11

(For the purpose of this post, relatively stable doesn't necessarily mean "job for life" like tenure, just that you don't have to constantly worry about losing your job.)

I have observed that tenure-track professors are incredibly busy, and most of what they are busy with is not research but teaching/administration/service/managing their lab, and that they often get very little time to do hands-on research the way a PhD student or postdoc does.

For those looking for an alternative career path where you do get to spend quite a bit of your time with hands-on research, what options are there?

I know that there are "research professors" who are non-tenure-track, often 100% soft money, but that level of job insecurity sounds incredibly stressful...

My questions are:

1) How do jobs at "research institutes" work? Or jobs at major hospitals that have research programs?

2) Are there any positions where you have relatively good job security because you are there to help/consult/collaborate on multiple other peoples' projects, but still get a chance to have a little research of your own too?

(FWIW, my PhD field is epidemiology, so I hope I could be useful to consult/collaborate similar to the way the biostatisticians do - but I'd hope to have at least a little of my own research too - either the option to get my own grants when I can but not be worried about losing my job when I can't, or even just doing secondary analyses of public datasets that didn't need funding.)

  • There are permanent research positions in Europe (eg CNRS). Is your question US centric? – Kimball Sep 24 '16 at 12:54
  • I'm from the US, but willing to move to Europe if jobs/work permits/etc. worked out. – Tapeworm Sep 25 '16 at 0:39
6

I'm an Epidemiologist, so I'll answer things from that perspective:

"How do jobs at "research institutes" work? Or jobs at major hospitals that have research programs?"

Assuming it's not, as mentioned a 100% soft-money faculty position, you're essentially working as part of a larger research group. This does mean that you get to spend lots of time doing research, but it also means you're still both beholden and dependent on grant money. It's just someone else's job to get it. So you have as much job security as said grant money can provide, which can range from a huge amount to almost none at all. This is also true for hospitals - you're essentially a staff scientist, but that money needs to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is grants.

It might not be as stressful if you don't have to get them yourself, but there's also no promise of any sort of academic freedom. There may not be the time and resources to do any of that.

Are there any positions where you have relatively good job security because you are there to help/consult/collaborate on multiple other peoples' projects, but still get a chance to have a little research of your own too?

This is a very hard path to climb. I'm a modeler, so much of my work is essentially doing this - shoring up my own research agenda while spending a lot of time as "Specific Aim 3" on someone's grant. I'd suggest that doesn't actually have a lot of job security behind it because it means there's lots of points of failure and a perpetual need to keep things going so that you're 100% covered. There are research organizations which hire epidemiologists, and where you're essentially paid through contracts with other companies, which may be what you're looking for, but again, the chance to have a "little research on your own" might not exist. You're working on someone else's dime, so your own passion projects are essentially an indulgence on their part.

If you're genuinely interested in research without grantwriting and a stable career, I'd suggest looking at research positions in the federal government. What agencies will depend on what aspect of epidemiology you work in.

  • Thank you! Do you know if any career paths exist where there's the option to write your own grants, but at times when you're not funded you just switch to working on other peoples' projects instead of losing your job? – Tapeworm Sep 25 '16 at 0:42
  • @Tapeworm Honestly, what you've described is a "dream job". The closest thing you're likely to find is a position with a substantial hard money component, so while you still need to do some grant getting, not everything will come crashing down if you don't succeed. These jobs are hard to come by in Epi thought, and if you really fail, tenure will still be an issue. – Fomite Sep 26 '16 at 7:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.