Making the leap from academia to industry

By Alec Masella, The Science Advisory Board contributing writer

Based on our findings from last year’s career study, it turns out that many scientists have thought about moving from an academic lab setting to a life science industry environment. Whether the reason is to seek new opportunities, avoid internal politics, lab work exhaustion, or even a general loss of interest, scientists worldwide find themselves wondering how they can make the leap from bench to desk and beyond.

After spending years earning your Ph.D. you may think that you signed yourself up for a career in academia and nothing else. Feeling that your doctorate degree only goes as far as the classroom or academic lab is a common concern across many scientists. While some feel that this path is perfect for them, there are many other life scientists out there who want to take their degree to corporate settings, government positions, or even other industries.

“Am I qualified to leave academia?”

Of course! There are a number of industry options out there just waiting for scientific minds to find. Think about titles like “science writer,” “market research consultant,” and “operations research analyst.” While these jobs do not fully rely on academic lab skills, the scaffolding requires a deep knowledge of scientific research methods. As you might have heard before, these positions are finite. Scientists often find that there is immense competition surrounding industry jobs, and the process of leaving an academic setting to land a corporate role can be discouraging.

However, as you already know from developing your personal brand, you have a unique selling point regardless of which environment you’re in. It’s time to use that selling point to carve yourself a role in this brand new sphere.

“What are industry employers looking for?”

It varies, of course. A job description for “Technical Sales Consultant” isn’t going to look identical to a job description for “Molecular Device Sales Director.” Yet, each calls for a core skillset that you have already developed in your academic journey. Yes, you read that correctly, you already have all the skills you need to land an industry job.

Let’s take a look at two very different industry job descriptions, both of which require a terminal degree:

1. If you’ve been working in academia but now seek an agile industry position bringing together science and design in a large corporate setting, look no further! Yes, this seems like a very specific position that not many people would qualify for, but… you probably do. Check out the skills for a Sr. Qualitative User Experience Researcher position and how you might be a better fit than you might initially think:

2. Next, we have a common job title you can find even in small, more laid back companies - (Flow Cytometry) Product Marketing Manager. Here’s how you might go about leveraging the skills you’ve garnered from your academic background:

The leap from academia to industry doesn’t come without challenges. But the good news is that you already have the tools to overcome them. In addition to our job position breakdowns, try these resources to jumpstart your industry career:

Now that you know you have the skills to succeed in any setting after earning your Ph.D., it’s time to leverage your network to achieve all of your career goals. Check back in with us to read up on professional development as it relates to your unique place in the life sciences!

Do you have experience with industry job searches in the life sciences? Share your perspective with us today so others can learn from you! Contact our editor today for more information.


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