From Academia to Industry: A short guide
Sometimes, a career change into a new environment is just the thing you need to refresh your love for science. But how can an academically-trained scientist make this transition?
When long hours in the lab threaten to bring you down, and the vision of a paper is a blur out in the distance, your own internal cheerleader can only carry you so far.
Luckily, according to Dr. Joanne Kamens, if you’re looking to transition to a position in industry, you’re already well on your way. At her workshop at the Naturejobs career expo, Boston, she offered tips on how to make the most of your training for a successful career transition.
Once you have your PhD, you’re fully cooked!
Don’t be afraid to move on. While the path of an academic scientist includes postdoctoral training, that is not always required for research careers in industry. In contrast, if you’re interested in industrial research, Kamens recommends leaving academia as soon as you can. The longer you stay, the more it can look like you’re attempting a move to industry because you failed in academia.
And if impostor syndrome sets in as you’re looking over job descriptions? Remember that you don’t have to know everything about your new position when you take the job. Companies are willing to train the right person, as they understand that there are differences between the way research functions in industry and academia.
Be aware of the differences between academic and industrial research.
With stricter regulations and a bottom line to look out for, academics transitioning to industrial research can experience culture shock if they’re not aware of these differences in advance. In particular, expect to be asked to pay attention to experimental design, with an eye towards the potential statistical significance of your results – every experiment can make the difference between a product’s success or failure. Because of these expectations, successful job applications should highlight an applicant’s skills in careful experimental design and statistical analysis. These applications will stand out from those that simply emphasize a publication record, which holds more weight in academia than in industry.
Skills from your PhD are transferrable outside of academia.
While academic training on its surface is preparation for a future in academia, a PhD also gives you theskills to do much more. For example, during your graduate career you may have led a research project, given a seminar, or mentored a junior member of your lab. These activities, while centered around research, also train you in other areas such as communication, leadership, planning, and analysis.
Every career development event emphasizes the importance of networking to getting your dream job. But networking is much more than exchanging business cards over hors d’oeuvres. Instead, networking may mean being active in professional organizations, grabbing lunch with colleagues, or meeting one-on-one with a new acquaintance. “You’re developing real, serious relationships with people when you do things with them,” says Kamens. These connections are memorable and durable, and help you develop a network that you can reach out to for information and advice.
With an awareness of how to frame your accomplishments for an industry application, and a strong network to support you, you can successfully start your career in industry. So, if you are considering a move from academia to industry, remember: you’re already prepared for this.