Cheeky Logo
Ready To Get Hired?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

5 Reasons Only Certain PhDs Should Transition Into Research Scientist Positions In Industry

I was one of the lucky ones.

The principal investigator I worked for was not a fear-monger.

He allowed me to develop the transferable skills I needed to transition into industry.

So that’s what I did.

I set out to make myself a strong candidate for industry R&D positions.

I knew all along that for me, being a research scientist in industry was better than staying in academia.

In graduate school, I saw confident people turn into weak-minded PhDs, who were unable to manage and overcome academic stress.

Post-docs spent all their time at the lab bench, yet were being paid less than librarians. 

I wanted a brighter future than this.

Now I’m a research scientist in industry and I consider my future to be very bright.

The research I do in industry is cutting edge and has promise to help thousands of patients.

Every day I wake up, go to work and feel happy and satisfied because I know my efforts benefit people’s lives.

I’m not just creating knowledge for the sake of knowledge, I’m creating knowledge and helping to translate it into treatments, medicines, technologies, and other products.

Still—there was a lot I wasn’t prepared for in industry.

The life of an industry research scientist is very different from the life of an academic research scientist.

There are fundamental differences in the work culture of industry versus academia.

You should learn these differences now, not later.

Since we are each trained with an academic mind, it is essential to acknowledge these differences  in order to nail your R&D interview and make a successful transition.

Why Should You Consider A Career In R&D?

The technical aspect of research in industry is not much different from that of academia.

You still spend long hours at the bench, analyze data and plan new experiments to move your project forward.

So why transition out of academia?

First, the number of tenured professors at universities is steadily declining.

Even worse, according to a report by the U.S. House of Representatives, a large portion of non-tenure-track professors live below the poverty line.

The professional risk of staying in academia has become too great.

Second, a U.K. government report indicates that people employed in the Life Science Industry (not in academia) earn more than average income than those employed in any other sector of the economy.

The R&D sectors are growing, especially in the biotechnology and biopharmaceutical fields.

A large R&D Trends Forecast by The Industrial Research Institute found that hiring expectations for both established R&D professionals and new graduates are continuing their growth across almost every industry segment.

The message is clear…

There are too many academic researchers while industry researchers are in high demand.

5 Things To Know About Being An Industry Research Scientist

As a PhD, you can’t afford to ignore the facts.

Things are NOT getting better in academia.

The above reports show that research is not the problem.

In fact, research and research scientists are in high demand.

Academia is the problem.

It’s time to start learning what R&D has to offer.

It’s time to start leveraging your skills to get the job (and income) you deserve.

The key is to assess your needs, desires and personality to decide whether or not they match the R&D career you’re moving towards.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind when pursuing a career as an industry research scientist…

1. Your research goals are different in industry. 

In academia, you have the freedom to explore interesting basic and translational science questions.

At least, that’s what the lifetime academics tell you.

The truth is this freedom comes at a price.

Any supposed freedom you think you have in terms of your research in academia costs you significantly.

These costs include applying for funding, maintaining teaching expectations, and publicly promoting your research.

In industry, on the other hand, your freedom is in the hands of management.

You are working towards a product. The end.

Everything you do at the bench or away from it revolves around moving a product forward.

Deciding WHAT experiments to run and WHEN to run them can be very different in industry compared to academia.

In academia, you’ll often chase some small, basic science question for years.

You’ll conduct your research with the sole purpose of exploring new areas and bringing a story that you can publish to life.

In industry, you’ll chase similar things but again, the overall purpose will be to create a product that will meet a public need while also making the company profit.

In industry, you won’t care so much about the “story.”

Instead, you’ll care about results.

You’ll care about answering questions quickly and effectively.

Your goal will be to figure out the BEST experiment to run to answer the fundamental question that is keeping you from progressing from step A to step B.

2. You’ll work longer and harder in industry.

Contrary to popular belief, being a scientist in industry is not a 9-5 job.

In academia you work hard and put in long hours for numerous reasons—a paper needs publishing, a grant needs data, a poster needs printing before a conference, your thesis needs finishing before you graduate, on and on.

In industry, you work long and hard every day.

Of course it depends on the company you work for, but overall the work is consistently intensive.

But it’s not intensive in a bad way.

You’ll work long hours to meet strict deadlines—deadlines that are much more frequent in industry than in academia.

That being said, the race to get a new product out is intense and can be stressful.

Some PhDs thrive in this kind of environment while others crumble.

It’s up to you to know which type of PhD you are and which working environment is best for you.

In industry, you never know what research other companies are doing.

They might be working on the same project or product as you and if they beat you to market, you’re not just scooped, your company might lose millions.

For most industry research scientist positions, you should plan on working 10-12 hours a day.

You might already be working these hours in academia.

The difference in industry is that you will be 100% focused on getting data.

No interruptions by seminars.

No writing papers or grants.

No teaching students.

In industry, you’ll set a plan for each day and work to maximize your time at the bench.

Time management is key in industry.

In order to move a project forward quickly you must have experiments 2 and 3 ready before running experiment 1 of plan A.

You also have to have plans B and C in case plan A doesn’t work out.

Instead of working on plan A for months or even years, you’ll have days to figure out if it’s working and then you’ll need to move quickly to plans B and C.

In industry, once you get to work you are at work and you work.

It’s a much more professional and “serious” environment.

Again, it’s up to you to determine whether or not you’ll thrive in this environment.

The key is determining this before you transition into the position, not after.

Here’s the good news—once you leave work, you’re done.

You’ll rarely bring your work home with you due to company confidentiality.

This allows you to enjoy being home while getting refreshed for the next workday or workweek.

3. Your project will progress only as long as it’s productive.

The amount of time a company will give you to explore a project will vary.

But only slightly.

In the end, if a project isn’t moving forward and looking promising for product development, pre-clinical and clinical development, and so on, the project will get shut down.

No amount of pleading will keep the project going.

In academia, on the other hand, many projects are explored for years, especially if the project has a lot of upfront funding.

You publish papers and your name gets recognized, even if the project is pointless.

Now, imagine pouring your heart and soul into a project for 2-3 years and suddenly one day hearing the words “We will no longer pursue this project.”

This is what you will be faced with in industry.

Executive decisions are made in line with the company’s business and corporate goals and you have to accept them or find a new job.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this.

In fact, this kind of productive perspective can be more scientific.

Instead of projects being carried forward by passions and publications, they’re carried forward by results and bottom lines.

When you are a scientist in industry, you must learn to be heavily invested in your project so that you work hard to move it forward.

But, at the same time, you must learn to not be “emotionally” invested so that when the project hits a legitimate dead-end you will pull the plug instead of holding on.

The only way to thrive as a research scientist in industry is to start thinking about the company you work for as a whole.

You need to support decisions to shut down projects and shuffle people to new teams to ensure the future of the company.

4. You will be required to adapt very quickly.

In industry, you have to be a bit of a chameleon.

You must be able to switch your focus quickly and effectively as needed.

Depending on your personality type, this can be very fun and exciting, allowing you to continually learn new things.

At the same time, you must be able to switch back and forth from working independently to working as a team.

You have to be both competitive and collaborative.

When you first start your job as a research scientist in industry, make sure you carefully observe how things are run within teams and between teams.

Study how each department or division works and how they interact with each other.

Focus on understanding the hierarchies, workflows, and the overall culture.

Don’t worry about making a good impression or “hitting the ground running.”

Instead, go through a period of deep observation.

Most importantly, remember that in industry, everyone’s time is precious and everyone is very busy doing research.

Usually, you’ll be on your own and will have to figure things out before you ask someone for help.

Here’s more good news—in industry, when you do ask (or get asked) for help, your colleagues will quickly offer their expertise.

There is an underlying understanding between industry research scientists at the same company that when you approach each other, you have already done everything on your own that you could to get answers to your questions and now it’s time to work as a team.

5. There is no public recognition or “glory” in industry.

In academia, when you do research, your name will be known and carried forward through publications and presentations at conferences.

In academia, you’ll get recognition for your hard work.

You’ll get respect from your scientific community and may become known as a leader in your field.

This is not the case in industry.

Most often, due to company confidentiality, you won’t be able to discuss your research with your peers.

In industry, you must keep all the amazing things you’re doing at the bench to yourself.

Your name will seldom be seen on papers even though the caliber of research you’re doing could easily go into top tier journals like Nature and Science.

At many companies, you’ll never go to conferences or present posters.

At others, you will.

It depends on the specific industry and specific company you work for.

But, overall, your name will not be recognized or passed on in the ways you are used to in academia.

When companies do publish papers, it will be on products that have, for example, successfully passed pre-clinical evaluations and are ready to be moved to clinical trials, or products that are about to hit the market.

This is normally a very small percentage of all the projects the company invests in.

Instead of recognition, you’ll have the satisfaction that comes from making a difference in public health and in finally getting paid what you deserve as a PhD scientist.

Now that you know the facts, you can move forward with your transition into a research scientist position. Remember that industry research goals are different than academic research goals, and you will often work longer and harder in industry. Remember also that your industry research project will progress only as long as it’s productive. By adapting quickly and thriving on tangible outcomes over name recognition you will become a successful research scientist in industry.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly



Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Similar Articles

3 Entry-Level PhD Jobs Pay Six Figures A Year

3 Entry-Level PhD Jobs Pay Six Figures A Year

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I was determined to stay in academia… until I wasn’t.  It took almost six years for me to reach the conclusion that academia just wasn’t for me.  My PhD defense was just a few months away, and I can’t lie: I was literally willing myself to stick it out. But what about after that? Professorship had been the goal for me before I ever even enrolled in college. It had been my dream. I had absolutely no idea what to do if it wasn’t going to teach. I knew what I didn’t want: I didn’t want to be tethered to…

5 Positions In Biopharma Perfect For Any PhD

5 Positions In Biopharma Perfect For Any PhD

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

It was by chance that I even considered a career in biopharma.  As far as I was concerned, academia was all there was. The world of industry was a big question mark to me, and that was fine. I found myself working on a postdoc, waiting for a tenure-track position to open up.  At first, it was exciting: a real, paying job as a PhD-level scientist. I showed up early, stayed late, and was happy to do it.  But a change happened, gradually. There was so much repetition in my day, and so much emphasis on performing tasks that required…

Top 5 Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Top 5 Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

From the time I started graduate school, there was only one point in the future that I could focus on: the finish line. I was swept up in my own expectations and also caught up in what I thought was expected of me. But something I hadn’t given much thought to was what I actually wanted to do. I was about six months away from defending my thesis. That’s when I started to give some serious thought to what would happen after I added the “Dr.” to my name. It’s when I began to admit to myself that academia was…

Spin The Hard Knocks Of Academia To Your Advantage To Get Hired

Spin The Hard Knocks Of Academia To Your Advantage To Get Hired

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Something that comes up a lot when I talk to new PhDs is that they think they don’t have enough on-the-job experience to apply for the high earning jobs they’re perfect for. I see this imposter syndrome prevent PhDs from even trying to apply for jobs – and puts a stop to their journey to getting hired in industry. So they settle.  For academia, where they don’t have job security.  For jobs that pay less and don’t value their abilities.  For a job they’re not interested in and don’t want, but they think it gets them “started” in industry when…

6 Rewarding Careers In Research Policy, Funding & Government

6 Rewarding Careers In Research Policy, Funding & Government

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

An indomitable spirit is a rare quality, but not among PhDs. Perseverance is a prerequisite that comes standard with every doctorate.  It seems like there’s no shortage of things that can stand in the way when you’re pursuing a terminal degree. Yet I’ve only met a handful of PhDs who weren’t cut out for the hardships of academia. They made it past the gauntlet of frustrating academic advisors, endless hours in the lab, and year upon year of compounding stress. But there are some things that arise that you simply can’t prepare yourself to push through. Sometimes life happens. PhDs…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I just got off the phone with an old friend of mine.  We were researchers at the same lab back in our university days. We had lost touch, but when he found me on LinkedIn I couldn’t wait to hear what he’s done since graduation.  He told me he had not wound up in chemistry, which had been his major. Biomolecular chemistry, he reminded me. Instead, he decided to pursue a career in patent law.  Here’s his transition story: I was in the process of earning my PhD in biomolecular chemistry. That’s where I learned that patents were unrecognized by…

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

PhDs in the sciences and humanities are not qualified to work in finance or business. At least that’s what I thought. That was until I started hearing more of my former colleagues talk about their transition into consulting and financial service roles. These were people who specialized in very niche areas of science. I was surprised to learn that their skills were needed in the financial and business sectors of industry. What can a PhD in the sciences or humanities possibly contribute to finance and business? As always, it comes down to your transferable skills. These sectors are seeking highly…

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I was defending my PhD in 6 months, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do. What job did I want? Where did I see myself in 5 to 10 years? My goal was to get out of academia and into industry – and as quickly as possible. Beyond that, I hadn’t thoroughly considered my options. In fact, when I finally sat down to apply for jobs, I blindly searched for open positions using standard terms: “Researcher,” “Scientist,” “Biologist,” and so on. As a science PhD, that’s what I was qualified for, right? What I didn’t appreciate…

Top Industry Career eBooks

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.

AI & ATS Resume Filters

AI & ATS Resume Filters

Isaiah Hankel

In today's competitive job market, understanding the impact of AI is crucial for career success. This involves ensuring your resume stands out in the digital realm, mastering your online presence, and being aware of how AI assigns reputation scores. Discovering how to leverage AI to your advantage is essential, as it plays a pivotal role in shaping professional opportunities.

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.