Switching from academia to industry: factors to keep in mind

Coming from a science background, I speak from experience when I say it can be hard to bite the bullet and move into a different industry. After you finish a degree in science, you can go either of two ways; stay in academia further and do a postgraduate qualification, or move into industry (whether that is in or out of science). Graduating from a PhD is a fantastic achievement and it takes a strong individual to be able to cope with the stress (and often sleep deprivation) it can bring.

 

If you are considering making a move away from academia and into the science industry, whether you are coming from a PhD or Post Doc position, it might be worth keeping the following factors in mind:

 

Job Security – is this a deal breaker for you?

Staying in academia and research can lead to a very rewarding career if you are someone who enjoys research or hopes to potentially move into a lecturing post down the line. However, this is a very challenging and competitive career path. Teaming with the prospect of short fixed-term contracts for potentially a large part of your early career, it can mean lack of job security and a potential need to relocate. If this is something that isn’t a concern for you then that’s great, unfortunately job security and often lack thereof can be one of the main reasons that people find themselves making the transition into industry. Getting the foot in the door may require taking up a fixed-term contract initially; but once you gain some industry experience securing a permanent role is something that happens more often than not.

 

Have realistic salary expectations

I know when I was studying science in college, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level, I was never made aware of salary guidelines for industry. Most people making the break into industry find they are in the same boat and go into the job hunt with unrealistic (and often too high) salary expectations. Before you start applying to jobs, do your research about salary guidelines and make sure you go in with an open mind. Using salary guides such as our Thornshaw Salary Guide are good resources for helping you to see what expectations are realistic. Remember that salaries will also depend on experience, and depending on the role sometimes having a PhD may help you obtain a higher salary. However, it is also important to remember that will not always be the case and so be as informed as possible about salary guidelines in the science industry.

 

Your PhD means both everything and nothing

It is a fantastic accomplishment to complete a PhD and during this time you will gain numerous valuable skills that can be applied to roles in industry that other candidates may not have developed (e.g. analytical lab skills, time management and project management to name a few). However, unless stated that a PhD qualification is essential, simply having experience from a PhD won’t be enough for many roles in industry. Most companies look for Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) or previous industry experience when hiring and will often take someone with less academic experience if they have stronger industry GMP experience; so although having a PhD more often than not is beneficial, it doesn’t mean that you will be guaranteed to walk into a role straight away. It is up to you to show companies how important and transferrable the skills you have from your PhD are and during your PhD if you are presented with opportunities to gain exposure to GMP you should leap at them, whether it is extra courses, collaborations with companies or even attending open days. Remember, you have a lot you can bring to a company, but resting on your laurels won’t be enough!

 

It will be easier to make the move sooner rather than later

As stated above, coming from an academic background can often mean you may not have gained exposure to practical experience such as GMP in industry. Due to this it may be necessary to move into a more junior position in industry when making the transition from academia in order to gain this exposure, and hence a lower salary expectation may be associated with this at the start. This is a common step people make because once your foot is in the door with the company you then have a chance to prove yourself and you may progress very quickly due to experience you gained in your PhD. However, the longer you have worked in academia and progressed in this area, the more difficult it will become to make the move into industry as factors such as salary or specialization in a niche area may make it harder to make the move. The sooner you make the move, the more of a chance that these factors won’t be an issue!

 

Have two types of CV: academic and industry

It is important to remember that when you are putting your CV together, a CV for industry is very different to an academic CV. The way a CV is formatted is a person’s own decision, but academic CVs tend to be longer and include details such as publications, conferences attended, presentations and lab techniques. Although this is interesting, and you may get to discuss these areas in more detail at an interview, these details would not be as relevant outside of academia and so make sure you have a different CV that is more tailored towards industry. This industry CV should be concise, no more than two or three pages, and focus more on the work experience you have along with a section covering education. Remember, employers will not necessarily read your entire CV in detail so it is important to focus on what’s important for the role.

 

Do your research

Before you start sending out applications to companies, take the time to consider what areas are most of interest to you in going forward and making the move. Read up on the companies you want to set your sights on. Do you understand what they do and why this is of interest to you? Do they work in a niche area that you worked within during your PhD? Whether this is formulation, clinical research, quality, food science, or the many other areas in science, read up on the areas and companies that are of interest and when making your applications highlight what experience you’ve gained during your PhD that is relevant and transferable for the area and role.

 

Remember; whether you choose to stay in research and academia or you choose to transfer into industry make sure you make the right move for you. Good luck!

 

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