6 Perspectives Of Working In Industry (or, What It’s Like To Transition Into A Non-Academic Career)

Written by 6 successful Associates.

Have you ever considered what it’s like to transition into an industry job after spending a lifetime in academia?

Have you ever wondered if you could transition into a non-academic career?

If so, who better to ask than other PhDs who have transitioned successfully…

arron-bar1. What is your name, your full job title, the full name of the company you work for, and how many months or years have you been with this company now?

Aaron Kellogg, Ph.D., Medical Science Liaison, Shire, 8 months.

2. Your biggest or most satisfying career goal you’ve reached since transitioning into industry?

– Passing my validation tests to be allowed in to the field and I have started to take a leadership role in some projects.

3. What’s been your biggest learning experience or Ah-Ha moment since transitioning into your new role?

-The biggest learning experience so far has been the compliance training.

4. How is your current industry position different than your academic postdoc or experience as a graduate student? 

-There is a much more cooperative atmosphere in industry than in academia. There is also a much greater focus on concrete deliverables.

5. If you could go back in time to before you received your job offer and give yourself one piece of advice or encouragement, what would it be?

-Don’t lose hope. It takes time to gain the connections and skills to make that transition that were neglected or unknown during graduate program and post-doc fellowship.

6. What was the most memorable moment for you (so far) as a Cheeky Scientist Associate? 

-All of the lessons about LinkedIn and the use of networking in job search. When going on some of my interviews one the points that was consistently brought up was how effectively I was using LinkedIn to reach hiring managers.

7. What do you see as the next step in your career? 

-My next step is for a promotion to senior MSL. My long-term goals are to become a regional and then a national team lead position.

8. How can the Association and the Association’s members help you continue to achieve your career goals? 

-The best way that I see members helping me to continue to achieve goals at this stage is encouragement to keep pursuing them and as time goes on an ability to interact with other associates that are on the same career path I am on and compare strategies.

9. Now that you’ve spent some time working in industry, what is the biggest takeaway(s) you’d like to share with those Associates who are still executing their job search?

-Set you goals higher than you think. You may be surprised at just how high you can actually reach. Realize the transition can take time, don’t lose hope and keep working at it.

julia

1. What is your name, your full job title, the full name of the company you work for, and how many months or years have you been with this company now?

Julie Dela Cruz, Ph.D., Facial Aesthetics Publication Planning Specialist; Allergan. I have been working for this company for 10 months.

2. Your biggest or most satisfying career goal you’ve reached since transitioning into industry?

-I have learned how to moderate a cross-functional team meeting, making sure that my voice is heard.

3. What’s been your biggest learning experience or Ah-Ha moment since transitioning into your new role?

My biggest learning experience is that even though my PhD is in Neuroscience, as a PhD student, I learned how to learn – I caught on to the field of dermatology and facial aesthetics very quickly.

4. How is your current industry position different than your academic postdoc or experience as a graduate student? 

1) I get to work with a very collaborative, cross-functional team. If I don’t know the answer to something, I can always ask someone, instead of trying to figure it out myself. This helps for a more efficient publication process.

2) I do have evenings and weekends free, which is great. When I do have to work overtime, I actually get paid for working overtime!

5. If you could go back in time to before you received your job offer and give yourself one piece of advice or encouragement, what would it be?

There is light at the end of the tunnel! Don’t get discouraged! The hardest part was getting the PhD! Persevere and you can do it! Also, make sure you are open to opportunities. I knew I wanted to be in science communications, but I was aiming more towards an MSL role. It was a recruiter that contacted me and informed me about the publication specialist position. If I wasn’t as open, I would have never gotten this job.

6. What was the most memorable moment for you (so far) as a Cheeky Scientist Associate? 

I learned how to network and I think the private group is still great to read things, even though I have already been working in my job, I’ve also made some great networking connections, that will be useful in the future, both for me and for the people I networked with.

7. What do you see as the next step in your career? 

I’m still exploring what I want to do, but maybe I was thinking of a clinical scientist position. I am still using the informational interview skills that I learned from Cheeky Scientist- to learn from Allergan colleagues.

8. How can the Association and the Association’s members help you continue to achieve your career goals?

I could probably do some informational interviews on the careers I want to explore with CS associates that are in the area that I wanted to explore.

9. Now that you’ve spent some time working in industry, what is the biggest takeaway(s) you’d like to share with those Associates who are still executing their job search?

Network, network, network. And persevere!

morgan

1. What is your name, your full job title, the full name of the company you work for, and how many months or years have you been with this company now?

My full title is: Morgan H. Bye MSci (Hons), PhD, MRSC.

I work for an independent centre of the BC Cancer Agency (as in British Columbia of Canada).

Officially it’s (a bit of a mouthful):

Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, a research centre of BC Cancer Agency.

Job title:

Computational biologist and pipeline manager.

Duration:

I’m here 3 months, but it was a 3-month recruitment process so it feels much longer.

2. Your biggest or most satisfying career goal you’ve reached since transitioning into industry?

Working in a research lab for many years, I was always concerned with the real-world application of my work. For instance, I knew that best-case scenario my work might be a footnote in some clinical trial 10 to 20 years down the line. In my short time at BC Cancer, I have had 75 patient cases come across my desk for analysis, many of which pediatric. These are people, literally dying across the road in the hospital. There is no doubt in my mind that the work I do here is important, and gives some the opportunity for better lives.

3. What’s been your biggest learning experience or Ah-Ha moment since transitioning into your new role?

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or what school you went to. To borrow from Neil Gaiman, only 3 things matter here:

1) Do people like you?

2) Do you deliver results on time?

3) Are you good at your job?

Having 2 of the 3, means you can survive. Having all three means you thrive. No one cares about my publication history here, in fact, in an office surrounded by mathematicians and computer scientists almost no one knows I have a doctorate. The only thing they care about is, can they work with me, will I produce. Because the truth is, in the outside world, life really is a team sport and we win and lose together.

4. How is your current industry position different than your academic postdoc or experience as a graduate student? 

The biggest difference for me is that I’m spending the most time on things that I like. And this means that the philosophy is very different.  In academic research, absolute truth was pursued at all costs, no matter the time commitment, financial burden or personal sacrifice. In a clinical environment, timely results that can be acted on, right now, even with an error margin, are far more useful than a scientifically robust hypothesis.

5. If you could go back in time to before you received your job offer and give yourself one piece of advice or encouragement, what would it be?

Just keep going. It is worth doing your homework, being unemployed and asking yourself some really hard questions about it is you want to do. Take the time. Do not settle. You deserve to do something you love and sometimes that takes time to work out. The temptation will be there to take the easy option, to stay in your comfort zone, maybe you should just do another post-doc. Great things only happen when you step outside of your comfort zone.

6. What was the most memorable moment for you (so far) as a Cheeky ScientistAssociate?

The first 2 webinars with Michael. Though the first stories from the transition plan (the no word for retirement in Japan, the exhausted mice and escaping Auschwitz) are still pretty firmly engrained in my brain.

7. What do you see as the next step in your career?

I am using this position as a stepping-stone. I have wanted to change career paths into something more computer related for a long time, but no tech company would touch me without a track record. By finding a company where my technical abilities in one field outshone my lack of proven track record in software development, allows me to use this place as a half-way, build a track-record of skills and management and be in a strong position when I decide to move on.

8. How can the Association and the Association’s members help you continue to achieve your career goals?

I’d personally love to see an accountability package added to the end of the transition plan. That basically looks like “OK, so now you’ve had your new job for 3 or 6 months, let’s take stock. Evaluate, what’s good, what’s bad, how do we keep growing” This would be a great addition in any case, but for those just starting the transition plan and skim the whole thing, will have it anchored that it isn’t a “one day” thing, but the plan is genuinely going to take you through the first months of the new job too.

9. Now that you’ve spent some time working in industry, what is the biggest takeaway(s) you’d like to share with those Associates who are still executing their job search?

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you went to school, who your supervisor was, whether you’ve got a good recommendation or even if you published. I know many Cheekies are terrified by their publication history, and I know they have so much self-worth wrapped up in it that when Isaiah says “No one in industry cares about your publication history” they find it hard to believe. But trust me. No one cares. The only time anyone asked me about my publication history was in one (of the four interviews), they asked (having a PhD themselves) “you have a PhD, but I don’t see any publications on your resume. Do you have any?”. I replied, “yes, of course, I spent years in research, of course I published, but I didn’t feel that a full publication history was relevant on a one page resume”. That was it. Never mentioned again. Other than that. New Cheekies need to know that the grass is greener. My wife, is still chasing the professor dream, and I’ll support her 100% while she does. But I see it. I see the hours chasing an experiment that will probably never work. I see the supervisor that is never there. I see the quiet resent of friends any time one of them gets a research breakthrough, publication or grant. I see the departmental social events, where nobody really wants to talk to each other. I see the constant fear of being scooped. I see the constant hyper- competitive feedback loop that results in 10-12 hour days. I see the “being busy” rather than getting results.

And you know what. I don’t miss any of it.

seilia

1. What is your name, your full job title, the full name of the company you work for, and how many months or years have you been with this company now?

Seila Selimovic, Ph.D.; Health Science Policy Analyst / Program Officer; NIH; 10 months.

2. Your biggest or most satisfying career goal you’ve reached since transitioning into industry?

Working independently as a Program Director – advising on scientific breakthroughs and evaluating research progress.

3. What’s been your biggest learning experience or Ah-Ha moment since transitioning into your new role?

My new work environment is open to people with very different personalities – the right leadership enables all of us to thrive and excel. So, leadership can make or break a work experience (this one definitely exceeds all my expectations).

4. How is your current industry position different than your academic postdoc or experience as a graduate student? 

I have a 30,000-ft view of the scientific research – the big picture is what drives my work, not the details of a particular experiment. There is much more variety in terms of the research topics I come across, and I have to be very well versed in all of them. In a way, I am more of a generalist now, while still keeping up with the details of my own scientific field.

5. If you could go back in time to before you received your job offer and give yourself one piece of advice or encouragement, what would it be?

-Be persistent – never assume anything. Don’t assume that someone doesn’t want to talk to you / answer your e-mails. Chances are, your e-mail got lost in their inbox or their assistant did not give them your message.

6. What was the most memorable moment for you (so far) as a Cheeky Scientist Associate? (This could be an helpful conversation with another Associate, an introduction, or something you learned from the Association materials.)

I finally learned how to write an industry resume and cover letter. Besides that, what sticks out the most for me are the many helpful exchanges with other Cheekies. It is impossible to pick just one, so I’d say the most memorable thing for me is the continuous and unwavering support and advice from the entire Cheeky community.

7. What do you see as the next step in your career? 

I am applying for the next level job in this organization, the Health Scientist Administrator job (Program Director).

8. How can the Association and the Association’s members help you continue to achieve your career goals?

Accountability with respect to continued networking and learning how to incorporate that into my current job structure would be highly useful. In particular, I would like to figure out how to incorporate industry contact into my job.

9. Now that you’ve spent some time working in industry, what is the biggest takeaway(s) you’d like to share with those Associates who are still executing their job search?

Networking is key – I got the interview for this job solely through networking, but I got the job because of my credentials and my previous experience (and excellent recommendations). Also, a positive attitude is helpful both to you and your colleagues. Whatever the day brings, a deliberate positive outlook makes everything easier and helps you make the best out of every situation. Keep an open mind and try to learn as many different things as you can – you want to become indispensable to your organization. Your colleagues and supervisor tend to notice and value that. That really speaks to the culture of the organization – make sure it’s a good fit for you. I feel very lucky that I’ve chosen the right place in terms of job content and culture – and that they’ve chosen me.

shanta

1. What is your name, your full job title, the full name of the company you work for, and how many months or years have you been with this company now?

– My name is Shanta Boddapati, Ph.D., and I am a Bioprocess Scientist at Seattle Genetics. I have completed 6 months here.

2. Your biggest or most satisfying career goal you’ve reached since transitioning into industry?

The ability to help transform cancer therapeutics with contribution towards making antibody drug conjugates is extremely satisfying. Believe it or not, in 2001 I won a scholarship and told the panel that I would use engineering and biology to fight against incurable diseases. I am living my dream.

3. What’s been your biggest learning experience or Ah-Ha moment since transitioning into your new role?

People do not have endless samples, endless time to make decisions. There is a latent risk taking that happens every second where you need to be ok with 2 data points, piling on 4 different conditions in one experiment and just analyzing the best and worst cases rather than whole gamut of scenarios. Constraints really make it an environment that tests your decision making skills and your creativity and scientific knowledge helps in that but you need to be comfortable making these kinds of judgements. Everything is strategically aligned to the company’s goals so things are fast moving and fluid – projects get axed or pushed through depending on various stage gates that evaluate multiple factors based on likelihood of success.

4. How is your current industry position different than your academic postdoc or experience as a graduate student? 

My academic postdoc was about studying the biology of cancer. In graduate school I learned about producing antibodies and statistical tools like DOE, process control (classes) which I use now a lot. However the context was totally different. Also, I am only involved in the bioreactor stage at work whereas in the grads school lab I would do clone selection, purification, characterization etc. We never did any risk assessment or robustness studies which is a big thing in industry. We have teams that only focus on purification or only clone selection so that they can do these assessments for their focus area. Also, in my position I get a lot of help from 2 RAs.

5. If you could go back in time to before you received your job offer and give yourself one piece of advice or encouragement, what would it be?

It is just a matter of time before you transition into industry. Work on project management, communication and other soft skills. The work is totally doable but , learn to jump in and define your next project, breakdown deadlines and define tasks, take initiative to maybe upgrade a system or get a new technology into the group etc. Nobody will tell you what you need to do and that is what you need to get used to.

6. What was the most memorable moment for you (so far) as a Cheeky Scientist Associate?

The interview with Michael on interview dress code. He actually mentioned that somebody showed up in a stained shirt. I packed a backup outfit for myself wondering what I would do if my son spilt something on me or something crazy like that.

7. What do you see as the next step in your career? 

I am hoping to become a director and lead process development teams in biologics manufacturing.

8. How can the Association and the Association’s members help you continue to achieve your career goals?

It would be nice to have a meet up of professionals who have transitioned because there is a lot of information that can be valuable. We can help each other get to the next rung. In terms of accountability it would be nice to have a check in periodically to see how our network has grown, what new skills we have picked up and what we need to improve upon. I am curious to know if we can also have panel discussions for example – QC is something I am very curious about. Where to find these regulations, how to learn about them etc etc. I am happy to talk about industry standards in my area of work as well.

9. Now that you’ve spent some time working in industry, what is the biggest takeaway(s) you’d like to share with those Associates who are still executing their job search?

An academic career is just one of the so many options out there for us. Someone out there is bound to tell you that you are walking away because you failed and I am going to warn you to really look beyond all that. Every single one of us cannot be studying cancer pathways. Someone has to also make the tools you need, someone has to bring them to the market and some others have to decide which tools to sell. Look hard into your interests, likes, dislikes and strengths. I decided very early on that I was going to help cure diseases that caused pain and suffering. I picked a position that would exploit my strength of being interdisciplinary and I highlighted that a lot. The confidence you have from knowing you are very good at your job will help you stay on top of things when you step out of your comfort zone. Industry is very very team oriented so get used to interacting with lots of people, negotiating and solving problems with people. Finally, there is always always always a path you can carve out. Go for it!

valeria

1. What is your name, your full job title, the full name of the company you work for, and how many months or years have you been with this company now?

– Valeria Daniele, Ph.D.

– Data Scientist.

– Accenture.

– 7 months.

2. Your biggest or most satisfying career goal you’ve reached since transitioning into industry?

It’s too early to answer. 🙂

3. What’s been your biggest learning experience or Ah-Ha moment since transitioning into your new role?

Realizing I can do a job that I enjoy without the frustrations I felt in academia.

4. How is your current industry position different than your academic postdoc or experience as a graduate student?

– I am already considered as a professional.

– I am daily invited by my manager to give suggestions about the next steps, and I have the feeling that my opinion is taken into account.

5. If you could go back in time to before you received your job offer and give yourself one piece of advice or encouragement, what would it be?

Don’t think that you’re too old to change careers. Career transitions are normal, it’s just a matter of being patient and proceeding step by step.

6. What was the most memorable moment for you (so far) as a Cheeky Scientist Associate?

I could mention many moments, but probably the most significant one was when I discovered the existence of the Data Scientist profession reading an article on the CSA blog.  In a sense, I can say that it is thanks to the Association that I have transitioned into this career. 🙂

7. What do you see as the next step in your career? 

Career opportunities in my field are abundant, so at this moment I am still in the process of evaluating which one could be the best fit for me.

8. How can the Association and the Association’s members help you continue to achieve your career goals?

Networking opportunities.

9. Now that you’ve spent some time working in industry, what is the biggest takeaway(s) you’d like to share with those Associates who are still executing their job search?

-Stay confident, because you already have the skills to transition.

To learn more about the Cheeky Scientist Association, including how to get instant access to our award-winning PhD job search blue print and private PhD job referral network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

Join the wait list now because enrollment opens on Monday January 16th, 2017. Only PhDs on the wait list will have a chance to become an Associate.

Cheeky Scientist Association Learn More

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah is a Ph.D. in Anatomy & Cell Biology and internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant. He is an expert in the biotechnology industry and specializes in helping people transition into cutting-edge career tracks.

Isaiah believes that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life right now, you should make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.
Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.
  • Shawn Lyons

    This is really encouraging. And it’s astonishing to me that no one cares about your publication history or even which school you went to! I think I’ve been worrying about the wrong things. Thanks for letting us peek behind the curtainn.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Yes Shawn – this is such a common misconception! Industry cares about your business acumen, not your publication history. Highlighting your transferable skills is far and beyond the most important thing when applying. Glad you found it encouraging!

  • Carlie Stevenson, PhD

    Bravo! I loved this look at the perspectives from PhD’s who have transferred into industry position. Many of them reflect exactly what I felt after I first transitioned, which is that I was taken as a professional immediately, there was much more emphasis on the deliverables and cooperation, and that the upward mobility was so high. Great job, Cheekies!

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Agreed Carlie – the opportunities are endless once you make it to the other side.

  • Julian Holst

    Opportunity calls! I can’t wait until I’m done with academia completely. It won’t be long.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Absolutely Julian – can’t wait to hear your transition story!

  • Kathy Azalea

    Yahoo! This is fun! I really feel that we’ve been given a chance to really see how Cheeky Scientist helps people like us get new positions and make that transfer. Sounds really supportive! Thank you. 🙂

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Happy you liked it Kathy! It is an unbelievably supportive group that I am proud to be apart of.

  • Madeline Rosemary

    These are so encouraging. I really want to give a little shout-out to Morgan Bye, who says that it’s worth it to take the time, ask the right questions, and make sure you’re going to be doing what you love to do. I’m sure that I’m not alone in this, but my first position was just something that would make money and break the ice in the transition between academia and the real world. I didn’t really feel that confident, and I certainly had never heard of an organization like Cheeky. But even though I’m in a different place now, I still find it enlightening to hear from so many successful associates and how they feel when looking back and evaluating their own career paths.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      I couldn’t agree more Madeline. I think PhDs fear they are not ‘qualified’ enough for industry roles so they take the first job they see out of desperation but that will not satisfy them long term. Our Transition Plan helps change this mindset by looking at what type of professional lifestyle we want and then designing a path to get there.

  • Theo

    This is interesting. Everyone’s story is way different, but there are some common threads. I’m glad I’ve had a chance to get to know some of these different perspectives.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Great to hear Theo – everyone’s career path will certainly be different but there are common strategies that will increase your chance of success.

  • Marvin D’Esprit

    Wow, it does my heart good to hear that careers are abundant in industry science!

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Yes Marvin! There is plenty out there for PhDs!

  • Matthew Smithson PhD

    I enjoyed watching Shanta’s interview with Isaiah and reading about her ambitions and the kinds of support she received from CSA. I can definitely see the advantages of having a support system and various learning objectives designed to help make that transition from academia to industry a lot easier. I’m really impressed with the CSA in general and even more impressed now that I’m getting a closer look at some of the success stories.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Thank you Matthew – it is an amazing community to be apart of. The private group not only keeps you accountable for your job search but lends a helping hand along the way.

  • Harvey Delano

    Wow, this is a really great cross-section of points of view, and all of them are positive. When I hear people say that their positions are better than they expected, I’m completely encouraged and ready for more.

  • Sonja Luther

    I’ve always enjoyed reading the posts from Cheeky Scientist, even though I’m not a PhD, but this really gives me hope that I’m on the right track by networking and emphasizing a positive outlook and transferable skills as I move up my career path. I just want to thank everyone who took part in this for their generosity in sharing their stories, hopes, dreams, and successes. This is great work and so helpful for any ambitious, intelligent person.