Pursuing Non-Faculty Careers in Higher Education
Posted November 24, 2020
For many years, the expected career path for graduate and postdoctoral students was to pursue a faculty position. The nobility of the teaching profession—and the prestige associated with being a professor—made it a very attractive way to make a living. But available faculty positions have declined in recent years, and the path isn't as clear. Fortunately, higher education offers diverse employment opportunities that serve as fulfilling careers for people with STEM degrees.
On September 22, 2020, the New York Academy of Sciences spoke with three scientists who chose different career paths after receiving doctorate degrees in STEM. Lesa Tran Lu, PhD, Harinder Singh, PhD, and Jennifer Chambers, PhD, outlined their career paths and explained how graduate school inspired them to help students and early-career scientists skillfully transition into the workforce.
In this eBriefing, You’ll Learn
- How the barriers these three scientists encountered as trainees informed them in their current positions.
- How the scientists approach professional development in a constantly evolving workforce.
- What personal values shaped the scientists' career paths.
- How to approach a career transition when developing skills as a bench researcher.
- What opportunities to look for when pursuing a career in higher education beyond faculty.
Lesa Tran Lu, PhD
Lesa Tran Lu is a Chemistry Lecturer at Rice University. She received her BS (2007), MA (2009), and PhD (2012) in Chemistry from Rice University. In 2012, she joined the teaching faculty at Rice to transform the way General Chemistry is taught by developing an inquiry-based learning model known as the Student-Centered Active Learning at Rice (SCAL@R) method. With her colleagues, Tran studies the impact of the SCAL@R method on student learning in General Chemistry. Tran also teaches the Chemistry of Cooking, an elective course taught in collaboration with Houston-area chefs and business owners. In 2019, Tran joined the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering as Program Manager. There, she has revitalized the Systems, Synthetic, and Physical Biology (SSPB) graduate program's curriculum and structure and has spearheaded curriculum development for an NSF Research Traineeship program. The goal is to prepare graduate students as future leaders of team-based interdisciplinary research in bioelectronics. Tran is the recipient of the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching (2019) and a Faculty Fellow of the Rice Center for Teaching Excellence. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and baking with her husband and two daughters.
Harinder Singh, PhD
University of California, Irvine
Harinder Singh, PhD, is the Director of Graduate Professional Success in STEM (GPS-STEM), a career and professional development program at UC Irvine (UCI). Previously, he served as the Associate Director of the NIH-BEST-funded Graduate Professional Success in Biomedical Sciences (GPS-BIOMED) program at UCI. Harinder obtained his PhD from Temple University School of Medicine, after which he conducted postdoctoral training in neurosciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Harinder is actively involved in career development and science advocacy to support junior researchers. He was part of the non-profit organization CHIentist, helping to bring Chicago based scientists together to network and foster a sense of community. Harinder was appointed to the Board of Directors of science advocacy organization, Future of Research, whose mission is to engage & empower early-career scientists with evidence-based resources in improving the scientific research endeavor. As the leader of UC Irvine's GPS-STEM program, Harinder is dedicated to finding solutions that broaden research training, foster relationships between academia and the private sector, and raise awareness of how academic discoveries advance society.
Jennifer Chambers, PhD
Jennifer Chambers, PhD, earned her M.Sc. at the University of Pennsylvania designing new MRI contrast agents and then worked as a research assistant in a metabolomics lab at the University of Melbourne, in Australia. She returned to graduate school at the University of Melbourne and completed her PhD in organic synthesis. From there, Jenny did a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University in a translational chemical biology lab, where she used computational modeling, protein engineering, and organic synthesis to study two drug targets. In 2016, Jenny joined Schrödinger as part of the Education team. As an education team member, Jenny creates content to teach scientists how to apply computational techniques to their research projects. She also works with various outreach programs, using Schrödinger software to inspire the next generations of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers.