What it is

This vast category includes government positions at the bench, slightly off-bench, and far from the bench. In the US, one can work for the government as an employee or a contractor. Only US citizens may become employees, but permanent residents may serve as contractors. In Canada, working for the government is called “public service” and Canadian citizens are given preference over non-citizens. STEM PhDs work in a great many agencies, not exclusively those that have something to do with science. You do not necessarily have to live in the national capital of your country to work for the government. Government agencies have labs and offices all over the country.

Starting points

STEM PhDs can start as research scientists at the bench or as any number of titles in non-bench positions too numerous to list; science policy and research administration are good places to begin a career away from the bench. For US government jobs, see the USAjobs website, while Canadian government jobs can be found through the Public Service Resourcing System.


Once in, you can advance in almost any direction; it is easier to change jobs or agencies when you are in the system. Depending on your position, you can also transition into industry, or back into higher education, or into other sectors to which you have gained exposure.


All STEM disciplines have a place in government.

Personality and outlook

Depends on the role. The closer you are to the bench, the less of an extrovert you will need to be. However, all government workers are accountable to the public, which imposes a layer of coordination, review and reporting that requires social interaction. It helps to be a patient person with a tolerance for bureaucracy.


Skills trump subject matter knowledge for non-bench positions, so if you want to enter government and leave the bench, build your non-academic skills relating to positions that interest you. For bench research positions in national labs and such, your academic preparation is sufficient. National labs are often culturally similar to the academy. Applications often require only an academic CV rather than a resume.

Real Life Examples