Description: Nonprofit organizations, as entities that work through humanitarian, charitable, and educational means to improve the human condition, afford a particularly attractive path for scientists with deep commitments to the goals of the organizations that exist within this sector. Scientific nonprofit organizations include professional associations, advocacy groups, and private foundations. There exist many venues for conducting research itself, as represented by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Cold Spring Harbor Research Laboratory, The Scripps Institute, The Broad Institute, etc., but as well by a vast array of smaller non-profits that conduct highly targeted research. Nonprofits such as the National Science Foundation, American Cancer Association, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, etc., provide support for policy, research, and education. Still other organizations are more intimately connected to the well-being of specific communities and ethnic groups. Professional associations develop and shape policy, and many are responsible as well for scientific publications. Thus, almost every type of path that a graduate of a biomedical program might pursue – research, education, grants management, policy, public health, writing, and publication – has its place in the nonprofit sector. The chief reward for work in a nonprofit, at least as commonly cited, is the ability to effect social change that aligns with one’s passion. Other rewards, especially in the smaller nonprofits, are the opportunities to develop wide-ranging skill sets and to become more easily involved in setting goals and strategies. Disincentives can include salary (although there is apparently a wide range), burnout, and sometimes circuitous routes of advancement owing to relatively stable hierarchical structures.
Advantage of advanced degree: The advantages of a PhD degree relate to the skills it connotes and a knowledge base appropriate to the goals of the nonprofit. A PhD will be a driving force in credibility and advancement.
Key competencies: Any and all skills developed through biomedical training can be required in the nonprofit sector. Detailed discussions of skills relevant to scientific writing, policy, communication, etc., can be found elsewhere in this website.
First steps: The most often cited factor that relates to satisfaction and success in the nonprofit sector is the degree of commitment, i.e. passion, the individual has for a cause represented within the sector. With the recognition of such a commitment, the first step is to contact individuals within relevant organizations for informational interviews.
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