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Give Yourself Tenure

Mercury Summer 2012 Table of Contents

by Andrea Schweitzer

statue at Harvard

The academic life, whether at prestigious Harvard or [Insert Name Here] University, may not be for you, the newly minted graduate student. Courtesy Paul Deans.

I began my career as most young scientists do, going to graduate school, enjoying interesting research, and planning a career as a tenured academic. Then I changed tracks after receiving my PhD and transitioned into an industry cubicle, which I described in “Living the Dilbert Life” (Mercury, Sept-Oct 1997).

Fifteen years later, I call myself a “scientist entrepreneur,” having spent a decade working as a freelance project manager. During my eighth year freelancing, I was even able to give myself a sabbatical year off! The path I choose isn’t easy, but it’s an option to the equally challenging academic track.

Because tenure-track jobs are so competitive, you must stay on a focused career path within academia. If you don’t eventually land a tenure-track job, the conventional wisdom is to expand your job options by considering opportunities in industry, government, teaching at non-research institutions, science writing, etc. Often this takes place after the first or second postdoc position. This is an inefficient career path — not to mention very stressful, disheartening, and financially unwise for young scientists.

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