Thursday, April 06, 2006

Ways To Make Money

The message from Seed inviting me to relocate, and someone's comment about becoming a shill for industry, made me realize my whole life revolves around money right now.

(By the way, I had to look up 'shill' since it's a word I never really knew the definition of. According to my OS X Dictionary Widget, a shill is 'an accomplice to a hawker, gambler, or swindler who acts as an enthuasiastic customer to entice or encourage others.'

Hard to imagine me being a shill for anything, but I'm sure I've been one unwittingly in the past, so never say never, right?)

So money is the topic today. First off, you should know what Seed offers to pay: zero. At least, that's what I would get paid unless traffic on my blog increases exponentially after the move, and even then it's in the realm of ~ enough to pay the cable bill once a month. So if I decided to relocate, it would be more for the increased interaction with other science bloggers and science blog-readers, i.e. a sense of community (and a little more publicity). (Feel free to weigh in if you're totally for or against it. I'm on the fence for the moment.)

Second, here's what I'm doing for the next couple of months:

Writing, and re-writing, grants.

Nothing works to make you regret your choice of career like grantwriting. Yes, it's glorified, academicized, begging. Or as some of my friends call it, Welfare for PhDs.

Nothing brought home this point so clearly as talking to some friends who work at Intel. Here's what people at Intel get for working there (and now I'm quoting from their webpage, because as a skeptical scientist I had to verify for myself that this is really all true):

Employee Cash Bonuses
Overtime/Commission bonuses
Benefits: medical, dental, life and accident insurance, retirement, paid vacations (including sabbaticals, which are 8 weeks off after 7 years of service)
Stock Options
Training ("In 2005, Intel spent an average of $3,700 per employee worldwide on training and development.")
Education - tuition reimbursement

Now, I have friends who work at big Pharma (Merck, DuPont, Amgen, Invitrogen, etc.) and some of them have these kinds of pacakages, and some don't.

Job satisfaction, from what I can tell, depends largely on what groups you're in: what the projects are, and who you work with. And you have to go along, get along- many of these 'extras' depend on 'performance' , aka how much they like you. But nobody pretends it works any other way. Unlike in academic science, where we're all so Objective, open-minded and Fair.

So we have to ask ourselves, why on earth are PhDs in bioscience willing to work for peanuts (or to be more accurate, Ramen)?

I've always been a big proponent of the idea that when people don't have to worry about the basics, they're happier, more creative, and WAY more productive.

Lately I find myself preoccupied with the concern that I'm going to be unemployed (and therefore, unable to continue living where I'm living now, and possibly unable to repair my car if it should die anytime soon).

I got so preoccupied I started doing a little research on how hard it would be for me to switch careers entirely. Here's what I found out.

Careers where people are needed:
police force
Drug enforcement agency
transportation security (yes, the people who manhandle your bags at the airport)
border police/customs officers
insurance agents
nurses (of course)

Now, at first glance you might think, I can totally see YFS working for the FBI! But no. They are recruiting for chemists and other scientific disciplines, but there appears to be no shortage of bioscience types looking to switch to forensics or something along those lines. Same for the DEA.

Further down the list, while sales is the last thing I'd want to do, I have noticed a disturbing trend among the sales folk hawking pipette pens at our local vendor fairs: they've all done a postdoc. When I graduated from college, I had a friend who went off to do sales with just a BA. At the time I thought, well it's sort of a waste because she's bright, but I knew she'd be good at it because she was very attractive in that way that made you want to try anything she suggested in the hopes that you'd be half as appealing as she was. And at the time, I think most sales reps had nothing beyond a BA. So you can see why I think this is just another sign of the times we're living in.

Further down, I met a woman today who did 5 years of postdoc and then went back to get a management degree (2 more years of school, at her expense). She's now looking for administrative jobs. I also think it's a bad sign when there's more demand for bureaucrats than there is for people to actually do what they're trained for (highly specialized research).

To become even a lowly pharmacy lab tech, you have to have a 6-month certification, from what I can glean.

So there's nothing I could really go and do right now, with the training I have, besides another postdoc.

It doesn't get much bleaker than that.

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At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

YFS, you have plenty of options:

Get a job at Accenture (or some other management consulting co) - work just as hard at something totally soulless but make a lot of money.
Apply to be on reality TV - they crave people with 'issues'.
Get a job at UCI - I know one person who has been a PI there for 4 years and has 0 papers.
If you're serious about staying in academic science you have to go to the money, if you're not answering a PA or RFA you will not get funded.
Teach high school science.
Benchwork will ultimately be outsourced to countries where labor is inexpensive - find a PI job in one of those countries and have 3 shifts of technicians moving your science forward faster than would happen here.
Think about directing a core facility instead of being a PI - find a medical school that doesn't have whatever fancy technology you use and convince them they need it, you should run it for them, oh and that to stay up with the field you need 10-25% protected time to do a little research.
Move to a state that is disproportionately underfunded by NIH and use this as political leverage to get funded.
Start a company, get SBIR funding and work outside the system - you won't be happy in the hierarchy of an academic department anyway.
Go get an MD - the NIH believes that clinician scientists are the bomb and since you aren't one, you can't win - sure it'll take longer than another post-doc, but not too much longer.

At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey FFS:

Did you apply for a NIH K99/R00 award?

At 9:21 PM, Blogger BotanicalGirl said...

I would have loved to be a Seed blogger back when my blog was active, even if the pay was minimal. I think those pages have much more visibility. I know they can be a bit picky on content: the Frinktank guys were booted, mostly for being irreverent and vulgar, from what I could see.

I recently convinced myself that I wanted to quit science, but, like you, couldn't find anything that would even remotely use my MS that I would have. I've since decided to stay, but who knows what I'll do after I get that PhD cert?

At 4:13 AM, Blogger dlamming said...

For what it's worth, there appears to be a decent amount of opportunity for science-types to go to work for consulting companies and venture caps. Someone has to tell those big money people where to spend their money...

The ScienceBlog thing seems like a good idea in terms of visibility. On the other hand, it seems like a lot of work to move, they're still working the bugs out of their systems, and they attract a lot more spam. Not to mention, while some of the SB types are good scientists, others are definitely cranky old people who don't really know any more about science than your average CSI-watcher. And, they're in it to make money, but where's the money?

Seems to me we could just launch our own blog-of-blogs type thing, and just have weblinks to good sites like yours (and mine, cough, cough). Free, easy, and should increase publicity. Call it "realscientists", or something. Heck, I'm gonna grab that blogger name right now anyway. :) If you (or anyone else) is interested, message me at my display name at gmail.

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

BotanicalGirl, I hope you read this list of options too.

I want to thank these posters for incredibly creative ideas, some of which I had never heard of or considered.

First off, actually I think I would be great at consulting but hadn't looked into it seriously. Maybe I'll do that today.

I still think we should have a science reality TV show. If nothing else, as an educational tool for undergrads who are considering science majors.

Had to laugh at the UCI dig. Thanks for that- I need more laughs.

re: RFAs and K99, I applied for something equivalent to a K99. I've been getting mixed advice on whether to re-apply in the exact same mechanism or revamp my application for the K99. I've heard the K99 will be more competitive since they expect more applications for it. On the other hand, looking at who got this grant I applied for, I'm not sure that's the right mechanism for me, either (they funded a vast majority of clinician 'scientists').

Have considered teaching high school science. I'll note that you have to be certified in most states and that requires months & money to get.

Cheap labor is not necessarily good labor. I'd rather have a few good workers than a lot of cheap ones. I'm a liberal so I have to believe that infrastructure matters. Countries that have cheap labor usually lack infrastructure. So I'm not convinced my research would go faster in one of those countries.
But yes, I've noticed ads for jobs in lot of places I'm not sure I'd want to live.

Have considered running a core facility. Mostly think I'd hate it, but yes I could try to sell myself that way.

Love the idea about moving to underfunded states, except that they're all red ones. Am really looking forward to losing my Roe v. Wade rights if Bush has his way.

Interesting idea to start a company and get SBIR funding.

Have also considered getting an MD. Feel too old and tired to do it right now, the application process alone takes a year so it's not an immediate solution. Also I suck at memorizing.

re: Seed being picky on content, I don't like the idea of potential censorship, whether they do it or I'm worried about my content just knowing it has higher visibility. I'm not sure it's not better to gradually build up readership than to make big jumps.

There are more jobs for BS and MS scientists than for PhDs. I'd advise if you're not sure what you'll do with a PhD now, you'll never be. Better to get out now with the MS.

I like the idea of the realscientists page. Actually I have a friend who is *still* working on a site that I was planning to move to, but it's *still* not done yet. And there is always the question looming of, if I leave science anyway, what the hell would I blog about? And at that point maybe I could do it with my given name.

At 11:49 AM, Blogger dlamming said...

I was thinking more about the realscientist site on the way in today- the M2 sure is good for sitting and thinking! :)

I'm thinking along the lines of this: have a list of "real scientist" along the side, maybe categorized, maybe not. After the "startup", we can add one or two a week. Just links to sites, so it doesn't matter if you or others move.

For the main page, though, we'll feature one blog a week. Every day for a week, we'll post the first paragraph or so of every post by that blog, and link to the site. New week, new blog. Should drum up quite a bit of publicity for that blog, and keep the content relatively fresh. Weekends we can post a "best of real scientists" round-up.

So, YFS... can I put you down as our first "real scientist"? :)

At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I talk about a lot of stuff, but mostly what I talk about is using a Ph.D. (in Immunology in my case) in a corporate environment. I list off a couple of jobs that can be done and talk about them. I bailed after my Ph.D. without doing a post-doc.

Consulting is hard to really get in to unless you have some industry experience.

At 3:15 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Dear SomeStuffIWrite.Com,

THANK YOU! This is a tremendously useful set of writings that I will definitely recommend to friends & list on the blog (when I get around to updating the blogroll).

one tip for you, though: you might want to use a spelling/grammar checker more often. For example, I noticed that you frequently used the possessive "your" when you should have used the conjunction "you're." Just to take it up a notch.

At 9:14 PM, Blogger trillwing said...


Delurking here to wish you good cheer. Things could be worse--you could have a Ph.D. in the humanities! ;)

Have you read What Color is Your Parachute or Finding Your Perfect Work? Cheesy titles but some good advice, esp. in Parachute, on crafting your own niche based on what you know and what your passion may be.

At 4:49 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


what's delurking? Is it a special kind of lurking? I want to learn all possible ways to lurk (a la Laurie Anderson).

Have read those, but at the time they seemed dippy to me. Maybe I should look at them again.

my main problem right now is not wanting to do anything very passionately. i'm told you have to do what you love, but right now i'm kind of hating on everything. except maybe lurking. hence the ideas about becoming some kind of professional espionage person. I spy with my scientific eye...

At 3:08 PM, Blogger ponderer said...

Someday, I will finish my book.
In it will be a chapter on the myth of job satisfaction.
The goal of a job is to get as much money as easily as possible.
With that money, you buy the things that make you happy.
If there is nothing you can buy that makes you happy, you retire early.
You are allowed to retire into a job that does not pay well because you don 't need the money.

At 5:49 AM, Anonymous Ed Brayton said...

Just so you know, joining Scienceblogs, all by itself, will boost your readership. I've seen my hits nearly double since moving there, and as your hits go up, so does the amount of money you make. I make far more money from the arrangement than I ever thought I would, enough, literally, to make my house payment every month (which isn't why I do it, or what I use it for, but the monthly amount actually matches to the dollar). So I guess what I'm saying is - come on in, the water's warm. We'd love to have you join us. And good luck with the job search. If it makes you feel any better, about half of my PhD friends are in the same boat.

At 5:14 AM, Anonymous Pam said...

Most days I can't imagine how I'll survive the next year as a scientist, while simultaneously not being able to imagine being anything else. Hang in there.

At 4:10 AM, Anonymous earn,make money without investment said...

yoh have good content

At 2:12 AM, Anonymous AC Shophi said...

That's a really good one and I've actually wondered the same. Curious to see what some other people have to say first.

At 8:43 AM, Blogger Jagannath said...

Dear Ms. PhD,

First off, a big THANK YOU for this post. It takes a layer off my depression (apart from when I'm hooting at just knowing I can associate with people who're in the same boat as I am.

I left a background in electrical engineering/software engineering where I was making big bucks, to do my M.S in Biomedical Engineering, all out of passion. Being an international student, well the job options are that much lesser especially in this economy. After a lot of haggling with my inner conscience, I decided this year to drop the option of a Ph.D completely even though I loved my research (published 7 papers over a 2 yrs masters!) and the whole idea of working on novel discoveries every waking moment. I've since then been applying to companies for various positions without much success as yet. My academic position puts me in the same boat as you, "will I be able to repair my car if it goes bust on me? (That line alone seriously resonated with me)."

Truth be told, if I ever go back to the idea of a Ph.D, it'd definitely be in economics with the dissertation being "Why scientists make shitty pays in spite of curing your cancer, while the Bieber kid rakes in millions simply shrieking".

I really appreciate the options that have been put forward in the comments and I definitely look forward to visiting your blog on a regular basis.



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