra letters. Another way to look at the MSc is that although it may not increase your starting salary, it should increase your chances of both getting a sought-after job and progressing more quickly once you do.

Salaries in hospitals and universities are unlikely to match the private sector, but the jobs appeal to those workers for different reasons. You need to look at job adverts or ask your Career Centre about salary differences. It is also important that you talk to researchers in different sectors about the rewards of their jobs--the highest paying job might not be as tempting as others that are being offered!

There is one point on your list of preferences on which I think it would be prudent to do a "reality check": your decision not to pursue a PhD. This degree is not essential for a career in research, but many researchers will have one. Even though it is obviously not an option at the moment, don't discount this altogether--you may be able to register for one part-time if your new career is research based. Many employers support staffers who are interested in gaining relevant further qualifications, which might include certification programmes such as clinical medicine, so when you are applying for jobs, ask if this is a possibility.

Now, how would you go about finding such a job? I can't encourage you strongly enough to visit the University of Toronto Career Centre. If it's anything like those in the UK, it will have general as well as topical directories that will allow you to find employers offering the type of jobs that interest you. The ones covering the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries would be most relevant, but you should also look at the Directory of Research Organizations. Also worth knowing is that the National Research Council in Canada has ongoing opportunities for research within the government. A quick search on the Internet turned up the Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies Web site, which lists six companies with Toronto addresses. I think that means you're in a good location for pharmaceutical research, so I am optimistic about you not having to relocate. PharmWeb is another useful resource that points to opportunities and employers across the globe, should you decide to look further afield.

In order to identify hospitals and health institutions conducting clinical research in areas that interest you, look for the ones that are publishing or attracting funding. Academics in your department are good people to ask for advice on which funding bodies and journals are relevant. Indeed, academics in diabetes or cardiovascular research are likely to attend the same conferences and belong to the same networks as do researchers from hospitals, research organisations, and companies, so they should be able to help you identify potential opportunities.

Never underestimate the power of networking in finding a job. The University of Toronto Career Centre has a job-shadowing programme, called Extern Plus, that may help you get a foot in the door and a contact list of people willing to talk to students about their line of work. You can make new contacts yourself at events and meetings or while calling prospective employers. Professional bodies also offer networking opportunities (and reduced membership rates to students). Ask them all about recruitment--do they advertise vacancies at your level and, if so, whom should you contact? When do they recruit? Do they use recruitment agencies and, if so, which ones? If they accept speculative applications, where should you send them?

I think it is important that you talk to people in the areas that interest you even before you set out to look for a job. That way, you will gain personal insight from people who are already engaged in successful careers that you may want to emulate--they'll give you ideas that have worked for them. This effort will also allow you to have a broader view of your career and to plan further ahead--for example, if you decide to go from laboratory work to clinical research, you will need to prepare for each step of your transition.

With your awareness of what you want from a career, you are at the right stage to approach scientists in jobs that appeal to you and gain the insight and information that will bring you closer to your goal--a job that offers a return on the substantial investment you've made in your education.

All the best in your career,

The CareerDoctor

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