Transitioning from Academia to Industry
By Dr. Ninoshka Fernandes, Future Postdoctoral Associate for AbbVie
At the onset of my Ph.D. program and throughout my past educational and life experiences, I have always been mindful of my career goals and have stopped at each transition point to reflect on my past experiences, what is important to me, and how to best use the educational opportunities that I have been given. I have always known that I was interested in medicine and research. Since I was passionate about working with children and helping orphans, I wanted to be a pediatrician and also engage in clinical or translational research. As I was nearing the end of my Ph.D. training, I reflected and envisaged the path that I wanted for myself and thought of ways to encapsulate my skills and passion to suit my career of interest. To address this challenge and determine what I wanted to do next, I began asking the following questions: 1) do I want to stay in academia or industry, 2) how do I continue doing research that I am interested in, 3) what kind of working environment would work well for me, 4) will I be able to learn and grow as a scientist in this environment, and 5) what skills am I interested in learning? After thoughtful and introspective self-examination, I knew that I did not want to stay in academia. I wanted to work in translational or clinical research; be able to work as a part of an educational, friendly, supportive, and creative team; be able to develop new skills and advance professionally; and overall be able to contribute to medical innovations and help improve the lives of patients. So, with these criteria in mind, I thought it would be really difficult to find a job that would be a perfect fit for me. I first began the process by building a network.
Message to trainees: Take the time to reflect on what is important to you, where you have come from, and where you are headed. We are lucky to receive all these educational opportunities, so it is important to think about what we want to do with them. Ask the right questions for you.
Build a Network
I had networked with many individuals in the academic world. The two conferences that I attended during my Ph.D. training mostly included scientists in academia. Though I thought that industry would be a good fit for me, I had no idea of what to expect in industry as I had no prior experience or knowledge of working in industry. Neither did I have much of an opportunity to network with professionals from the industrial world. If I wanted a job in industry, I knew that first I would need to start building my network. Initially, I was overwhelmed and concerned as to how I was possibly going to do all of this, but I utilized all the resources that I had available to me. I connected with individuals on the URBEST LinkedIn group and attended more of the URBEST events that had speakers from Biotech, MedTech, and Pharmaceutical fields. I began messaging individuals from the URBEST LinkedIn group who had already successfully transitioned from academia into industry. Furthermore, I began asking for career advice and job recommendations on LinkedIn. I came across this feature on my profile where LinkedIn would connect me to other LinkedIn users who were willing to mentor me and whose career trajectories were similar to what that I was interested in! Quite to my surprise, most of the individuals that I contacted were very responsive. I believe that having experienced this process themselves, they understood the situation and were extremely helpful and detailed in their feedback. Some of the questions that I asked them included whether they were happy working in industry, if it was a good fit for them, what did they like the most about working in industry, and what did they dislike the most? Their answers to these questions got me closer to understanding whether industry would be a good fit for me. This was probably one of the best parts of the networking process – strangers, whom I had never met, took time to advise me, provide me with constructive feedback on my LinkedIn profile, and overall helped me better understand what I wanted in my next opportunity and where exactly I would best fit in industry.
Message to trainees: Everyone has to start somewhere so do not be afraid to reach out and talk to others that have been in your shoes and utilize all your resources.
Almost everyone who had successfully transitioned from academia to industry suggested that I complete a post-doc in academia before stepping foot into industry as the competition is high when directly transitioning from a Ph.D. to industry with no prior connections or references. Only two individuals recommended that I look into post-doc opportunities in industry to get my foot in industry, which I thought was a fantastic idea and exactly what I did. Before I applied for these positions, I wanted to get professional feedback on my CV and cover letter. As a graduate of the Master of Science in Technical Entrepreneurship Management (TEAM) Program undertaken during my Ph.D. training, I had the opportunity to utilize some of the resources offered by the TEAM program. Kathy Driscoll, Associate Director of Career Management and Community Relations at the Simon School of Business, was critical in helping me condense and re-organize my CV and was extremely helpful in providing tips for my cover letter to enhance my prospects for a job position in industry. Based on her feedback and suggestions, I updated my CV and cover letter and applied for a couple of post-doc opportunities in pharmaceutical companies and non-profit research centers. I also sent a few applications for scientist positions in industry and research positions at hospitals. In total, I received calls within a few days for interviews for post-doc opportunities from two pharmaceutical companies and two non-profit research institutions, and one research position at a hospital. I interviewed with all of these either over the phone, via Skype or in-person. Of all these opportunities, I accepted the post-doc fellow offer at AbbVie, which I thought it was a perfect fit for me. I really liked the team as well as the research, the location was close to my family, and it was my first step into industry. Every ending is the start of a new beginning, and as I come to the end of my Ph.D. training this May, I am very excited to start the next chapter of my life.
Message to trainees: Take action and be hopeful for the future.
Summary for Planning Your Transition
- Take the time to determine where you have come from and where you are headed.
- Start early, build your network, do not be afraid to seek advice, and be open to other career options.
- Utilize all your resources and implement your plan, get feedback on your CV and cover letters, and create a strong LinkedIn profile.
- Use any opportunity that you can get to practice discussing your work, learn what works for you and what does not, and improve your skills.
- Everyone is unique so learn to only implement advice that works for you.
Tracey Baas |