Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Exodus to marketing?

Is it just me? I can name about 15 female friends with PhDs who all left bench science for policy, writing, marketing, sales, and public relations jobs despite being very good at the bench. Not all of them loved the bench, but some did.

Seems like a lot of women think they'll have an easier time, for at least three major reasons:

1. Gender ratio - more women in these other positions means less sexism than in a "wet lab" position
2. More flexible hours/shorter hours than research positions (easier to balance with family)
3. More jobs available (especially now)
4. They're encouraged by women already in these jobs (the network is already in place)

It's really sad to me because most of them say they don't really use their PhD or bench experience at all. A few say bitterly that they could have left after a year or two of grad school and that should have been enough, but they felt like they needed the PhD stamp of approval.

I think this is what the hole in the postdoc pipeline looks like. A giant arrow pointing from PhD ---> sales.

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18 Comments:

At 6:58 PM, Blogger Kea said...

I would never take a marketing job. It reeks too much of the same old capitalist, patriarchal, soulless bullshit. I prefer waitressing in a small town cafe, because at least then you are doing a real job for real people. Of course, I gave up the idea of having kids, money, a house, a car, friends, a guy etc so that I could do the PhD ... because I love science and it's what I have wanted to do since I was 15 years old ... but anon would just say that I'm obviously no good and should get back to the waitressing ... funny thing is that men have been telling me I'm no good for over 40 years, and I'm now way better qualified than they ever dreamed of being ... makes one wonder who has their head screwed on right, doesn't it? Anyway, I managed to get rid of the mouse from my hovel, so now I can get back to the cafe job hunting ...

 
At 7:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just was in an advertising "agency." I bailed on them after I was not being properly used for what I could bring them. Another friend left for this med comm position 3.5 years ago and she has been bouncing around ever since. She has yet to hold down a job for more than a year. Another male friend is also trying to get out. He left a postdoc after 2 years and no pubs. He wants out like no tomorrow. The money is better than a postdoc, for sure, but you can do better...

 
At 7:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said: "
1. Gender ratio - more women in these other positions means less sexism than in a "wet lab" position."

I just left the previous (anon) comment and you know what? I don't think that this is true. There are more women, but the women tend to be quite young and oftentimes are not taken seriously. So, it becomes a "Mad Men" type of situation.

 
At 7:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it's straight up sales (it doesn't matter what the industry is) it is a sad fact that women have to go to unnatural measures to 'take care of themselves'.

I recall a friend telling me about meeting a Wall St. saleswoman in the cafeteria once... the friend commented on how she was amazed that she is so busy at work at stays in such good shape...the saleswoman replied "if I don't stay like this I can't keep my job".

 
At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's really sad to me because most of them say they don't really use their PhD or bench experience at all.

Well, it's not sad. Most PhDs do not use their lab or bench experience at all. And not using such experience does not make it sad.

I am in engineering, and a majority of PhDs in my field, whether men or women, go to industry, where they do not use their PhD training. And none of them are sad, in fact, most are happier than those who choose to slog it over years and years of postdoc-ing.

What is sad, is that so many people still think that the only decent option after a PhD is a tenure-track job, and anything else is a waste of their precious training. That is what I find sad and immature.

 
At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I left academia (which I may in the next year or two after my last gasp attempt in my current postdoc) I'd make a big break, not do anything at all science-related. It would just be too painful to be reminded, of my failure to make science work. I'd definitely take the hard way (I define the easy way as a peripheral career to bench science, e.g. policy, pure teaching, science sales, patent law, financial modelling, manager in industry etc) and begin fresh with another type of career, outside of anything remotely related to hierarchy and politics. Pity for society though: all of the taxpayers' money which went to my education! If I don't give back it will be a loss. I guess it made me a "better citizen" though.

 
At 10:23 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Kea,

I have a friend who did several other things for a long time and then went back to market research, because it's sort of like using some of her scientific reasoning skills, it's more interesting to her and it pays better. I think I'd do the waitressing thing if I weren't always spilling stuff. At least in the lab nobody complained when I spilled things, we just mopped it up and kept on going!

Anon 7:03, I hope you found a better position? Or are you looking now?

Anon 7:06, Great point about women being in a Mad Men situation! That's more how I would have pictured it.

Funny that I thought research science would be better, but it's not. It's just crappy in a different way.

Anon 7:51, Another great point re: how appearance factors into sales. It's like Hollywood that way - although I was heartened to see the recent reports that directors want women who look more real. The irony is that they're looking overseas to fill American jobs now because they think all American women have had too much plastic surgery. Meh.

Anon 7:55, We're not engineers. Some of us like the bench and at least in a tenure-track job you could keep working at the bench for a while longer. That's one of the reasons why we wanted them.

I'm not sure how that makes us immature. I guess you're just another troll who thinks we sound whiny? Welcome to my blog. You sound pretty whiny yourself. You'll fit right in around here.

Anon 10:07, That is how I feel, too. I'd rather do something totally unrelated because it's just too depressing- but I'm not sure I believe there's anything unrelated to hierarchy and politics.

I really thought it would be more transparent in science than in some other fields, and it turns out that it's the least transparent thanks to the smog of hypocrazy.

Talk about a waste of taxpayers money! I hung up on someone calling from one of these health research charities asking me to "help save lives". I told her I did and I could have helped more if I could have my own lab. And then I quickly hung up.

If I hadn't, I would have been screaming into the phone that they're wasting all their money funding selfish people who have no intention of helping anyone.

Argh. I don't see how being a scientist makes me a better citizen, though my family certainly wanted me in a career that "helps society". HA.

 
At 1:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A job that doesn't require or use your PhD training isn't necessarily a "lesser" job but it still means that you wasted a lot of years of your life.

How would you feel if you went to med school or law school and then couldn't get a job as a doctor or lawyer and are now doing something totally unrelated to all your training and for which the actual job training only takes a couple years at most? The job itself may not be a lesser job than medicine or law, but it does still represent a big personal investment gone down the drain.

 
At 5:57 AM, Anonymous Heather said...

I'm in marketing. I left after my PhD, without doing a postdoc. I never planned to stay in academia, but had aspirations of working in a Pharma company. However, after my PhD I was so fed up with the lack of funding and ethics issues that I decided to leave the bench.

I'm in a small research products company, so in addition to marketing I also manage our applications lab. So, while I don't work in the lab I have two techs working under me, allowing me to plan experiments and analyze data. People in my company also like that I have a PhD because it means that customers respect my scientific knowledge. I would not say the PhD was a waste, as it is highly desired in executive positions in my company. However, I will not deny that I could have left with a masters, done an MBA and probably be pretty much where I am now, with more money in savings.

To respond to your points:

1. Gender ratio - There are actually few/no women in positions at my level and above in my company. I constantly find myself the only woman present in meetings.

2. More flexible hours/shorter hours - This is definitely true. It is also possible to work part time.

3. More jobs - true, plus you quickly gain a network and good recommendations just because there is much higher turnover in compared with academia

4. They're encouraged by women - I have definitely been helped, encouraged and given a chance to succeed by both men and women

 
At 9:05 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 1:54, That's exactly it. It's not exactly all fun or easy, or when it doesn't pay off, you wonder why you bothered!

Heather, I wonder if anyone has data to back up the anecdotal stories I've heard that there are more women in the larger companies, and fewer in smaller/startups?

I think there's a general assumption that startups have crazier hours and fewer benefits, while larger companies have more policies in place to be friendlier to women (Novartis excepted, of course!).

 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger DSK Samways said...

I v.much agree with the sentiments of Anon @7.55PM.

I'd add that a PhD is not merely a scout badge for competent bench work, it comes with a host of highly translational skills - relating to problem solving, project management, personnel relations, communication &c, &c - that will, without any doubt at all, be relevant to any career that a holder of that degree would go into thereafter: whether it be a TT position, drug marketing, or serving tables.

Thus, although I empathise with the frustration underlying comments such as,
"A job that doesn't require or use your PhD training isn't necessarily a "lesser" job but it still means that you wasted a lot of years of your life.",

it's important that, given time for sensible reflection, one accepts that this is rubbish. Furthermore, to have obtained a Ph.D is to have taken an active and productive role in the progress of science, regardless of what happens in one's career thereafter. It's also worth noting that to 'fail' in science (according to whatever arbitrary benchmark of success one might aspire to) is actually a lot better than to 'fail' in many other careers, in which one's productivity may genuinely have amounted to nothing more than lining the pockets of an invisible shareholder somewhere (or not, as the case may have been in order to 'fail' in that particular career).

 
At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi YFS

This is anon 7:03/7:06, who also was anon 10:19 way back in Feb. (I had the pending issue with my SO.)

As things turned out, I did get another offer. The whole process of leaving the 'agency' was really interesting, ranging from: "I don't have any questions for you and have a good life" to "I think that we really had no idea you could actually do as well as you did in this job and we are kicking ourselves trying to figure out what we did to make you leave."

Of course, I left the question open-ended and unanswered. Ultimately, that is a good question, but one that should keep them on their toes for a while.

 
At 2:53 PM, Blogger Cloud said...

I am interested by the idea that sales and marketing are seen as more family friendly. When I was evaluating jobs a few years ago, looking to make a move from the job I had, I decided that my technical track was more family friendly.

I considered a job in "pre-sales support"- I would have been the scientist who goes out with the actual sales person and answers the hard core technical questions. I decided against it because the amount of travel required was more than I could stomach at the time. It would have been about 30% travel, which doesn't fit well with how I want to live my life right now- I have young kids (at the time, I only had one), and I couldn't imagine being away one week a month.

I'm sure there are sales/marketing jobs that require less travel, but they all seem to require serious after hours schmoozing, and that is not something I have much time for as the mother of two small kids.

I guess my point is that technical jobs aren't as family unfriendly as their rep, at least not in my experience.

As for "using" your PhD- I'd say that something like 75% of my current job doesn't really require a PhD. I have had jobs where 100% could have been done without a PhD. But I have never regretting getting a PhD, and I don't look on those years as a waste of my time.

And right now, 25% of my job is real, honest to goodness science (not bench, but computational... ) I think that percentage is pretty good for someone who has chosen to go up the management path, particularly given the type of work I do. I would not have gotten this particular job without a PhD. But it is also true that I would not have gotten this job without the several years I spent in a job that had essentially zero science. Career paths are funny things.

 
At 11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

uh...YFS...sorry to bug, but greenspun gots another post on Women In Science as of June 14th:

http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/philg/2010/06/14/the-best-way-to-discourage-women-in-science/

Seems just as hilariously accurate. Hope you are not looking like the woman in this post.

 
At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MsPhD, an appropriate post for you:
http://physioprof.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/careers-in-academia/

 
At 6:28 PM, Blogger Helen Huntingdon said...

I forget how many times I've been told I could make a fortune as a sales engineer, invariably by a man who has known me for less than five minutes.

 
At 2:36 AM, OpenID writinginoxford said...

Having just finished my PhD and having a rough time in graduate school, I'm looking for jobs outside of real-science jobs, but still related to science. The first non-real-science job interview I had, I felt like I fit right in. Could it be because women were interviewing me? Possibly. The trouble is that I still really like science, I just don't feel that I would fit quite right in a real-science job.

If I forget that I spent 5 years doing a PhD, I feel happy about switching paths, but when I really think about it, it just makes me sad.

For me, my PhD was sort of a path I was put on as an undergraduate and just kept following it without exploring my interests outside of science. I suppose like I felt that I should finish my PhD
1) because I could.
2) because I don't like to quit things.
3) so I would not let down my advisor.
4) because I didn't know what else to do.

Having a PhD and looking outside of research jobs is both bad and good. It's bad because people think you may be using their company as a temporary job until you find something in your field, or that you'll want ridiculous pay. It's good because everything else seems easier after completing research and a dissertation. My dissertation is sort of a culmination of every skill that I have from science and critical thinking, reading and writing, to project management...so I have a lot to talk about at job interviews.

 
At 9:04 AM, Blogger frank lucas said...

How scientific sales jobs break the mould!
We’ve all been asked the question at some point in our early career: “Would you like to work in sales?!” “Are you interested in scientific sales?”


Let’s be honest, the first thing that comes to mind is a double-glazing salesman who would most probably sell his own Grandmother to make a quick buck. Door-to-door sales and cold calling is nobody’s dream job and I’m sure the repetitive nature can make a small percentage go practically insane.


I would like to argue that scientific sales jobs differ somewhat from the image above. Certainly those within our industry of Mass Spectrometry and Chromatography would like to say so. Scientists like to buy from scientists. For this, a solid understanding of the customer, industry and products are absolutely paramount. It is from my experience that an employer is more likely to take on an outgoing technical boffin and train them to sell ethically, than they would a non-scientific sales stereotype.


A world class sales benchmarking study revealed that the calibre of the salesperson, in a B2B environment, is the most important factor influencing prospects’ decisions to buy. It also demonstrated that an average company loses between 10% and 30% of its customers each year. With this in mind, you would expect a suitable sales force to have the relevant technical knowledge and educational background to ensure customer retention and excellent customer service.


Scientific sales jobs are more on a consultative level and the ability to listen far outweighs the need to wax-lyrical about a particular product or idea (‘gift of the gab’). Influence is key but ultimately it is the customers’ goal, budget and time frame that you must adhere to. Providing solutions to the customer and actually believing in your product should be the very top of your priorities.


Scientific sales jobs come in several different formats and responsibilities, from instrument/equipment sales to solution selling and consumables. Please see our latest scientific sales jobs http://www.vrs-uk.net/index.php?option=com_jobboard&view=list&catid=50&layout=list&Itemid=123&jobsearch=&keysrch=&locsrch=

 

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