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

5 Unexpected Challenges I Faced After Getting Hired

When I landed a job as a scientific editor, I was elated.

The excitement of transitioning into industry and leaving academia (and all it’s stresses) behind me felt amazing.

I was eager to learn this new position and contribute to the company.

But as I started the job, it was not smooth sailing.

I had entered a world that was so different from academia and I was struggling to learn the ropes.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

It was still a wonderful experience and working in industry was a welcome change from the negativity of academia.

But it was different and I had to learn new sets of rules.

I wanted to do more than just get by, I wanted to be awesome at my job.

And to do that I had to work my way through many challenges and learning experiences.

My experience isn’t unique either.

Many PhDs who make the transition into industry face unexpected challenges as they learn to navigate the world outside of academia.

It is a learning experience and something that we all will experience.

But it helps to know what’s coming.

We’ve put together a list of the top challenges PhDs face after transitioning into industry based on a poll of Cheeky Scientist PhDs who have made the transition.

When you enter industry you encounter new challenges and new ways to grow both personally and professionally.

Here are the top 5 challenges that PhDs face after transitioning into industry…

1. Onboarding and learning new company rules and systems.

38% of surveyed PhDs reported onboarding as their biggest challenge since transitioning into industry.

Industry runs in a completely different way than academia.

The pace is faster, there are set working hours, you will have lots of meetings… etc.

As a PhD who likely had an extreme amount of autonomy in academia it may be an adjustment learning to work within the company’s systems and rules.

“The major thing for me, having had very flexible working hours in academia previously, was making sure everything was done by 5-5.30pm. I had to work on time management and scheduling, especially with an increased load of meetings and other appointments I have to fit my lab work around.” – Industry Ph.D.

You also might feel the creep of imposter syndrome as you navigate this new territory.

Remember, you are the person they wanted to hire for this job, you have the skills they want.

You just need to be focused, determined and dedicated to find your way in this new environment.

Like any change there are bumps in the road when doing something new.

“The main challenge was to get used to a new system and learning new work processes.” – Industry Ph.D.

But just like your job search, once you get the hang of how things work in your company you will thrive.

2. Getting promoted or asking for a raise.

21% of surveyed PhDs reported getting promoted or getting a raise as their biggest challenge since transitioning into industry.

The position where you enter industry is not where you will stay.

This is just the entry point.

You need should be aware of the next steps you want to take in your career – including getting promoted or getting a raise.

Unlike academia where postdocs stay postdocs for many, many years, in industry you will not stay in the same position or pay grade for more than a year usually.

Too many PhDs are used to just accepting what they are given and not asking for what they deserve.

Many companies have a built in promotion/raise system, so learn how this works.

Communicate openly with your manager to fully understand what is expected of you in order to earn a raise or promotion.

“The biggest challenges I faced have been 1) to keep myself updated about the company news 2) to manage research work in between the non research work like meetings, emails and a lot of other stuff 3) to continue networking.” – Industry Ph.D.

Don’t be afraid of this conversation, because it shows your commitment and dedication to the company.

If you know that you have been doing an excellent job the natural progression is promotion and/or a raise.

3. Learning how to manage a team and be a good leader.

18% of surveyed PhDs reported developing managerial skills as their biggest challenge since transitioning into industry.

Academia is often very solitary.

You have your own project that you are responsible for and that’s it.

Maybe you had to train a graduate students or an undergrad from time to time, but you were probably not expected to manage them on a day to day basis.

In industry, as you move up the corporate ladder you will be expected to take on management roles.

You will do less and less of the actual physical work and your job will become managing a team or teams of people.

“Management responsibility is something I’m starting to get given now, it’s come on very quickly so poses quite a sudden challenge, but I have a great support network for advice within the company.” – Industry Ph.D.

This is a whole new set of skills for you to master.

But don’t be afraid of this new role.

As a PhD, you have the skills to thrive in a management role where you can see the big picture while supporting others to achieve their best.

Seek help when you need it and just keep moving forward.

4. Working cross-functionally.

13% of surveyed PhDs reported working within a cross-functional team as their biggest challenge since transitioning into industry.

Working as a PhD student or postdoc in academia you are surrounded by other people like you.

Other scientists or researchers who have a similar background to you, who understand the research you are doing at a high level, and who are highly educated.

In industry the people you work with will not all be like this.

You will have to learn to work cross-functionally with people from different teams and departments who may not really know what you do.

This could mean working with the marketing team, finance team, people from C-suite leadership positions all the way to entry level positions.

“My biggest challenge has been to focus on my role alone and work towards getting better at it. It’s so easy to get distracted by what’s happening in the business side, R&D, regulatory affairs or marketing.” – Industry Ph.D.

You will need to learn how to communicate your position and requirements clearly to the others in the cross-functional team that you work on.

It can be fun to learn about all the other aspects of a company as well.

And perhaps you might discover a passion for a different part of the company that you want to explore.

5. Finding a mentor and/or a sponsor.

11% of surveyed PhDs reported finding a workplace sponsor as their biggest challenge since transitioning into industry.

Having both a mentor and a sponsor is essential to achieving success in your industry career.

Your mentor is someone who will support you on a day to day basis, such as a supportive manager. while a sponsor is someone higher up in the company who believes in you and will be an advocate for you when you are not in the room.

A sponsor will put you up for promotions and help you reach your fullest potential.

“My biggest issue has been to find a mentor/sponsor because I’m not quite sure how to navigate this path.” – Industry Ph.D.

As academic PhDs, we look only to our advisor as a mentor and it can be confusing to try and find the equivalent in industry.

The book, Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-track Your Career by Sylvia Ann Hewlett is a great resource to learn more about how to secure a sponsor who is invested in your success.

As a PhD, you have the skillset to eventually move high up on the corporate ladder, but you will need mentors and sponsors who help you get there.

Making the transition into industry is an exciting time for PhDs. You have finally found a place that respects your work life balance, values your input and allows you to do meaningful work, who wouldn’t be excited! But this doesn’t mean there are no challenges. The most common challenges PhDs face, as they learn to grow in industry, are onboarding and learning new company rules and systems, getting promoted or asking for a raise, learning how to manage a team and be a good leader, working cross-functionally, and finding a mentor and/or a sponsor. As you make your way through your industry transition, realize that these challenges are normal and that you will overcome them. Just use that focus and determination you developed as a PhD.

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


Cathy has a PhD in Medical Life Science and Technology and is COO of the Cheeky Scientist Association. Cathy is passionate about science communication including translating science to lay audiences and helping PhDs transition into industry positions. She is Chair of Cambridge AWiSE, a regional network for women in science, engineering and technology. She has also been selected to take part in Homeward Bound 2018, an all-female voyage to Antarctica aimed to heighten the influence of women in leadership positions and bring awareness to climate change.

Catherine Sorbara, Ph.D.

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.