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Why Doing A Postdoc (Including An Industry Postdoc) Is A Waste Of Time For PhDs Interested In Industry

Written By: Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.

I was torn between wanting to stay in academia and wanting to get a job in industry.

I loved academia.

I loved the university setting and the culture of the university.

But I knew the facts. I knew that postdocs are vastly underpaid. I knew that it was almost impossible for me to become a professor.

It was a tough place to be and I was trying to find a solution.

I thought about doing an industrial postdoc. Maybe that was the best of both worlds?

I could work at a company and get experience but still publish in academic journals, it sounded like a great solution.

But I wanted to be sure so I did an informational interview with someone I knew doing an industry postdoc.

And I am so glad that I did that informational interview.

Because I found out that an industry postdoc was not the best of both worlds, and my contact actually regretted the decision to do an industry postdoc.

So I had to make a choice.

I had to go all in with either academia or industry.

I chose to focus all my efforts on getting hired in industry and I doubled down on my job search.

It took some time and lots and lots of networking but I eventually found a great industry position where I loved the work and felt valued.

Why Employers Care More About ‘Fit’ Than Industry Experience

When employers say they want you to have industry experience what they are really saying is that they want to be sure that you understand how things work in industry.

The easy way to out is for employers to just ask for experience, because if you have experience they know that you are capable of working in an industry environment.

But having industry experience is not the only way to demonstrate that you have those skills.

As a PhD you can learn things incredibly fast and you have developed numerous transferable skills that translate well into industry.

These are the skills that you need to make clear to employers. They are the skills that will compensate for your lack of industry experience.

According to Balance Careers, Business Insider, LinkedIn and many others, employers are more interested in your ‘soft skills’ than your technical skills.

LinkedIn reported that 57% of employers said soft skills are more important than technical skills.

The World Economic Forum reported that the two most commonly desired core skills are complex problem solving, where 36% of jobs listed this as a core skill, and social skills, where 20% of jobs listed this as a core skill.

Employers want people who have these key soft skills.

And you have them.

So as a job candidate, it is your responsibility to demonstrate to employers how, as a PhD, you have these skills and can add value to their organization.

Top 5 Reasons Doing An Academic Postdoc, An Industry Postdoc Or An Internship Is A Waste Of Time

Many PhDs struggle with imposter syndrome.

Thinking that you are only qualified for an academic position – wrong.

As a PhD you have the skills employers want and doing a additional postdocs or internships is completely unnecessary.

Instead you need to learn how to communicate the value you can bring to a company clearly and powerfully.

Here are 5 reasons why it is a waste of time for PhDs to do postdocs or internships…

1. An academic postdoc, industry postdoc or internship won’t increase your hireability.

The only reason to do an academic postdoc is to become a professor.

And the likelihood of that happening is very, very small.

The most likely situation is that you will do a postdoc for approximately 5-7 years, make less than half the salary you are worth and eventually end up in an industry position.

We’ve talked a lot about why doing an academic postdoc is not a good idea, but what about an industry postdoc?

Should PhDs do an industry postdoc or an internship in a attempt to get ‘industry experience’?

Short answer: no.

As a PhD you already have the qualifications and skills to get hired into a real and full time industry position.

You might think that doing an industry postdoc or internship will make a company want to hire you more because afterward you will have experience working for them.

And although that does seem logical, many companies have policies that don’t allow them to hire internal postdocs or interns.

So after spending time working as a postdoc or intern (while being vastly underpaid) your chance of getting a job at that company may have actually decreased.

There is one caveat to this advice: if you are still a graduate student doing an internship during the summer is a great idea.

But, if you do an internship, don’t spend all your time in the lab or with your face in the computer.

The biggest value you will gain from doing an internship as a graduate student is to network with the people who work at the company.

Learn everything you can about the people you work with and about the different positions within the company.

Then when you finish your PhD, not only do you have a small amount of industry experience more importantly you have connections in industry.

That will be a major asset to your job search.

2. As an industry postdoc you will get paid less than a regular industry employee.

So, you’ve realized that you don’t want to stay in academia.

Time to get a job in industry!

But, the academic mindset and culture teach PhDs that the next step in your career progression is to do a postdoc.

This leads many PhDs to think that doing an industry postdoc is the happy medium.

This is wrong.

Doing an industry postdoc is not useful.

And one of the major disadvantages of doing an industry postdoc instead of just getting a regular industry position is that you will be paid much less.

Why would you do this to yourself?

If you want to work in industry, then get a job in industry.

Make a proper industry salary and start gaining real industry experience.

The same is true of an internship.

Interns are not paid well and many times interns are not paid at all, this is not a suitable situation for someone with a PhD.

If you are a PhD or a postdoc you are an expert in your field, you have many transferable skills that employers want, and there is no reason for you to do an internship.

If you are are an experienced PhD and you are considering an internship, take a step back and ask yourself, “Why am I devaluing myself?” “Why don’t I think I deserve a real job?”

Shake off that negative mindset, realize the value you can bring to an employer and then dig into your job search.

3. Industry postdocs are not considered full employees and this has frustrating consequences.

Another major disadvantage of doing an industry postdoc is that you are considered a temporary employee.

You are not extended the same privileges as full employees.

This means that you won’t be eligible for a raise or bonus during your postdoc like regular employees would be.

You probably won’t have access to the same health care or other perks that employees get either.

The designation as a temporary employee also means that you will not be allowed to work on the more sensitive projects within a company.

As a postdoc you are expected to publish regularly, so why would a company allow you to work on a new and innovative project?

This restriction can mean that you are not allowed to attend group meetings and that the project you work on may be very disconnected from other team members.

Not a fun experience.

As PhDs, we like to know what is going on, we like to have all the information and when doing an industry postdoc that is just not going to happen.

4. You are probably just avoiding the work involved in getting hired into a full time job.

But why are you even thinking about doing an industry postdoc anyway?

If you want to stay in academia it’s not going to help you and if you want to move into industry is not going to help you.

So why do you want to do an industry postdoc?

Perhaps you are just playing the avoidance game.

Maybe searching for an industry job feels overwhelming and you don’t know where to begin or maybe you just don’t want to put in the work that an industry job search requires?

But, are those good reasons to delay the progression of your career and get paid less than you are worth?

I didn’t think so.

Instead of ignoring the situation and avoiding your industry job search, use all the intelligence and grit you gained as a PhD and start your industry job search.

Seek guidance for how you can make your job search strategy the most successful.

You have incredible skills and intellect, you just have to apply it to your industry job search and you will get hired.

You will find an industry position that fits well with your values and skills and that pays you what you are worth.

5. It’s better to target small companies rather than doing a postdoc or internship at a larger company.

You might be thinking that the only jobs in industry are at the companies whose names appear on the reagents and equipment in your lab.

But, industry is so much more than big pharma or big biotech.

The vast majority of companies fall into the small to medium sized company category.

But people don’t realize this and what ends up happening is that competition is fierce at the larger companies.

While at smaller companies growth happens quickly and people are hired often and fast.

When taking your first steps into industry these smaller companies are a much easier place to get hired.

The problem with smaller companies is that you are not going to find their job openings posted online.

Smaller companies need to fill positions so quickly that often they are filled before they can be advertised.

They are filled through referrals.

So, you need to start networking as soon as possible.

Start going to local networking events where your entire goal is to meet new people and build authentic and long lasting professional relationships.

By getting out there and meeting people in the industry where you want to work you are going to be able to get hired fast.

As soon as you have a PhD you are qualified for a position in industry. A full position. You do not need to take a step back and do a postdoc or internship if your end goal is to get hired at a company. You shouldn’t do any postdoc or internship because an academic postdoc, industry postdoc or internship won’t increase your hireability, as an industry postdoc you will be paid less than a regular industry employee, industry postdocs are not considered full employees and this has consequences, you are just avoiding the work required to get hired into a full position, and you can just target small companies rather than doing a postdoc or internship at a larger company.

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Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.

Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.

Aditya has a PhD in Physics from the University of Toronto, Canada and a passion for Nanotechnology. His PhD project focused on 3D magnetic nanostructures and he is now combining this passion with his keen business acumen and works as a scientific consultant at a top Canadian consulting firm.
Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.