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

7 Career-Killing Mistakes PhDs Make That Keep Them Poor And Unhappy

I wasted the first four years of graduate school focusing on nothing but my research.

I thought that if I worked hard in the lab and made my advisor happy that I would have plenty of jobs lined up by the time I graduated.

I was wrong.

As the last year of my graduate school career inched closer, I slowly realized that I was facing a dead end with zero options. Soon…

Panic set in.

I uploaded my resume over 200 times and heard back from exactly zero companies.


I guess I just assumed that scientific companies would fall all over themselves trying to hire me once I had a PhD.
No so much.

After I defended my thesis, I realized that getting my PhD was just the beginning of an even bigger challenge—getting my first industry job.

The problem as I didn’t have any training for this challenge.

I’d never taken any classes in business, industry, job training, or professional development.

I’d never had a business lunch or made any real industry connections whatsoever.

I was lost.

How could I possibly not have a job lined up after getting my PhD?

The Hard Truth About Your Academic Career

According to a report by the Atlantic, greater than 60% of PhDs and greater than 80% of Life Science PhDs will NOT have a paying job at graduation.

Another report by the Royal Society showed that less than 1% of PhDs will go on to be tenured professors.

There’s a myth in academia, perpetuated by other (mostly unhappy) academics that says you can only be a successful PhD if you become a tenured professor and continue to publish in academic journals.

This myth survives by encouraging young PhDs to look down on anyone who expresses a desire to leave academia.

As a result…

A negative feedback loop exists in academia.

Once you’re in the system, the system keeps you there by refusing to prepare you for anything else, including an industry job.

You’re told over and over again that nothing else but staying in academia is respected.

You’re told over and over again that you can’t do anything else—that there is nothing else.

The academic system makes you so dependent that you get used to being treated poorly.

You also become helpless.

Instead of developing the skills you need to get a real job industry, you start developing negative traits.

You become self-entitled.

You become scared.

You become lazy.

This may sound harsh but it’s reality.

7 Career Mistakes To Avoid That Keep PhD Students Jobless

If you’re waiting for someone to come save you from academia and line up a great industry job for you, you’re going to be waiting a long time.

The only way to get your career back on track is to take matters into your own hands.

You must realize that the biggest obstacle between you and getting the industry job of your dreams is yourself.

It’s your own bad attitude and bad habits that will keep you as an unemployed PhD after graduation, nothing else.

Stop blaming other people for your situation and start blaming yourself.

Take responsibility.

Make a decision today to quit making the following 7 career killing mistakes that keep PhD students jobless at graduation….

Mistake #1 – Spending extensive amounts of time writing a thesis.

Your thesis is a means to an end, it’s not a work of art.

Too many PhD students turn the molehill of writing a 100+ page summary of their research into a mountain of publishing the next A Brief History of Time.

Don’t do this.

Instead, see your thesis for what it really is—a stepping stone to getting your first industry job.

Your goal should be to get your thesis done as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality.

No matter who you are or what your research entails, this document should take no more than 2-4 weeks once you have your data collated at 4-5 hours a day of writing.

The rest of your time should be spent on wrapping up experiments and, most importantly, networking and applying to industry jobs.

Mistake #2 – Writing a bloated, self-indulgent resume that no one will ever read.

Most PhD students have no idea how to write a quality resume for recruiters or hiring managers.

So, they do what PhDs do best—research.

They Google “how to write a resume” online and read a few academic blogs and then start putting their skills down on paper.

The problem is that most of the people writing these academic blogs are lifetime academics or journal editors who have never had an industry job and certainly don’t know how to write a proper industry resume.

As a result, these PhD students squeeze thousands of words about everything they’ve ever done in the lab onto 3-5 pages and start uploading these pages to job sites.

Not surprisingly, no one responds.

The truth is employers don’t care about your daily duties in the lab, your publications, or the name of the protein you’re characterizing.

All they care about is the results you’ve achieved.

Most industry resumes are read in 5-7 seconds.

They’re skimmed.

This means that you need to write a resume that can be easily skimmed from top to bottom (not left to right) in a very short amount of time.

Mistake #3 – Believing your cherished publications will mean something in the real world.

Your publications don’t mean anything in the real world.

I know, it hurts. But it’s the truth.

Your publications don’t even matter for industry R&D positions.

Sure, there might be one or two hiring managers out there who will swear until they’re blue in the face that they care about your publications, but these hiring managers are part of a very outdated minority.

Do you really think your first author Journal of Who Cares paper is going to get you an industry job?

How? What do you think is going to happen?

Do you imagine the hiring manager sitting across from you at the table, looking at your resume, and saying, “Wow, I didn’t realize you were published in this journal! You’re hired!”

Keep dreaming.

If you want to have a job when you graduate, stop obsessing over getting that last publication out and start focusing on networking with the right people.

Mistake #4 – Being too self-entitled to create and execute a real networking strategy.

“I have a PhD. I shouldn’t have to network to get an industry job. Unfortunately, this is the attitude of most PhD students.

Too many PhDs have been told for far too long how important and noble it is to work in an academic lab.

The truth is academic lab work is nearly worthless in the real world.

Don’t believe me?

Then why do 7th year postdoc gets paid less than average librarians ($55,272 versus $56,370, respectively).

It’s simple supply and demand.

There are way to many academic PhDs for the amount of academic lab work that needs to be done.

Stop feeling special. Stop waiting to be chosen.

Instead, get to work.

Start creating a real networking strategy that will get you the industry job of your choice.

First, use sites like and to find both PhD and non-PhD networking events in your area.

Aim to go to 2-3 live networking events a week and log these events in your calendar ahead of time.

Second, email or call the host of each networking event beforehand so you have at least one new connection before you arrive.

Third, set one goal to walk out of each event with the contact details of 3 new connections and set a second goal follow-up with each of these connections within 24 hours of the event.

Mistake #5 – Never leaving the lab to go to seminars, conferences, job fairs, and daytime networking events.

One of the biggest mistakes PhD students can make, especially during their last year of graduate school, is working overtime in the lab.

It’s easy to feel like working extra hard during this time will help you graduate faster.

It’s easy to feel like working overtime will please your academic advisor so he or she will support you during your defense and give you a glowing letter of recommendation afterwards.

It’s also easy to stick to the same old routine of chasing publications and playing politics.

The problem is that every minute you spend in the lab is one less minute you have to spend on lining up an industry job.

You’ve been trained to care about nothing but doing experiments.

Your advisor has conditioned you to feel guilty for any time you spend not doing experiments.

Now, you feel like a bad person whenever you’re not in the lab working.

Stop feeling this way. Stop feeling obligated to advance your academic advisor’s career and not your own.

Instead, start going to as many internal and external seminars, conferences, job fairs, and daytime networking events as you can find.

If you’re advisor gives you a hard time for it, create a schedule of the career related events you want to attend and hold a meeting with your advisor and your department to explain why going to these events is important for your career.

Realize that your advisor cannot stop you from networking and going to career-related events.

Sure, he or she can threaten you and make your life uncomfortable in the lab, but there’s nothing else they can do to hold you back.

The key is to be open and transparent about the events you want to attend and to lean on your department and other graduate school’s administrators for support.

Mistake #6 – Kissing up to an academic advisor to secure a letter of recommendation.

By the time you enter your last year of graduate school, your academic advisor becomes ultimately powerless in terms of advancing your career.

This can be both a good and a bad thing.

It’s a good thing because it means your advisor can do very little to hold your career back.

It’s a bad thing because it means your advisor can do very little to move your career forward.

Your advisor is likely a lifelong academic, which means he or she has very few (if any) industry connections.

Depending on your University and program, you’ve likely passed your comprehensive exam or other qualifying exam by your last year of graduate school.

This further limits your advisor’s power over you.

Now, the most your advisor can do is play passive aggressive games.

He or she might try withholding support, making you look incompetent, or alienating you from other members of the lab.

These efforts are both sad and showing.

If you come up against this, simply keep a record of everything that’s happening and schedule a meeting with your department, dean, and graduate school counselor.

This will put your advisor on his or her heels and give you room to wrap up your work and apply to industry jobs.

During your last year of graduate school, or whenever you decide to leave academia, your relationship with your advisor will likely become stressed.

The biggest cause of this stress is you wanting to leave the lab and keep your advisor happy at the same time.

This is nearly impossible.

For one reason or another, most advisors will not be happy to see you go.

Accept it.

Don’t rely on your advisor to advance your career. Instead, cut the cord and take matters into your own hands.

Realize that you are going to have to get an industry job all by yourself.

Mistake #7 – Being too much of a coward to cold call recruiters and hiring managers.

PhD’s are more capable of dealing with failure than any other professionals on the planet.

PhD’s are also very skilled at working hard under high amounts of pressure.

They have to meet hard deadlines, manage multiple projects at once, and present their findings in front of other intelligent doctors who are trained to find holes in their logic.

Yet, most PhD’s are afraid of stepping outside of their specific domain of knowledge.

They’re afraid of looking stupid to anyone outside of academia.

As a result, most PhD’s have never picked up the phone to cold call a recruiter or hiring manager to inquire about an industry position.

This is nonsense.

If you can handle the pressure of having your data and logic ridiculed by reviewers, professors, and your peers, you can certainly get on the phone and introduce yourself to a stranger.

Especially a stranger whose job it is to find candidates for open industry job positions.

If you refuse to cold call someone to ask about open job position, you deserve to stay stuck in academia.

You deserve it because you’re refusing to step outside of your comfort zone and improve your interpersonal skills.

You deserve it because you’re refusing to try.

If you try and fail—that’s okay.


To not try at all is unacceptable.

The next time you see an industry position that might be a good fit for you, get on Google or LinkedIn and find out who the hiring manager or recruiter is for that position.

Then, get on the phone and make the call.

Most PhD’s will be unemployed at graduation. You do not have to be one of these PhD’s. Instead you can be the PhD who successfully transitions into industry by creating a strong networking strategy and executing it during your last year of graduate school. The key is to stop relying on your advisor and start relying on yourself. Take time to craft a succinct and results-oriented industry resume that hiring managers and recruiters will actually read. Then, step outside of your comfort zone and give these people a call.

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.