3 Science Jobs You Can’t Get Without a PhD, and What Else You Can Do With One

June 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Earning a PhD can open a few, select doors

We’ve previously discussed the low unemployment rate of PhDs compared to the general population, which is already one bonus for having the higher degree. Another bonus is that some jobs are only attainable by those with a doctorate in the sciences. The San Francisco Gate explored six jobs that require a doctorate, but we’ve pulled three that would require a PhD in the sciences. Only 0.9% of the American population has earned their doctoral degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 report, so doctorates are an elite few in this world. Meet other elite few by becoming a member of iAMscientist.

1. Chief Scientist – $157,168
This applies for any science discipline, and this job is sometimes referred to as a Principal Investigator. The average salary ranges between $115,951 and $198,385, reflecting the years of study invested and the high degree of specialty.

At its simplest, the job of a Chief Scientist is to lead and carry out scientific research. They may be involved in the research and development of new drugs or technology, or collaborating with other scientists on inter-disciplinary efforts.

2. Professor – $82,374
Most professorships will require the candidate to have successfully defended their doctoral thesis. However, in business, law and medicine, sometimes real world experience may be sufficient without a PhD. This job is considered by many to be the most direct application for a completed doctoral degree – after spending so many years in academics, successful PhD graduates certainly know their way around the system.

Some professors focus on teaching, while others must find a balance between their time in the classroom and their own research and publications. An additional upside to this career is the possibility of tenure, which ensures that the professor cannot be fired without just cause and due process. This allows for a much greater stability in employment. Professors also pose as excellent mentors and advisers to up and coming doctoral students. (For more on teaching, see Academic Careers In Finance.)

3. Astronomer/Astrophysicist – $81,208
These scientists observe, research, and interpret celestial and astronomical phenomena, according to Payscale. More than half of the professionals in this field are employed by the Federal Government or scientific R&D firms. They apply their knowledge of the universe to scientific and technological advancement. According to the BLS, almost all astronomers do research, although some do purely theoretical work. (To help students with the cost of going to school in one of these profession, read Students, Get More Bang For Your Textbook Dollars.)

However, humanities PhDs ought not to be discounted for their potential relevance to technology and the inter-disciplinary sciences. Google is one example of a large tech company seeking humanities PhDs. Companies such as Google were looking for people who are smart and get things done from every possible background. Developing user interfaces, for example, was at least as much about knowing how to observe and understand people as about pure technological skill.

For June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media, anyone who had studied for a PhD, however seemingly irrelevant the topic, had “learned stamina and focus and how to listen” – and those skills would always be valuable to employers. PhD holders and candidates, whether its one in the humanities or sciences, offer transferable skills that can be applied in singular and inter-disciplinary fields.


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