In alignment with the National Science Foundation’s vision statement, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) occasionally posts articles about scientists who pursue careers outside the traditional path of post-doc, research and tenure-track university positions. Dr. Beth Carpenter holds a Ph.D. from Uniformed Services University in Emerging and Infectious Diseases. Her career path has steered away from the post-doctoral research and tenure-track positions at universities.
Dr. Carpenter entered graduate school already knowing that her career goal was to earn a doctoral degree to teach science, rather than conduct research – specifically her goal was to teach undergraduate students. “Understanding this gave me a lot of freedom in my program,” Carpenter says. “I chose the preventative medicine track because it provided a broader exposure to knowledge than other specializations.” And, luckily for her, her Ph.D. advisor supported her goal.
Carpenter’s planning paid off: She is now in her fifth year at Seton School in Manassas, VA, where she is science department head and teaches chemistry to high school students. She is also an adjunct professor of biology at University of Maryland University College, where she has taught biology to undergraduate students since receiving her Ph.D.
It took more than a Ph.D. to open the doors to the classroom, says Carpenter. She was fortunate that her Ph.D. program included professors who were teaching at community colleges in addition to their research. They helped her craft a personal statement of teaching philosophy and frame her CV to reflect her teaching experience. And if she could do it again, she says, she would look for funding to attend an education conference to help her establish connections in the field of education.
The key to re-aligning a traditional career path to meet her personal goals were planning and persistence. Carpenter advises students to seek opportunities that develop the skills and experiences needed to transition to their intended career goals. “There are probably scientists in your department who can help you,” says Carpenter. Advisors can help students identify opportunities by tracking the career paths of former students and remaining open-minded to their students’ goals.
“Teaching biology to high school and undergraduate students is where we can help the public understand how biology fits into their lives,” says Carpenter. “We need good science teachers to teach science and build interest in science.”
Do you know someone who’s used their Ph.D. in biological sciences or a related discipline to pursue a career outside the academic environment? Click on the feedback link above…we may share their story!