I'm about to graduate with MSc Bioinformatics, but do not seem to be decided on whether to pursue PhD position in an academic institution or to look for a job with a company in the bioindustry. My real fear is that, after having spent 4 yrs to graduate with a PhD, I can't find a Postdoc. On the other hand, companies are not hiring at these difficult times with the economy. What do you advise ....
If you acquire a Ph.D., you will have no problem finding a postdoctoral position. However, that is in fact where the problems can start. You should only go into academia if the academic career path is what appeals to you, which means: performing research, writing papers, writing grants (endlessly) and dealing with their rejection, aspiring to run your own research group, achieving a tenured position. You do not want to get stuck on the postdoctoral treadmill if these things are not your long term goal.
If you feel that a Ph.D. qualification would be advantageous to your future career (i.e. you want positions that require it) and you enjoy research, by all means do a Ph.D. Don't do one for the wrong reasons, which include: feeling that it's expected of you, to delay decisions for a few years or because you can't figure out what else to do.
There are always jobs for intelligent, qualified, enthusiastic and motivated people. They may take some time and effort to find, but you will find them if you want them. Make decisions for positive reasons ("this is what I want"), not because they are the "least bad option" and you won't go far wrong. Be aware of the options too; it's not necessarily as simple as academia versus industry - I'm a bioinformatician with a government agency.
You seem to think you need to choose between a PhD and industry. Actually, there are masters level jobs in academic settings, and semi-academic settings (such as a hospital or govt). I would encourage you to find one.
Having worked both in academia and industry, I will likely never return to industry again. Every company is different. I think working for a sequencer company, for instance, might be a lot of fun. But in my experience:
- Most industrial bioinformatics departments are not going to be publishing much, if at all. They typically serve a wet lab research arm that is not interested in bioinformatics software development. The intellectual property arm will likely view all efforts for you to publish with suspicion. The lack of publications can make it very difficult for you to return to academia or even switch to another company. Blogging becomes increasingly important in maintaining a lifeline with the bioinformatics community, and often that is looked upon with a leery eye.
- Industrial bioinformatics cores often do not have a critical mass of people interested in bioinformatics, and can often be composed of a ragtag bunch of old corporate refugees from wet lab and IT departments, who prefer industry for its work-family balance. The curiosity level can be quite low. The attitude toward innovation can be downright hostile. Someone right out of grad school will likely feel isolated and trapped in this setting. Depression can set in. You turn to alcohol to deal with the all the anger and frustration you keep bottled up.
But hey, there are some advantages to industry:
- Hardware resources are often far superior. It is no major sacrifice for a big company to drop $30k for a server.
- Salaries are higher. Given what I've stated above I suggest you not accept less than a 50% premium to work in industry over a comparable job in academia. It can be difficult to get more than a 20-30% premium.
- Parking tends to be easier. Better chairs.
You should keep in mind that only a couple % PhD students will end up as tenured professors. This implies that you will most likely have to leave academia at some point in your professional career, be it after your MSc, PhD or even post-doc. I believe that your current decision should be based on the expectation of your future employers. Pick now what you would like to do most, and get the optimal (i.e. competitive) education and skills.
The only way you would not get a good job with a PhD in bioinformatics is if the career was not well suited and does not fit your natural skills and interests. That's what you need to figure out first and foremost.
Besides coursework and domain specific preparation you must also be genuinely interested and willing to learn advanced programming concepts, gain expertise using and managing the Unix operating system, obtain hands on experience handling and managing large scale data sets. If you do that you'll have no problems neither today nor in the future.
From my perspective, I think finding a postdoc is actually easier than finding a full-time Master's-level job. So purely from a jobs perspective, the Ph.D. is probably the "better" route.
Of course, as others have pointed out, the job prospects I think shouldn't be the primary factor (though it certainly should be a factor). I think there are two more basic questions. First, do you really enjoy doing bioinformatics research? The worst scenario is that you get half-way through your Ph.D. (or even all the way through) and decide that's not going to get you where you want to go. Second, how much independence do you want in your future job? Having the Ph.D. definitely sets you up to have a bit more independence right off the bat, whereas a master's or bachelor's scientist needs to do a bit more on-the-job to earn that independence. I think the future job prospects fall third in this list -- if you're passionate and good at what you do, then you'll have no problem finding a job with either degree.