1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Taking years off: is a career still possible?

  1. Feb 4, 2015 #1
    I'm studying at a trade school right now, to pursue a career not in the sciences. I'm also considering pursuing a degree(s) in a field of science later on, not just because of the additional job market, or the additional skills, but also because of a love and respect for the subjects, and a desire to contribute actively to them, in some small way.

    In talking with one of my classmates, though, I was a little discouraged; he is a chemist, with a Ph.D. and years of experience in the field. I can't remember the specifics or the reasons, but he had taken a few years off of actively working in the field, and he found that, if he ever wanted to return, he would have to go back to the post-doctorate level (not exactly the most financially secure stage in a scientist's professional life cycle). So basically, he left the field entirely so he could still support his family.

    Now, I know that this may look like a really bad idea for many reasons, but being that I'm still in the beginning stages of considering pursuing my love of science academically, I figure if there's ever a time to risk asking a stupid or obvious question, it's now. So. Hypothetically, if I were to pursue say, a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in a field of science, luck out and manage to find a good job in the field while working on another trade in my spare time, then leave the field for a few years to work professionally in the other field, would I still be likely to find a job in the sciences at all, or would that basically be a professional suicide? Is there a specific "danger zone" so to speak (a certain amount of time not actively involved in the field at which point you are considered worthless to an employer), and/or does this vary from field to field?
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 4, 2015 #2
    I do not know if your hypothetical question will work or not. But in my opinion what will work might be like this: You do a masters in science and find a job, after getting some experience you can decide whether you want to change your field or not. If no you can continue doing job in your field or go for more specialization like M Phil, PHD etc. If you want to change field you can study business like MBA and if you are lucky with relevant experience you may get a job with different field... IMHO... Disclaimer: all of my logic may fails
  4. Feb 5, 2015 #3
    I spoke with this classmate more, and he told me that ironically enough, his Ph.D. is what really did it. Apparently, with a Ph.D., you cannot be paid less than a certain salary and to an employer, his years out of the field, combined with his minimum salary, made him a completely unviable candidate for any job position they could offer him.

    It seems to me that - theoretically - if I want to be able to freely move between these two careers, I would be best off getting a masters and not even considering a Ph.D. This was also the advice he gave me.

    Is this true/consistent with anyone else's experience or knowledge of employment standards in a particular branch of science?
  5. Feb 6, 2015 #4


    User Avatar
    2017 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    An academic career starts with a PhD. Avoiding that is hard to impossible in many fields.
  6. Feb 6, 2015 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    This may be true in certain part of the job market, but in the academic world, there's no such thing as being overqualified. You will need a PhD if you want to even be considered a job in academia, especially for a tenure-track position, as mentioned by mfb. You can convince this yourself by looking at the APS/AIP job listing, if you don't believe any of us.

    Considering that there are more PhDs out there than there are tenure-track positions, what are the chances that you will even be considered for such a position in light of the competition with other candidates with high qualifications? A lot of questions that had been asked like this ("what are my chances of getting such-and-such a job") often ignored the fact that there are other equally or more qualified candidates seeking for the same job.

  7. Feb 6, 2015 #6
    Yes with PhD there can be problems if you do not have experience. That is why I told you to get a job first . By masters I meant a four years degree course. Also I think after switching career/field you may not be able to go for a PhD because this change of field and additional study of other subject will definatey take time.
    Again these are my guess works …. Perhaps if you become more specific like the subjects you want to learn I think more peoples may be able to answer you.
  8. Feb 6, 2015 #7
    Thanks everyone for your input.

    I've been keeping my questions perhaps unnecessarily hypothetical up to now, but let me at least say that I personally am not interested in a career in academia. If I were, I doubt I'd be considering work in two separate fields and instead, would be devoting myself to a Ph.D. and preparation for a competitive job market.

    I'm also not 100% certain on exactly which branch of science I would like to work in, but I would much rather be involved in research (a lab technician for example) or engineering. Really, anything outside of academia. As for specific fields, astronomy, physics and chemistry all interest me, and probably in that order. The field that most interests me is astrobiology, but work in that area without a Ph.D. is pretty much unheard of (and even then, you're just working in your own specialization, as I understand it), so that's not something I'm setting my sights on.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: Taking years off: is a career still possible?
  1. Taking a few years off (Replies: 4)