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How To Go From Unemployed PhD To Successful Industry Professional

Cheeky Scientist Successful Industry
Written by Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

Cathy was in a tough place.

She had just completed her PhD and postdoctoral research at Ludwig Maximilians University.

As part of her work, she discovered candidate therapeutic targets for Multiple Sclerosis, which led to a publications in Nature Medicine and Neuron.

Not easy journals to get into.

Overall, her academic career was a success.


She wasn’t happy.

Cathy realized that the academic career track wasn’t right for her. At least not right now. Instead, she became interested in getting a job in industry and eventually decided to leave academia.

The problem was she didn’t know where to start.

She also had this nagging feeling that she wasn’t good enough to get a good industry job. She felt like she was doing something wrong by leaving academia.

As a result, she ended up stuck.

Not knowing what to do next.

Cathy ended up somewhere she thought she would never be…


This didn’t make any sense. Cathy knew she was intelligent, driven, and hardworking. She earned her PhD. She earned her publications. She was exceptionally capable.

Yet, she couldn’t shake her feelings of despair and confusion.

How did she end up here?

Unemployed To Success Story

After 3 months of being unemployed, Cathy decided to take a chance.

She decided to get help.

Cathy joined the Cheeky Scientist Association and quickly became a star Associate.

She flew through the program, completed her Industry Transition Plan, and started applying to industry positions strategically.

Cathy enjoyed benchwork, but she wanted a break from it.

She wanted to try something different.

This was a real sticking point for her. She felt like she was betraying her mentors, peers, and even herself by wanting to leave academia.

But this was all in her head.

Eventually Cathy realized that she could move into a different industry and be both happy and successful. She realized that her happiness was more important than what other people may or may not think of her.

She also realized that despite what some fear mongering people tried to make her believe, she could always go back to the bench.

With her new mindset in place, Cathy started using her Associate knowledge to apply to publishing editor positions.

Within a few weeks, Cathy got the job she wanted.

All her past stress, confusion, and depression went away instantly.

To celebrate, she went to Iceland with her husband.

Cathy’s story is a success story.

Wherever you are at in your PhD career–postdoc, graduate student, or even unemployed–you can turn your story into a success story too.

Whether you want to get a PhD job as an R&D project manager, an application scientist, publishing editor, or sale specialist all that’s standing in your way is the right strategy.

Consider Cathy…

She’s a a real PhD who really was unemployed. Now she’s successful and, most importantly, happy.

You can see it in her face…

Cheeky Scientist Associate Successful

What Cathy Did Differently

Every time a Cheeky Scientist Associate gets the industry position of their choice, we follow up with them to ask them how they did it.

What did they do differently?

What strategies worked for them?

We asked Cathy these and other questions and are sharing them with you here so you can turn your story into a success story.

Here are a few of the questions we asked Cathy and her answers…

1. Which strategies made the most difference in helping you get the job?

The biggest game changer was putting in individualized effort on resumes and in researching the company thoroughly.

I thought I was putting in effort before by reading the job posting carefully and skimming the company’s website. This was not enough. 

Once I started really digging into things like the company’s culture, their patents, financial reports, acquisitions, and other very specific information, things started to change. 

This specific knowledge of the position and company  came through on my targeted resume, which in this case I had to submit online. 

It also proved very useful during the interview. 

2. What did you learn through the interviewing process? What did you do well, or not so well?

This might sound unusual but I overprepared for the interview and then went into it assuming I wouldn’t get the job because it was outside my domain.

As a result, I was completely relaxed and just had fun. I could tell the interviewers really liked this.  

I was relaxed, but not sloppy. I was completely engaged.

In fact, this was the first time I walked into an interview prepared to interview the other side instead of just letting them interview me.

I didn’t even realize this was a possibility before joining the Cheeky Scientist Association.

I should also mention that I did a lot of mock interviews. I think all PhDs applying to jobs should do this–just treat it like a mock thesis defense and go through specific questions and answers with 2-3 people across from you. 

In terms of things I did wrong, I was asked “How would you communicate differently with someone who didn’t speak English as their first language?”

I could tell by the interviewers body language that my answer was a little off so I just stopped talking instead of continuing to talk. I’m glad I did stop!

3. If you could go back and talk to yourself a few months ago when you were unemployed and at your lowest point, what would you say?

I would have told myself to be more patient and not be so hard on myself. I would also tell myself to get help sooner–it really made a difference.

I would have started going to Blue Ocean Networking events (non-PhD networking events) sooner too. These events led to a lot of referrals for me. 

I would have started making my resume more specific sooner. I would have started researching companies more too. In my case, knowing everything down to the company’s financial reports really paid off.

Oh, and I’d tell myself to be ready. Once you have the right strategies in place, everything will happen at once. You’ll suddenly get an interview, get a job offer, and then be on a plane with your husband celebrating in Iceland!

To learn more about transitioning into industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association. 

Cheeky Scientist Association Learn More

Isaiah Hankel


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