Scientific Accomplishment vs Money: Lessons from the INet NYC networking event

The INet NYC is an international social group that aims to provide support and professional guidance for all international graduate students and research fellows in STEM fields. On August 18th, a networking and social event was organized by the INet NYC. Most of the people at this event were PhD students from different universities in NYC who were eagerly networking, especially with those considered to be the “big fish” in the “industry pond”.

After several glasses of wine and beer, people started to talk freely at the event. Postdocs complained about long hours in the lab and difficulties in getting grants to become PIs. A few of the folks from industry soon became the stars at this event. I had an interesting conversation with someone from the GE Health sales department. He told me that he started his first job as a basic scientist at Roche, then continued on as a scientist at Merck, and later switched to sales. He had no complaints about money working in sales; however, he really missed the excitement of doing experiments and the feeling of accomplishment in getting consistent results.

This conversation made me reflect. 90% of PhD students I met in different schools are searching for careers out of academia. This does not mean that 90% of PhD students don’t have any passion for science. If they didn’t, they would not have the drive to survive graduate school. Of course, each of us has our own different motivations to get out of academia, either more money or opportunities in other fields.

I respect anyone with the strength of will to go through the process of getting a PhD, and I do believe that getting a PhD is a really big accomplishment. With a PhD, we gain many soft skills, like critical thinking, and communication, which will help us climb out of ivory tower, if we choose to. Although most of us still wonder about our future when we begin to realize how competitive it is to stay in academia or enter industry, at the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves what really matters to us, what we really care about. For instance, even if you choose to leave academia, but would still like to engage in science, there are plenty of other career paths, like science/medical health policy, research in industry, intellectual industry, scientific education and communication.

The following link is a Nature article on what people decided to do after leaving academia, enjoy!

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