With an eye to the burgeoning number of biomedical doctorates being awarded and the steady or shrinking employment opportunities for Ph.D.s at universities, some scientists are heading back to academia as students to improve their marketability in the worlds of corporate management or scientific publishing.
A pioneer in equipping scientists with the tools to advance through the upper echelons of private industry is Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management in Ithaca, N.Y., which last June began a new 12-month MBA option for scientists and engineers. Nearly one-third of the first year's class of about 30 students have Ph.D.s, and the remainder have earned at least a master's degree.
"We didn't mount this program as a public service to scientists. We did it because we thought properly trained scientists could be a tremendous benefit to the business community," says Richard Highfield, director of Cornell's MBA program, noting that a recent Cornell survey found that senior corporate managers say that less than half of their colleagues are technologically literate.
Taking advantage of scientists' and engineers' previous analytical training and experience, Cornell's special program allows such students to move through the MBA course work in 12 months instead of the customary 16. Rather than making scientists sit through traditional MBA core courses that teach quantitative methods with which they are already proficient, the 12-month option focuses immediately on the business applications of such skills. As is the case with most top business schools, Cornell's MBA isn't cheap: the 12-month option carries a tuition price tag of about $32,000. On the positive side of the ledger, a 1995 survey of MBA programs by U.S. News & World Report shows that 94% of Cornell MBAs are employed three months after graduation at a median salary of $58,500.
The MBA program that ranked No. 1 in the U.S. News survey, MIT-Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Mass., also offers a 12-month master's degree program in conjunction with MIT's School of Engineering. That intensive program, which costs about $40,000 in tuition and was established 15 years ago as the nation's first advanced business degree in technology management, is expressly for mid-career engineers and scientists who will handle increasing managerial responsibilities on the technical or manufacturing side of private- or public-sector organization.
"We welcome those Ph.D.s who want to branch beyond the bench," says Rochelle Weichman, director of the MIT Management of Technology Program, noting that applicants must have a minimum of five years of post-university experience and usually have a technical background. One potential drawback of the program for NIH postdocs is that most of the 45 students admitted already have experience in private industry. Ninety-eight percent of MIT-Sloan's graduates have a job three months after graduation, with a median salary of $68,000.
But what if a career-swapping scientist craves excitement more than money? One answer may lie in the handful of science writing or journalism programs that are aimed at students with an academic background in science. Located at Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in Baltimore, the nationally recognized Writing Seminars program, for example, offers a master's degree in writing about science. The program, currently headed by Barbara J. Culliton, the editor-in-chief of Nature Medicine, runs nine months and costs about $20,000 in tuition. However, as Culliton notes, Master's candidates often receive scholarships that offset some of the tuition cost.
"If what you want is practice in writing, practice in translating scientific results for the lay person, this is a good program," says Ann Finkbeiner, a visiting assistant professor who runs a course patterned after scientific news conferences. "But it's not like a journalism school." Rather, the Johns Hopkins program encompasses all genres of science writing, including essays, book reviews, and even fiction. Some alumni now work at major consumer and scientific publications like Time and Science. Others are writing books, reporting for newspapers or broadcasting outlets, or pursuing careers in science education.
Although it offers a certificate rather than a master's degree, the University of California at Santa Cruz's science writing program-the only one in the nation to require that applicants have significant previous training in science-also boasts a solid track record when it comes to employment. Many Santa Cruz alumni are working as public information officers at universities and government research institutions. However, recent graduates have also found jobs at the Dallas Morning News, New Scientist, and U.S. News & World Report, and graduates of earlier years are working everywhere from Science News to the Philadelphia Inquirer to NBC Nightly News.
John Wilkes, director of the Santa Cruz program, says he's found that pay levels for science writers generally parallel those for academics. Science-writing graduates with a master's degree in science earn starting salaries in the $30,000-$40,000 range, while top-notch science writers with five or more years of experience are able to command $50,000-$70,000 at national publications. Although he doesn't turn away Ph.D.s, Wilkes cautions that the transition to science writer is usually more difficult for people with doctorates than for hose with master's or undergraduate science degrees. "Ph.D.s are the hardest ones to retread," he says, noting that the narrow scope and relatively inflexible focus required to earn a Ph.D. are at odds with the flexibility and large-picture view demanded of a good science writer.