3 Big Worries That Hold PhDs Back from Success

I was feeling extremely anxious.

As I conducted my PhD thesis research, life seemed overloaded with worries.

Other PhDs know how much work goes into getting their degrees.

One thing was for sure: I didn’t need more stress on top of such a heavy academic workload.

But more stress was exactly what I got — and then some!

My advisor was a nightmare.

He didn’t allow me to graduate on time, and he liked to yell at his underlings when things didn’t go his way.

I worked under these conditions for 6 years, wondering whether the whole process was even worth my time.

Finally, I graduated with a PhD in Bioengineering.

Yet once I began my transition into industry, it seemed like no one was willing to give me the time of day.

I was frustrated with my inability to effectively job search and network.

I kept applying for positions, sending my resume anywhere and everywhere, with little success.

This was a new low.

All my old doubts about whether I could have a successful career returned.

I felt totally disheartened.

Ultimately, I had to revamp my resume and update my LinkedIn profile.

I worked smarter—not harder—by using a job-targeting strategy.

Eventually, I landed a medical writer position with an amazing salary and superb benefits.

Looking back on my journey, there were some dark times and plenty of doubt.

But I’m happy to report that, in retrospect, these doubts were not founded in reality.

And I’ve got the career to prove it.

Why PhDs Can Lose Hope

To put it mildly, the road to a PhD can be rough.

The Berkeley Science Review once reported that over half of grad school students claimed to feel “frequently overwhelmed, exhausted, sad, hopeless, or depressed.”

And sadly, the American College Health Association has announced that 15% of college students were depressed. They added that suicide was a major issue within this demographic.

Is it starting to look like academia has a problem?

That’s because it does have a problem.

And post-grad troubles in job-searching only add to these woes.

Academia doesn’t bother to teach most PhDs how to pursue fulfilling industry careers.

For all the value in a PhD’s education (and there is tremendous value here), PhDs are struggling in ways that are simply not necessary.

A lot of them are worried, and sometimes, these worries can seem too big to handle.

But you can’t give up.

As a PhD, you are trained to face challenges and solve problems.

You have to see your job search effort as a challenge you can master — a problem you can solve.

You will find your place in industry, and the first step is to think clearly about your prospects.

3 Big Worries That Hold PhDs Back, And How To Let Them Go

Have you ever felt like quitting?

Some PhDs find out the hard way that postdoc work doesn’t pay.

Most of them notice that professorships are on the decline — they feel discouraged.

With no industry experience, it’s easy for PhDs to reason that they’ll never get a real career, and that their hard work will never be rewarded.

Too many PhDs don’t know what to do or where to turn.

Sound familiar?

A PhD is a heavy investment, and it’s normal to wonder whether that title is worth all the effort.

The short answer?

It is.

Industry needs PhDs — no doubt about it.

Your talent is too valuable to be stifled by unfounded worries.

Let’s tackle the 3 biggest transition worries that haunt PhDs, and why you can safely ignore them.

1. “I don’t have enough industry experience.”

A ton of PhDs go for the full “academic lifestyle.”

They go all the way through academia to get a PhD, and then it’s onto a postdoc.

Sometimes, it’s more than one postdoc — maybe a string of them!

They’ve never worked at an industry job — not at the PhD level.

And now they’re facing down this huge, looming industry transition.

A PhD job is not entry-level grunt work — it’s a full-time corporate career at a high station.

But it may seem like there’s a paradox here.

You have no experience in industry, but you can’t get that experience until…

Well, until you have the experience first.

It’s like the “chicken-or-the-egg” argument.

How can you get a job that requires industry experience when you don’t have any to begin with?

Here’s a little secret:

You don’t need industry experience.

What you do need is the right strategy for breaking into your desired job field.

Industry employers are not necessarily looking for experience.

Generally, they want to see that:

  • You can quickly find accurate information on your own
  • You’re a self-starter who can work autonomously
  • You can learn on the job quickly

It’s important to communicate these things on your resume and your LinkedIn profile.

But the most surprising thing of all?

Industry experience can actually work against you.

Employers worry that a candidate will have old habits from a previous corporate job — habits that need to be “untrained.”

But as an industry newbie, you’re fresh and new to the corporate world.

And as your PhD can attest, you learn fast.

So not only are you a solid candidate for an industry job in your field, you actually have an advantage over candidates who lack your academic experience!

Employers also want to see that you have industry credibility and industry connections.

If you can make those connections (and you can), you’ll come off to employers as a credible candidate.

2. “A PhD isn’t worth all of that hard work.”

If you’ve picked up a postdoc position after earning your PhD, you have probably worried a lot about this.

Maybe you have a low-paying adjunct position.

Maybe you’re actually in industry now, but you’re getting paid the same as people with a bachelor’s degree.

Maybe you’re even unemployed.

PhDs can get stuck in this rut, and they feel like the huge effort they put into earning a doctorate degree has just been a waste.

Most of the time, it’s as simple as this:

You haven’t transitioned into a true PhD-level industry job.

PhD-level positions in industry are high-paying, respected jobs with a lot of responsibility.

They often involve management of some kind, as you are the expert in the room at any given time.

Once you have picked up a position like this, you will know it was worth it.

So say goodbye to the lie that a postdoc will enhance your career, and start acting the part of a qualified candidate for an amazing job — you are one.

3. “I’m not worthy of a top-level industry salary.”

Instead of suffering low self-esteem, do your PhD thing: Research!

You don’t have to rely on intuition to figure out your industry worth.

It’s easier than ever to Google this, so pull up a salary website and look at people with:

  • An education similar to yours
  • A similar/nearby location
  • The industry job you want to get

Check out the average salary of people with these qualities.

If you have those same qualifications, and you still think you aren’t worth such a high amount, you may be wrestling with imposter syndrome.

Take a step back and carefully evaluate the situation.

What are you going to trust — the data, or some vague impression that you aren’t worthy?

As a PhD, you know which one of these to trust.

Using data to draw reasoned conclusions is one of your best skills.

You can plainly see that people with your qualifications make a lot of money in industry — therefore, you can do it too.

If you aren’t experienced in a specific field, you can work hard to make sure you gain the skills you need to succeed in your desired job.

During the hiring process, this is exactly what employers want in their candidates!

So don’t let worries get the best of you. Maybe you have your PhD, or maybe you’re still working on it. Either way, don’t give up. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of thinking “I don’t have enough industry experience”; “a PhD isn’t worth all of that hard work”; or “I’m not worthy of a top-level industry salary.” You have all the experience you need. Your PhD is definitely worth it, and you deserve a salary that justifies the hard work you’ve put into your education.

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
Mitali Patil
Mitali Patil

Mitali Patil, Ph.D., is a dynamic medical writer with a degree in Bioengineering. Her diverse array of specializations includes R&D, legal plan development, marketing, and plenty more. A humanitarian in a lab coat, Matali’s biotech innovations forged new opportunities in the early detection of cardiovascular disease. Today, she coordinates with pharmaceutical companies, applying her unique range of advanced skills in the production of medical and commercial content.

Similar Articles

5 Point Job Search Productivity Plan For PhDs

5 Point Job Search Productivity Plan For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Job search productivity plan is imperative for success. Every day, more and more PhDs realize that they have no future in academia and start to plan their first industry transition. A script keeps playing in their head that says “I want to get hired.” This often leads to frustration because this script is not accurate. You don’t just want to get hired, you want to get hired into a PhD-level position. do meaningful work, where you can have an impact on humanity, where you get fairly compensated, where you can have security. I recently talked to a PhD who told…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, October 23rd 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, October 23rd 2021

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 Powerful Ways To Communicate Your PhD Value To Industry Employers

4 Powerful Ways To Communicate Your PhD Value To Industry Employers

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

What’s the biggest gap that you have when it comes to transitioning into industry? How do you communicate your value? This is a common question I like to ask PhDs. And, very often, I get the following answer:  Well, I’m not sure how to position myself for industry. What this actually means is that you don’t know how to communicate your value to potential employers.  You probably only know how to talk about your skills in academic terms. You only know how to talk to other academics, but industry employees don’t really care for that type of language. This leaves…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, October 16th 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, October 16th 2021

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.…

3 Steps To Taking Back Control Of Your Career

3 Steps To Taking Back Control Of Your Career

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Academia takes away all of your control. You probably started your PhD as a confident student, knowing exactly who you were and what you wanted.  But after years facing lack of support, lack of structure, and lack of clear deadlines, you have probably lost a lot of that initial motivation. You probably are not sure of what the next steps are. You feel that you lost all the control of your future career. Something similar happened to me when I was trying to get out of graduate school. I was in a very unique situation, where my PI was the…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, October 9th 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, October 9th 2021

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.…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, October 2nd 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, October 2nd 2021

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.…

Is The Cheeky Scientist Association Worth It?

Is The Cheeky Scientist Association Worth It?

By: Amanda Johnson

The professor I was speaking with took a full step backward.  Her eyes widened. I had just casually repeated a piece of feedback I received on one of the graphs that I had created for a lab presentation verbatim: “I hate your colors.” I had shared the comment solely to illustrate that data visualization didn’t come naturally to me.  Sure, I wouldn’t recommend critiquing someone’s work this way. But I had heard so much worse in academia.  On top of that, I had been bullied repeatedly into apologizing anytime I showed any sign that such comments had hurt my feelings.…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, September 25th 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, September 25th 2021

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.…

Top Industry Career eBooks

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.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 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.