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Old 04.06.2020, 18:23
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Transitioning from academia to industry

Many of us working in academic research but not on the professor route wonder about the day our academic career ends and we're forced out of this bubble. Does staying too long in academia make it difficult to transition to industry?



I'm curious about other people's experiences in making this transition. What type of company or position in a company (other than a bench scientist) best matches academia or is a good starting position?

Pros and cons of different types of companies - start-ups, multinationals etc.
Anyone with experience working as a consultant?


Any perspectives from those working in industry considering hiring someone coming from academia?



If you've moved to industry, what are the biggest challenges you've faced, especially at the start?
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Old 04.06.2020, 18:41
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

A company I worked for hired an ex academic (about 20 years professor) who was a stress specialist. He was a horror to work with due to his attitude of perfection before timelines. Every typo, every piece of information referenced in depth, every calculation down to the smallest decimal place. Often where a back of the napkin calculation would suffice he'd insist on a full FEM model.

The company kept him for his ability to talk to other academics for grants and uni based research. Any work with a timeline was kept away from him and we used to joke about his "Doctorarbeit" timelines. It didn't matter when it was finished as long as it was to a publishable standard.

That's my experience, it may have been down to his attitude more than his background but I think they were related.

I think he got the boot after I left, by that time they had multiple connections to the grant side of things and he cost too much for not enough work.
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Old 04.06.2020, 19:11
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

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Many of us working in academic research but not on the professor route wonder about the day our academic career ends and we're forced out of this bubble. Does staying too long in academia make it difficult to transition to industry?



I'm curious about other people's experiences in making this transition. What type of company or position in a company (other than a bench scientist) best matches academia or is a good starting position?

Pros and cons of different types of companies - start-ups, multinationals etc.
Anyone with experience working as a consultant?


Any perspectives from those working in industry considering hiring someone coming from academia?



If you've moved to industry, what are the biggest challenges you've faced, especially at the start?
I messed up my science career (looking back I had some great jobs and fantastic experiences so there are no real regrets) by changing back and forth between academia (post-doc positions) and industry.
Mistakes made:
Not sticking with one speciality -a jack of all trades is not highly valued.
Not realising which of the industry positions would have offered a great career

The later you leave it, the harder it becomes.
Take your chances when they come.
Connections, connections, connections
If you talk to people in industry, you should quickly get a feel for their mind set. Going into industry will mean less lab time if you are a scientist.
Be open to consider all things; for instance quality control can be a really interesting position with a lot of variety trouble shooting. On the other hand it can be a boring dead end.
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Old 04.06.2020, 19:30
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

Got a job in an engineering consulting company straight out of PhD. Albeit, I worked as engineer for 7 years before getting into the PhD.

Does staying too long in academia make it difficult to transition to industry? My current manager was assistant professor and lead 5 PhD students before leaving the university. I'd guess it's never late.

I don't think there's a position that best fits people from academia because people from academia is diverse. My position? Something among numerical analyst, software development, technical writer, project manager, acquisition, offer writing and sales. Ever felt the imposter syndrome during the PhD? Nothing compared to the consulting job. Managing older and more experienced people than me (all experts) required lots of alcohol after work to deal with anxiety. After a couple years this worry is gone.

Start-ups? No direct experience, just that about a month ago a lot of colleagues on startups became jobless. Not the best year.

Multinationals? I work for one and they are risk averse. It takes the same or more effort to sell a project to management compared to a client. A pro: my office and underground parking space.

Any perspectives from those working in industry considering hiring someone coming from academia? It is expected that people from academia have a good contact network. We hire professors and postdocs as freelancers, professors hire us as subcontractors when they have no students at hand. I failed at this during the PhD but I'm catching up

Largest challenge while moving to industry? Convincing them I truly wanted the job.
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Old 04.06.2020, 20:12
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

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Mistakes made:
Not sticking with one speciality -a jack of all trades is not highly valued.
That is just so not true for industry.

While in academia becoming super-specialized and obtaining in-depth knowledge in your subject is a cornerstone of becoming successful, scientific work in industry is very scattered and projects typically last 6-12 months, after which you are assigned to a new project (or even a few small projects), of content of which you may have no clue at the beginning, yet have to deliver in this short time.

What is valued in the industry from academics is transferable and soft skills - language, data analysis skills, presentation, project management, and especially the ability to learn and quickly dive in the new subject (for the reason described above) and ability to be concise and explain complex ideas in a simple understandable manner (Imagine a mechanical engineer working on a project with a clinical scientist, they have to be able to explain stuff to each other to succeed).

One particular advice from a big industry shot I met at one fair back in 2017 was to go and do something completely different from what you did during your PhD/MS, be it industry or academia. Prove that you can be a success regardless of the topic/industry/environment/job description. Exactly which I followed. And the feedback from my employer after some months was: "we hired you because you have been to many places and worked on a variety on topics, often not directly related to your major"
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Old 04.06.2020, 23:19
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

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That is just so not true for industry.

While in academia becoming super-specialized and obtaining in-depth knowledge in your subject is a cornerstone of becoming successful, scientific work in industry is very scattered and projects typically last 6-12 months, after which you are assigned to a new project (or even a few small projects), of content of which you may have no clue at the beginning, yet have to deliver in this short time.

What is valued in the industry from academics is transferable and soft skills - language, data analysis skills, presentation, project management, and especially the ability to learn and quickly dive in the new subject (for the reason described above) and ability to be concise and explain complex ideas in a simple understandable manner (Imagine a mechanical engineer working on a project with a clinical scientist, they have to be able to explain stuff to each other to succeed).

One particular advice from a big industry shot I met at one fair back in 2017 was to go and do something completely different from what you did during your PhD/MS, be it industry or academia. Prove that you can be a success regardless of the topic/industry/environment/job description. Exactly which I followed. And the feedback from my employer after some months was: "we hired you because you have been to many places and worked on a variety on topics, often not directly related to your major"

I inadvertently to some extent ended up a jack of all trades, thinking that it would keep me employable, which has been true, but on the other hand I'm not where I should be at this point as I'm starting from 0 each time I change. I would like a good position (still uncertain about industry but other options are limited) but seems difficult to obtain at this point due to not being a specialist in any field.
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Old 05.06.2020, 08:01
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

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That is just so not true for industry.
OK accepted, but most of the positions advertised are looking for specialist knowledge from an academic - - but not being narrow-minded is probably equally important. The generalist positions are higher up.

What I found the most challenging was gaining the respect of fellow workers, both lower ( important if you have to supervise staff) and higher in the hierarchy. Depending on the company, many if if not most of the employees will not be so "highly" qualified. I remember my very first boss in London. He had risen up through trade qualifications and was very sceptical, as he was right to be, about young graduates who did not have a clue. As you get older this problem increases as in academia your titles, publication list etc speak in your favour. In industry they will count for little, you have to win respect the hard way.
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Old 05.06.2020, 08:20
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

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I inadvertently to some extent ended up a jack of all trades, thinking that it would keep me employable, which has been true, but on the other hand I'm not where I should be at this point as I'm starting from 0 each time I change. I would like a good position (still uncertain about industry but other options are limited) but seems difficult to obtain at this point due to not being a specialist in any field.
Good luck, you will get there. Maybe it will just take a bit longer. Experience isn't lost. It also depends on how you present it.

The days of old school all ac or all alt-ac (or all industry) careers are disappearing, especially in CH. And it has started a while ago already.

Last edited by MusicChick; 05.06.2020 at 09:54.
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Old 05.06.2020, 09:52
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

For most of answers here I now counter-examples so everyone's career is somewhat individual and may also depend on luck. For example some people do get hired for having diverse in depth knowledge both in academia and industry (diverse counts if it is in-depth enough imo).

I am not sure why you want to stay in Academia if you think you won't become a professor one day (of course most never become as it is a pyramid). I do know people going back to becoming professors after having spent time in industry - though in that case you have to continue publishing and for most of the companies that will be your own time and with no benefit for in-company performance.

Also without knowing your field nobody can really answer your question because academia-industry benefits are very much dependent on the field. And even then it is individual because we don't know your expertise level and other skills you posses. I would assume a good bet is talking to people who left academia for industry in your field.

As you mentioned start-ups: you probably know that some people go on with their start-up attempts while still in academia as you have some level of income certainty combined with time to try to go for a start-up. Fail or succeed if you are smart enough you should learn a lot in the process and be ready to get out of your comfort zone. Many companies appreciate that experience.

Also some start-ups generate part of their income doing consulting work.

On the other hand industry directly may give quicker short-term income increase (may be a factor if you have/want kids for example).
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Old 05.06.2020, 10:23
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

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A company I worked for hired an ex academic (about 20 years professor) who was a stress specialist. He was a horror to work with due to his attitude of perfection before timelines. Every typo, every piece of information referenced in depth, every calculation down to the smallest decimal place. Often where a back of the napkin calculation would suffice he'd insist on a full FEM model.

The company kept him for his ability to talk to other academics for grants and uni based research. Any work with a timeline was kept away from him and we used to joke about his "Doctorarbeit" timelines. It didn't matter when it was finished as long as it was to a publishable standard.

That's my experience, it may have been down to his attitude more than his background but I think they were related.
While perfection is a prerequisite for scientific research, you do get people like that in industry who weren't academics.

Sometimes the going with the hunch will get thinks quickly back on track rather than weeks of painstaking testing.
To be honest, I think a mix of personality types can be most productive in getting things done.
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Old 05.06.2020, 11:41
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

Reminds me of dear old professor Tolstoguzov, who was parachuted into Nestlé Research from the University of Moscow. They rented him a nice house near the lake shore in Vevey. I think that he only stayed a couple of years and never contributed anything useful, AFAIK. Maybe there is an insider here who knows more?

Last edited by FrankZappa; 05.06.2020 at 11:41. Reason: Spelling
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Old 05.06.2020, 11:56
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

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Reminds me of dear old professor Tolstoguzov, who was parachuted into Nestlé Research from the University of Moscow. They rented him a nice house near the lake shore in Vevey. I think that he only stayed a couple of years and never contributed anything useful, AFAIK. Maybe there is an insider here who knows more?
I don't. But did he report home on the progress once a week? You know, pодина-мать зовёт. (Mother homeland calls)
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Old 05.06.2020, 13:48
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

sounds a good deal for the prof. vacation for 2 years in lake house Vevey!
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Reminds me of dear old professor Tolstoguzov, who was parachuted into Nestlé Research from the University of Moscow. They rented him a nice house near the lake shore in Vevey. I think that he only stayed a couple of years and never contributed anything useful, AFAIK. Maybe there is an insider here who knows more?
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Old 10.03.2021, 16:24
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Re: Transitioning from academia to industry

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Many of us working in academic research but not on the professor route wonder about the day our academic career ends and we're forced out of this bubble. Does staying too long in academia make it difficult to transition to industry?

I'm curious about other people's experiences in making this transition. What type of company or position in a company (other than a bench scientist) best matches academia or is a good starting position?

Pros and cons of different types of companies - start-ups, multinationals etc.
Anyone with experience working as a consultant?

Any perspectives from those working in industry considering hiring someone coming from academia?


If you've moved to industry, what are the biggest challenges you've faced, especially at the start?

Hi eireann!


Have you made the transition yourself to the "industry"?

I have been on the lookout for jobs outside of academia for 6 months now and it continues to be a soul-crushing experience. After 30 or so job applications I am still looking. Covid does not make the situation better, for sure.

I have working experience (4 years) in a multi-national company (online marketing research; 2007-2011) before I embarked on the academic path (another 4 years as a postdoc in social psychology). I thought that should give me a leg up compared to my peers. It hasn't.

My approach to the job search has been bottom-up rather than top-down. This means that my only true filter is "English as the working language" rather than having a specific idea of a position in my head and searching for that. If I like the company and the job responsabilities and I believe that I fit at least 50% of the requirements, I apply.

So my thoughts on the matter are:

- the idea of being a "consultant" (scientific or not) is a utopia: it sounds reasonable on paper, it leads to nothing in real life
- start-ups are a good place to try; however, there are not that many out there.
- english speaking jobs are more often found in multi-national companies. luckily, there are enough of them in Switzerland. unfortunately, it is likelier that their application process involves an online portal where it suck out all the keywords from your CV. The fact that I get a rejection 24-48h later makes me think that no human ever gets to see my CV in these cases, that I am rejected based on the keywords alone. of course, I try my best to tailor the CV with the keywords from the job ad but here I am still
- When I apply to anything "entry level" or "junior", I am given the impression that I am overqualified (they want maleable students in their final years of study). Saying that I don't care about the lower salary does not help me. When I apply to anything "associate" or mid-level, I am told I do not have sufficient experience in the field.

Conclusion:

I do believe that the longer one stays in academia, the more difficult it will be to find something else outside. As time passes, we do become a "jack of all trades, master of none". Anyone who thinks otherwise likely still is in academia and has not dipped their toes in the job search.

Our peers of similar age (and even education at Master level) have had more time to gather work experience in a particular field. As ex academics, it feels like we are confined to entry level jobs because we do lack experience in a particular field. And not even there does anyone want us
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