Life outside the lab: The ones who got away

Ewen Callawa in Nature:

LabWhen Soroosh Shambayati left his organic-chemistry lab, he didn't leave chemical synthesis behind. As a chemist PhD turned investment banker, he started working in the derivatives market in the 1990s. The transactions involved arranging a complex series of trades in a precise order, and it reminded him of synthesizing an organic compound, reaction by reaction. As a graduate student, Shambayati had excelled at synthesis, just as he did at everything he turned his hand to. He was “other-worldly brilliant”, says his former adviser Stuart Schreiber. He juggled three distinct projects during his PhD, one in organic synthesis, one in theoretical physical chemistry and a third in biochemistry and immunology. He was also calm, thoughtful and well read: his bookshelf spans science philosophy, evolutionary biology and physics. Schreiber, a biochemist at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, knew that if Shambayati wanted to become an academic scientist, he was sure to succeed. “It was very clear to me that he was going to become a star,” he says. But Shambayati chose the financial world — and excelled there instead: he is now chief executive at Guggenheim Investment Advisors (Suisse) in Geneva, Switzerland, a firm that manages billions of dollars for wealthy families and foundations.

Shambayati is among the hundreds of thousands of scientists who train in academia but then leave to follow a different career. According to the latest survey of doctorate recipients conducted by the US National Science Foundation, nearly one-fifth of employed people with science and engineering PhDs were no longer working in science in 2010. This is partly due to a lack of room at the top. In the United States, the number of PhDs entering the workforce has skyrocketed but the number of stable academic jobs has not. In 1973, nearly 90% of US PhDs working in academia held full-time faculty positions, compared with about 75% in 2010.

More here.