Written by: Catherine Sorbara, Ph.D.
I’m an introverted PhD.
Sometimes it feels like I hate people.
Or that they hate me.
Of course, I don’t hate people but most days I’m happy to not be around too many.
I used to think that this was my weakness.
I often felt nervous voicing my opinion during group discussions, feeling my ideas weren’t clever enough to share.
I would feel my face get hot and red whenever I tried to formulate a response to a question.
Even if I did come up with a great answer, I looked as uncomfortable as I felt.
The graduate students who were praised were the ones that spoke out during lab meetings and could convincingly talk about their work in public.
It seemed effortless for others.
For me, it always felt easier to articulate my ideas in writing, or one-on-one with my supervisor.
Group discussions were not my thing. Instead, I enjoyed sitting next to my computer with a cup of tea, with classical music playing while I tackled my thesis.
Yes, I actually enjoyed writing my thesis.
My experiments involved long hours in a microscopy room with little interaction with others — unless you count my rodent experimental subjects.
I was diligent and hardworking but never wanted to be the center of attention.
I was the definition of an introvert.
I was so comfortable in that environment that it was challenging for me to think of a career outside of academia that would allow me to utilize my skills without forcing me to change who I was.
Like most PhDs, I thought my career options ended as a research scientist.
I was unaware of all the doors that were open to me by having a PhD.
When I started to think more seriously about my next steps, I attended a ‘Women in STEM’ networking event.
The event theme was speed networking, where we took turns speaking one-on-one with other STEM women in 5-minute intervals.
Networking was outside of my comfort zone, but I felt I could handle 5-minute intervals.
It turned out to be the perfect opportunity to actively listen and learn about the careers of people in my area.
One of the women worked as a Scientific Editor.
The more she spoke, the more I realized that she possessed many of the same personality traits as I did.
I was fascinated by her work and followed up with her after the event for an informational interview.
I realized that being shy was actually a strength — my quiet nature also meant I was capable of great focus.
I was observant, thoughtful, and a great listener.
Which meant that I could use networking events like this one to learn and follow up thoughtfully and effectively.
It was the start of a new career path for me and I never looked back.
Why PhDs Should Not Shy Away From Being Shy
Shyness, or introversion, is not a weakness.
In fact, introverts make up one-third of the population, according to studies reported in the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Someone who prefers listening to speaking, reading at home rather than attending large, crowded networking events, and diligently works without seeking public approval.
Introverts recharge with solitude and self-care rituals.
This describes many PhDs.
Unfortunately, it was long thought that introverts were disadvantaged in industry and everywhere else.
That they should change and force themselves out of their shell to become more social.
Which makes introverts recoil immediately.
This mindset results in many PhDs taking jobs they are completely unsuitable for because they’ve failed to properly assess the position beforehand to ensure it is the right fit.
Recent data from over 5,000 employers showed that a little over 40% of all U.S. workers quit within the first six months of starting a new job because they did not realise what the job would actually be like.
There are many positions outside of academia where introverts can succeed and utilize the skills which make them unique.
You don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not.
Many roles require PhDs to work independently, with little supervision or face-to-face contact with others.
They need someone who can innovate, be creative and technically savvy — all skills introverted PhDs possess.
Top 5 Jobs for Introverted PhDs
It is important to find a role and a company that will allow you to thrive professionally.
You need to make sure you’re the right fit for the job and that the job is the right fit for you.
You have the guts to leave academia, so don’t feel forced to take a role that doesn’t suit your unique personality and makes you wish you were back at the bench.
Hiring managers will ask you behavioral questions to see whether you have the transferable skills for a role.
If you cringe at the thought of attending conferences, giving presentations, or working in teams, it will become evident immediately.
It will become painfully obvious in the job interview that you are not a suitable candidate, unless you’re really good at faking it or pretending to be someone else.
Either way, it won’t last and you won’t be happy.
Fortunately, there are many positions available for introverted PhDs, including these top 5 industry positions…
1. Technical Writer.
If you had a knack for creating research proposals and enjoyed the process of writing your dissertation, you might consider a career in scientific or technical writing.
Every major technology or pharmaceutical-based company requires people who can take large volumes of information and create documentation for a wide variety of audiences.
This can include advertising material, instruction manuals, design specifications, and business reports, to name a few.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of technical writers will grow 10% over the next 10 years, faster than the average for all occupations, leading to vast employment opportunities for PhDs.
This role requires that you do a lot of research and information gathering, and stay abreast of recent developments in the field.
More importantly, in many companies, you can do this without ever leaving the office.
Travel is rare and working independently from a home office is quite common.
There is no team component — written pieces will be sent to a senior editor and you will receive feedback and corrections in return.
An introvert’s dream.
2. Quantitative Analyst.
If you are more of a numbers person than a writer, one very lucrative but often overlooked role is that of a Quantitative Analyst or “Quant”.
This person applies mathematical and statistical methods to financial and risk management problems.
They go on to develop and implement complex models used by firms to make financial and business decisions on important issues, such as investments and pricing.
Typically, PhDs in Mathematics, Statistics, Physics, Engineering, or some areas of Computer Science, would fit this niche well.
The demand is high and will continue to grow as risk management becomes an ever-important factor in the financial sector.
This high demand also leads to financial rewards for employees, as many of these roles are located in major financial centres such as New York, Hong Kong, London, and Paris.
According to Glassdoor, the average pay for a quantitative analyst is £65,975 per year in London and $121,437 per year in New York.
Besides being financially rewarding, success in this field is based on merit, dedication, and knowledge, rather than on networking.
You have to be able to thrive in an environment with little supervision and under pressure — both things that PhDs, in particular those with introvert tendencies, may know and prefer.
3. Patent Examiner.
A patent examiner is someone with a scientific or engineering background that helps regulate the granting of patents.
According to the recent Annual Report from the European Patent Office, the number of European patent filings is growing (currently at a rate of +1.6%), reaching an all-time high of nearly 279,000 — indicating the continual growth of global innovation and the growing necessity for this role.
Examiners must use their technical expertise to look at patent applications and compare them against previous patents.
Ultimately, they determine the patent’s technical validity, originality, and whether it is explained in a manner that is understandable to a skilled person.
Once the evaluation has taken place, the patent examiner makes a final decision regarding the novelty, and discusses and negotiates the final decision with the applicant and patent attorney.
PhDs interested in this role should develop an understanding of patents and intellectual property law, which can be achieved through their university’s Office of Technology Transfer.
Much of the day-to-day in this role involves searching databases, keeping up-to-date on the latest technological advances, writing, and ultimately, working alone.
Most communication occurs one-on-one with the patent attorney and client, something which is advantageous to many introvert personality types.
4. Clinical Data Manager.
Before a drug is brought to market, it undergoes a long, stringent clinical trial process to gain regulatory approval.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America reported that in a single year, the biopharmaceutical industry sponsored 6,199 clinical trials of medicines in the U.S., involving a total of 1.1 million participants and spending nearly $10 billion.
Given the investment, both of money and people, the running of a clinical trial, the accuracy and sound handling of the collected data is imperative.
In clinical data management, generation of high-quality, reliable and statistically sound data is controlled.
This data must be collected, maintained, and analysed in an efficient and error-proof manner.
Such a role requires that you are knowledgeable about a range of factors that can affect a clinical trial, such as the demographics of the patient population and adverse side-effects of the tested drug compound.
Most of these positions can be found in pharmaceutical companies, contract research organizations, or anywhere which serves as a site for clinical trials.
For the introvert, your interaction with others is limited to one-to-one consultations to discuss good data management practise.
This allows your strengths to be used regularly.
Most of your time is spent working with the database — cleaning, reconciliation, importing and exporting data, and project management skills are highly valued.
5. Scientific Editor.
Ever wish you could be the one deciding the fate of submitted manuscripts to those prestigious journals?
A career in scientific publishing brings together many skills that PhDs possess while being ideal for introverts.
Scientific editors of academic journals assess submitted manuscripts and manage the peer review process.
They may also be involved in editing accepted manuscripts, compiling journal issues, developing new content, and writing news pieces and editorials for social media.
Editors have the advantage of reading the latest scientific breakthroughs before they are published, while ensuring the integrity of the peer-review process is upheld.
Something you’re already familiar with and may already love.
Although editors have a lot of contact with authors, editorial board members, and reviewers — on a day-to-day basis most, if not all, contact is done through email or social media with no face-to-face contact necessary.
This makes it ideal for those that shy away from networking or social atmospheres, or get overwhelmed with high levels of multiple interactions throughout the day.
There is no indication that employment opportunities for this role will decrease any time soon, as the number of articles published each year and the number of journals have both grown steadily for over two centuries, by about 3% and 3.5% per year, respectively, according to a recent study from The STM Report (International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers).
The great thing about transitioning into industry is that it opens the door to so many new career opportunities for PhDs. By assessing your skills, both technical and transferable, you can find a job that aligns with your strengths and allows you to grow professionally. There is no need to pigeonhole yourself into bench-only positions just because you’re an introvert. If you prefer to work alone and with little contact with others, there are many roles that are perfect for you where your personality is what hiring managers are looking for.
To learn more about PhD jobs for people who hate people, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.
Latest posts by Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D. (see all)
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