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Job Skills How to become a scientific advisor?

  1. Aug 5, 2017 #1
    Hi! I just earned a PhD in Physics and I am interested in the career of scientific advisor. Can anyone give me some advices (sorry for the game of words :-)!) about a possible way to follow to become it? Thank you very much
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 5, 2017 #2
    Are you talking about industrial employment, or an advisor position on PF?
  4. Aug 5, 2017 #3


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    What exactly is a "career of scientific advisor"? Can you provide a link that exemplify such a career?

  5. Aug 5, 2017 #4
    I was thinking more about industrial employment or consulting for administrations.
  6. Aug 5, 2017 #5
    1 What exactly is a "career of scientific advisor"? -> with scientific advisor I mean basically a consultant but in the scientific field. Let's give an example: If a company wants to switch from standard energy supplier to renewable energy one and needs to understand which is the best options among solar, wind, etc.. in that case the company can ask to a consultant to study the situation and find the most convenient solution.

    2 Can you provide a link that exemplify such a career? -> googling I find this link http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2014/09/science-careers-guide-consulting-careers-phd-scientists, I hope this can clarify what I mean :-)
  7. Aug 5, 2017 #6


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    Masters' Degree or higher in some field like Physics, or Engineering. If you want to include something Bio related, not sure what exactly to suggest. You did not say what focus in scientific advising you want to do. Geological? Geophysics? Mining? Environmental?
  8. Aug 5, 2017 #7


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    So you're asking how to become a consultant.

    I might take that article that you linked to with a grain of salt. They seem to imply that anyone with a PhD can simply walk into the consulting field. Maybe that's true in some sectors, but I'd be a little skeptical that someone would be willing to hire you for your opinion on something you know little-to-nothing about simply because you have a graduate degree.

    Getting into this kind of work in my field (Medical Physics) usually happens when someone has a specific skill set that a company might need on a temporary basis. An example might be commissioning a new linear accelerator. A lot of work needs to be done to set something like this up, and sometimes its easier to just hire someone for a month or two to do the work. When this happens, the employer or customer is usually looking for someone who has a solid track record in doing this kind of thing.

    That said, you might want to ask around at some of the bigger conferences in your field. If there's an industrial problem that often requires the expertise of people in your field, chances are there will be companies seeking people to help out with that at the major conferences, as well as other smaller companies or individuals advertising their services. To break into the market, you might want to talk to one of these individuals or small companies to get their take on the field and how you might enter it.
  9. Aug 5, 2017 #8
    Consulting straight out of grad school will likely be tricky. Depending on your field of physics, location, and other background, there are a few firms who hire consultants. I can give more specific advice of you PM me a resume or CV.

    Academic positions at less demanding (not R1) schools leave plenty of time for consulting and can help pay the bills while you grow a solo consulting business.
  10. Aug 6, 2017 #9
    Yes you are right. I am interested in field of renewable energy.
  11. Aug 6, 2017 #10
    Thank you very much for your suggestions :-)
  12. Aug 6, 2017 #11
    Thanks for your advice :-). What do you mean ``Academic positions at less demanding (not R1) schools''?
  13. Aug 6, 2017 #12


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    That is a US-specific term. It refers to the Carnegie Classification of universities and colleges:


    R1 is universities with the "highest level" of research activity. Lower-level universities and other types of bachelor's-granting schools usually also have some research activity (at varying levels), generally as a complement to their teaching activity which is their main mission.
  14. Aug 6, 2017 #13
    At schools without heavy research requirements, even a "heavy" teaching load often does not exceed 15 credit hours per semester - that's 15 or so student contact hours per week for 32 weeks a year. With office hours and prep time, the total burden can be about 25 hours per week, especially after a couple times through a course when prep times are greatly reduced. That's a full time salary (though not usually a great one) for about 800 hours per year, which leaves 1200 hours per year to bootstrap a consulting business (assuming a 2000 hour work year - 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year).

    But one needs to read the fine print in the faculty contract, and one also needs to get a favorable teaching schedule: classes close together and that one has taught before so one is not usually spending more than 10 hours per week on faculty duties outside the classroom.
  15. Aug 6, 2017 #14
    I had a position that might be described in this way. I was the in-house consultant for all mechanical systems questions for a medium sized aerospace manufacturer. I must say, it was great fun, and never, ever, was it dull. I was available to all the engineering staff on a walk-in basis, and some or their problems I could solve in 15 minutes, while others would take 15 days.

    I got that position because of a former student who was already employed with the company. When the company saw the need and began looking for someone, he put my name forward and that's how it came about. In a more general sense then, I think we could say that such things happen by knowing the right people and by being known to them.

    I should add that, at that time, I had almost 40 years of work experience, so this is not something likely to happen straight out of school.
  16. Aug 6, 2017 #15


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    Many years of experience counts heavily for ability to become consultant, as noted in Dr. D posting, #14. Many of those who have worked in some industry have seen this.
  17. Aug 7, 2017 #16
    Thank you very much for sharing your experience. It seems to me that this kind of job requires several years of experience maybe still in academy to reach a high level of expertise. Thus, could be useful to do may some years of post-doc?
  18. Aug 7, 2017 #17
    Thanks I did't know this :-)
  19. Aug 7, 2017 #18
    Thanks for your reply. I think that to obtain such a type of contracts one may need some years of post-doc? Or PhD is enough?
  20. Aug 7, 2017 #19
    Thank you for your reply. Now, my question is: could be better to do some some year of post-doc or it is more useful to search already from now on position in industry in order to acquire experience ?
  21. Aug 7, 2017 #20


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    What knowledge and skills do you currently have or aspire to have to offer potential clients ?
  22. Aug 7, 2017 #21
    Disclaimer: I am not a consultant, and I have never been a consultant. But I do know a handful of consultants, and, at one time, I considered becoming a consultant.

    A key point missing in the previous posts is this: there are several segments to the consulting business. The article you cited refers to Big Consulting Firms. There are also intermediate and small consulting firms and independent (solo) consultants. The intermediate and small consulting firms and independent consultants are typically narrowly focussed and typically require substantial (often 10 yrs+) work experience; the previous posts are primarily relevant to these segments.

    The Big Consulting Firms, however, are structured differently. From a simplified perspective, they have two major career tracks. One is specifically designed for consultants straight out of school. The firms run them through a training program to teach the new hires how to operate in the company mode. Remember, you will not be able to operate the way you did in the lab: there are tight time and money constraints. The other is designed for people with a lot of experience and a lot of connections. These are hired into senior positions, with the expectation that they will bring in new clients. If you have many years of industrial experience, but don't have a lot of connections that you can convert into clients, there's really no track for you. As always, there are exceptions, depending on supply and demand.

    I know two PhD physicists who got hired by Big Consulting Firms straight out of grad school, so it's possible. These firms operate world-wide; fluency in languages other than English is a big plus; as is experience with cultures outside the US. A brand name school on your resume also helps sell you to clients. So if you're really gung-ho about consulting, apply to the Big Consulting Firms; but talk to people in the business to determine whether that life is right for you.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2017
  23. Aug 7, 2017 #22


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    Either or both. A person with industrial experience who has maybe at least 10 PROGRESSIVE years experience from one or two companies regardless of undergraduate or graduate level degree may be a potential consultant.
  24. Aug 7, 2017 #23
    My experience is that post doc experience is more required by schools with a strong research focus. At schools with a primary teaching focus, you need a PhD and teaching experience - holding a few TA positions in grad school is more important than a post doc. The jobs include everything from faculty positions at community colleges to faculty positions at most smaller state universities and schools like military academies.
  25. Aug 7, 2017 #24


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    I think this depends on what type of consultant you are and where you work.
    The big technical consultancy firms (e.g. Anderson Consulting), is probably one of the biggest employers of recent PhD graduates here in the UK . Many companies in the field also have trainee programs aimed at recent graduates.
    I know a few people who got a PhD in my field (which isn't exactly industry focused) and then ended up as consultants.
  26. Aug 7, 2017 #25


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    Some smaller schools replace professors who are on sabbatical with temporary "visiting assistant professor" positions. These usually last one year, sometimes two. These are full-time salaried positions with a full teaching load which can expose you to a variety of courses, and include benefits like health insurance and possibly retirement-plan contributions. I was lucky to get a two-year position of this type, right after grad school. Then I got a tenure-track position at another school. Be prepared to move cross-country. I went (in the US) from the Midwest to the Northeast to the South.

    Larger universities may have some non-tenure-track full-time instructor-level positions for the introductory courses. A friend of mine in grad school did that for a few years after he finished his PhD.

    Then there are adjunct positions that pay per course, and usually don't involve a full teaching load. At the college where I recently retired, the rate is $2500 per course, with no benefits, and usually just one or two courses per semester. These positions fill needs for which it's not feasible to hire another full-time person, e.g. not enough courses to fill a full-time teaching schedule.
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