This question has asked previously for PhD in mathematics and computer science in this StackExchange forum. However, the situation will be completely different for Biology graduate because of the skills we learn during our PhD. Math and CS graduates have lot of open options (?) looking at their quantitative reasoning skills, which are not enough for biology. We learn lot of logic, reasoning and statistics, but is that enough to survive in a highly competitive world?. So I was wondering: is there any alternative career option for PhDs in biology?

P.S: There are few options I am already aware of, like teaching in school/university, quality control posts at various firms, R&D in pharmaceutical companies. I was wondering if there are any other options which are not very obvious from our skills.

Update (18 Sep 2015)

After reading comments and answers, Following more options have raised

  • Science communication
  • Librarian
  • NGO and firms for data analysis
  • This belongs on Workplace@SE, since it's about finding non-academic jobs.
    – Superbest
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 23:31
  • 1
    I think this forum is more appropriate audience to answer this question.
    – Dexter
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 4:35

2 Answers 2


There have actually been some studies (if I recall Mike The Mad Biologist's blog covered them awhile back) suggesting that biology graduate students are somewhat less happy than their peers because many of the specialized skills they pick up aren't immediately transferrable. For some aspects of "biology" this isn't true - for example, a mathematical biologist is likely just as qualified to exit into a quantitative field as an applied mathematics student, some fields of biology involve code, etc.

Failing that, some other options colleagues who are biologists have pursued:

  • Government positions. Some of these are "academia-lite", some of them are markedly different, but there are several branches of government that hire biologists in some form.
  • Teaching at the high school level. You're likely overqualified, but that's not a bad thing, and there are private high schools that very much value "X% of our faculty have PhDs..." as something to tell parents.
  • As you mention knowing exist already, there are biotech companies that exist, and employ biologists in many capacities.
  • Conservation organizations, private foundations, etc. may be of interest, especially if you're more ecology oriented.
  • Depending on your research area, what you did, etc. you may be able to brand yourself as a "data scientist" - at the moment it's pretty vague as to what exactly that means.
  • Science communication - university offices that do outreach, news organizations, etc.
  • With the addition of an MLS, a career as a research librarian is also potentially an option.
  • 1
    Ah, Science communication. I have totally forgotten about that :)
    – Dexter
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 4:31

In general, the options for biology are very similar to those of other fields---the answers on the computer science question you linked mostly apply quite well to any STEM discipline (with the possible exception of finance companies).

The one important caveat that I would add for Ph.D. students in the biomedical field, however, is to make sure you self-advocate and ensure that you are really getting educated as a scientist, not exploited as a lab technician. This can happen in any field, but anecdotally seems to be much more common in biomedical fields, and is extremely variable from lab to lab. Some labs are very good at giving their students a complete scientific educations, others (and it seems most likely to happen in big labs) mostly want somebody to run assays at the bench, and one can finish a Ph.D. with very little of the knowledge that non-academic employers may expect you to have.

  • The options which CS link is refereeing generally involves skills which computational biology or theoretical biology graduate can easily tackle. I don't know how molecular biologist can fit into those profile.
    – Dexter
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 14:50
  • 1
    @Dexter I'm not sure why you think a molecular biologist can't work for places like a government lab, a contract R&D organization, a consultancy, or a startup company. Places like that do molecular biology work too.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:01
  • 2
    @Dexter There's actually a lot of options there---there's a bazillion interesting and unusual niches. It just takes some work to find them and figure out which ones make sense for you, as well as general skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and communication that should be learned in any Ph.D. program.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 16:43
  • 1
    @SSimon Being able to make one's ideas, proposals, and contributions understandable both to key individuals and to broad audiences and in both written, image, and verbal forms.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 12:55
  • 1
    @SSimon While I believe that it should be a strong part of every education, many universities do not have effective programs ensuring that it is so.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 17:06

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