Industry Transition Spotlight: Sherri Ter Molen, PhD

Industry Transition: An interview with Sherri Ter Molen, PhD, National Council Of State Boards Of Nursing

What is your name, your full job title, and the name of the company you work for?   

Sherri Ter Molen, PhD, Associate, National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN)

What is your favorite part about working in industry? 

Before my industry transition, there were a lot of things I loved about my academic life. I loved being in the classroom with my students. I loved conducting research, presenting my research at conferences, and publishing my research. I was able to travel to Poland, South Korea, and the United Kingdom because of my doctoral research, and I made some really good friends.

I also loved my service work, conducting public relations and managing social media for organizations that aligned with my research interests and personal values. I was not a happy PhD student, however. I found my PhD program to be overly competitive, and I would have been much happier in a supportive environment. 

Therefore, my favorite aspect of my new non-academic job is the workplace culture. Recently, for example, my division welcomed a new team member. On his first day, our manager told him that he had joined a division full of the “smartest and nicest people ” she knows.

There was not a hint of irony in her voice, and she was not trying to schmooze us. I am convinced that she was being sincere. Co-workers regularly complement each others’ work, depend on each others’ expertise, and celebrate each others’ achievements. When criticism is given, it is constructive. It is an uplifting climate – one that should be imitated.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?   

Another one of my favorite things is that I do not have typical days. Other than working a gorgeous, Monday-through-Friday, 8:30-AM-to-4:30-PM regular schedule, my days are full of variety. One morning, I may proofread educational materials. In the afternoon, I may manage our educational initiative’s Facebook Group and conduct some outreach for our academic journal. On the following day, I may attend a brainstorm meeting about writing content for a webpage. One day a week, I even get to do this interesting and engaging work from home!

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

When I was in my doctoral program, one of my fellow graduate students earned a top paper award at a conference. I was legitimately happy for him. I also believed that one person’s success was good for all of us. Nevertheless, my words of congratulations were looked at with suspicion, and some fellow PhD students openly scorned me for offering congratulations.

My unique non-academic job is rooted in research, teaching, and service, but these tenets of university life do not seem to generate the same level of rivalry in our not-for-profit setting. Of course, humans are humans, and so friction occasionally occurs because a little friction is normal. But it is infrequent and on a completely different plane than what I experienced in my doctoral program. 

More frequently, I observe and participate in celebrations of each others’ achievements. A co-worker recently made significant progress on a pretty lofty organizational goal, and, during our division’s weekly meeting, our team erupted into genuine applause to congratulate her for her outstanding work. This is the way organizational life––inside and outside academia––should be.

If you could go back in time (to before you received your job offer) and give yourself one piece of industry transition advice, what would it be?   

I graduated with my PhD in communication in May of 2018, but I really did not put a lot of effort into my job search until September of that year because I took some much-needed time off. Once underway, it was a frustrating job search. I stayed indoors on beautiful summer days to fill out online applications that asked for the same information that was on my resume. But these applications––many of which took hours to complete––were usually rejected within just minutes of being submitted to the dreaded applicant tracking systems (ATS). 

I went to fruitless networking events, and I registered with placement firms that rarely connected me with potential employers. I even took advantage of the free career counseling services at one of my alma maters, but the career counselor failed to show up to two scheduled Skype appointments. When I actually landed interviews, they did not necessarily go any better. 

One interviewer left me waiting in the lobby for thirty minutes past our appointment time, and then he proceeded to use our short time together to brag about his accomplishments and his luxurious life. It took about a year to find a job, far longer than it had ever taken me to find a job in the past.

It was a stressful and disappointing time because I had believed that earning a PhD would lead to good things. Looking back on this jobless time before my industry transition, I would tell myself not to languish and to stay on task. Although it felt, at times, that I would never find a fulfilling PhD-level job, it was bound to happen eventually because “slow and steady” really does win the race. 

During your job search, what was the most important thing you did that made your industry transition a success?   

I am over forty years old, so I had a lot of industry experience long before I went to graduate school. I had worked at U.S. network television affiliates as well as both small and multinational advertising agencies. I found my first job after college in the help-wanted section of the newspaper, and I had applied by sending hard copies of my resume and cover letter through snail mail. 

Later, my job searches moved online to email and uploads to job boards, but the job-search landscape changed again while I was in my doctoral program. Therefore, despite my fairly extensive professional experience and my three degrees in communication, I had a very difficult time securing job interviews after getting my PhD. This is why I joined the Cheeky Scientist Association. I recognized that I needed to be retrained on how to approach my job search. 

Every aspect of the Cheeky training was helpful, but my “Gold-Standard Resume” was what captured my organization’s attention. Without networking, I had applied for a research associate position that had been posted on LinkedIn. Luckily, my organization does not currently have an ATS, so a human being in Human Resources looked at my resume. When it was passed on to my now-manager, she was intrigued.

I was not the candidate she had had in mind, but my Cheeky Scientist Gold-Standard resume showcased my skills, leading her to think about other ways I could serve the organization. When she brought me in for my two interviews, I was prepared because I had gone through the Cheeky training modules and because I had read other Cheeky interview stories in the Cheeky Scientist Associates Private Facebook Group. 

I do not want to diminish my education or experience because they were certainly key in finding my wonderful post-PhD nonacademic job, but the most important aspect of my approach was my willingness to change. If I had insisted on doing things the “old way,” I would not have joined the Cheeky Scientist Association, and I would not have taken its training to heart. As the Team Cheeky often reminds Associates, PhDs think through information, evaluate it, and apply it in creative and relevant ways.

Indeed, I took the Cheeky training, which was designed primarily with STEM PhDs in mind, and I modified the information for my humanities/social science communication PhD. I revamped my networking according to the Cheeky system. In the end, what made the big difference was that I was willing to learn, that I took the helpful information that the Cheeky Scientist Association offered, and that I adapted it to serve my own unique situation. That’s how I achieved my industry transition.

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

There is absolutely no way I can single out one moment, but I can share what the most memorable moments (plural) have been. They have been my one-on-one and small-group interactions. While I was still in the middle of my job search, one Cheeky talked to me on the phone for an hour on a Saturday morning, offering me career advice instead of spending the morning with his own family. Another spent an evening chatting with me via Skype, offering her encouragement and suggestions. 

Since my industry transition, Isaiah Hankel, the founder of the Cheeky Scientist Association, has chatted with me a couple of times, and, now, I give some of my own time to Cheekies who are still on the job market. I am still active in the Cheeky Scientist Associates Private Facebook Group; I have spoken with a couple of job seekers by phone, and I have met a couple of Cheekies one-on-one for drinks after work. I have also attended a mini-Cheeky meetup with three job seekers who are still on the market. The community invested a lot in me, so I am happy to give back when I can.

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

For the first time in a decade, I want to live in the moment. When I was in my PhD program, all I could think about was the future: a time when I would no longer be trapped under the heavy doctoral program boulder. Now that I have landed a desirable non-academic position, I just want to enjoy being happy for a while. This does not mean I am entirely complacent. I am learning everything I can at NCSBN, and I am going back to school! (No, I am not going to earn another PhD –  one was more than enough.) 

I am about to begin an editing certificate program, a dream I have had for years that fits in perfectly with my new writing-intensive, editing-intensive, non-academic job. I simply want to appreciate what I have, feeling contentment for the first time in a very, very, very long time. 

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

The Cheeky Scientist Association is an excellent resource for job seekers, and over time, it may grow to offer online professional development courses that make membership even more valuable. Online courses could cover strategies for adding value to our positions, navigating difficult work environments, and even making the most out of our 401(k) and 403(b) plans. 

Associates need to stay engaged with the Cheeky Scientist Association even after we find fulfilling industry jobs. This is not easy because we become busy with our new jobs, our families, and our lives – lives we deserve to reclaim after giving up too much during our PhD programs. However, it would be helpful if we continued to network both online and in person, sharing information about professional development events and providing advice on everything from making a career move to planning for retirement.  

Now that you’ve spent some time working in industry, what is the biggest piece of advice you’d like to share with those Associates who are still looking to make their own industry transition?

I did not want to give up the things I loved about academic life. Unbelievably, I found a non-academic job in which I will soon teach online communication classes like the ones I teach in university settings. I work on my organization’s academic and professional journal, and I even apply the outreach experience I gained through my service experiences in my new job! Do not feel that you have to give up the work you love just because you plan to leave academia and make your industry transition.

It is not easy to find a PhD-level position, but an innovative and forward-thinking leader in a not-for-profit or corporate setting will eventually see the immense value you can bring to her/his organization. Think about the skills you have and the work you love. Do not give up until you find a way to apply your PhD-level knowledge in a fulfilling career. I am living proof that this dream can become a reality. 

Ready to make your own industry transition? The Cheeky Scientist Association is the world’s largest PhD-only industry job search training platform and PhD-only industry job referral network. When you become an Associate, you get access to our proven job search blueprint, which includes 200+ training videos, interviews with industry PhDs working in the most popular 100+ careers for PhDs, lifetime access to a private job referral network of 8,000+ PhDs, and much more.

You get instant feedback from our trainers 24/7 on any job search-related question so you can be 100% confident in your decisions about your job search and your overall career. To learn more about how to make your own industry transition, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the waitlist for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to 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 is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.

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