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Leaving the Lab Life

When young, rising science superstars opt to leave their lab lives behind, partly due to a lack of opportunities, they often find excellence and rewards in other fields, Ewen Callaway writes in Nature.

The chemist Soroosh Shambayati shrugged of his future as an organic chemist in the 1990s to launch into a career trading derivatives as an investment banker.

Shambayati was "other-worldly brilliant" at chemical synthesis, former adviser says, but he applied his mind to become chief executive at Guggenheim
Investment Advisors, which manages billions of dollars for wealthy people and foundations.

Shambayati's move beyond academia is part of a trend, Callaway writes. He is one among "the hundreds of thousands of scientists who train in academia but then leave to follow a different career."

According to the National Science Foundation, nearly one-fifth of science and engineering PhDs were no longer working in science in 2010, partly due to "a lack of room at the top." While the number of PhDs in the US has skyrocketed, the number of academic jobs has not kept pace.

In 1993, nearly 90 percent of US PhDs in academia had full-time faculty positions, compared with around 75 percent in 2010.

Although it is commonly thought that it is the weaker students who are being pushed out, while the brightest stars are getting the top notch academic posts, Shambayati's tale shows this is not always the case: "sometimes the scientists who move on are the ones with the most promise."