How do I make the transition from academia to industry?  


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January 8, 2019 5:49 pm  

How do I make the transition from academia to industry?

Dave Jensen
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January 8, 2019 5:50 pm  

Wow, that’s a big question. It actually forms the gist of what is available at Biocareers and on this forum.

Simply being at the right institution may provide significant exposure to industry scientists. According to the book (a bit dated, but still relevant) "When Do Scientists Become Entrepreneurs? The Social Structural Antecedents of Commercial Activity in the Academic Life Sciences," by T. E. Stuart and W. W. Ding, the ten US universities with the largest number of faculty who are either founders or advisory board members of biotech companies are Harvard, UCSD, Stanford, UCSF, the University of Washington, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Yale, Columbia, and Cornell. It can really pay off in the long run to have worked in a laboratory with connections to the industry club.

Remember that moving to industry is a lot like joining a private club. Imagine that you are a great tennis player and you want to join the local tennis club. Would you write letter after letter to their membership chair? Or, would you go find another member to be your sponsor? The latter would work better, whereas the letters would get tossed into the round file. That's what the goal of networking is . . . to find a "sponsor" for your application.

After you have found your first industry job, try to focus your early efforts on projects that will help the company to reach its goals. Every company has individuals or groups that are more academic in their approach, and that may not directly contribute to the company's bottom line. As someone who has recently left the academic environment, you may be tempted to do the same. In the long run, however, people who succeed in industry tend to be the ones who contribute the most directly to helping meet the company goals (e.g., by discovering a new drug target, designing a more efficient high-throughput screen, solving a formulation problem, etc.).

- Dave Jensen, Moderator and Founder

This post was modified 2 years ago by Dave Jensen

Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
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January 9, 2019 8:32 pm  

This is a massive question indeed and among the many elements missing here is "what role in industry?".

Irrespective of what you identified a bit of tooling up helps. Networking is apart of that.

However some say making the transition is a function of luck.  So that being said, luck in that case..... is when preparation meets opportunity. 

Simple analogy, take winning the Lotto.  Is luck there? yes of course but no matter how slim the opportunity, preparation dictates you buy a lotto ticket right?

So when I made the transition I had done a few things already that "armed" me to make that transition.  Not necessarily aimed at a specific job per se but more aimed at understanding the world beyond the ependorf rack on my lab-bench.  Informational interviewing, some soft-hands on preceptorships, and or volunteer work, all helping to tool me up. 

One area people talk about is translational and transferable skills. Fine. Great. I advise that you identify the skills that you want to transfer and see if you an identify opportunities now to demonstrate in-fact that you have tranferred those skills elsewhere. So that's one way to prepare.  

Remember in an interview you don't have observed behavior to help you. So being able to give crystal clear examples helps your case.   

Another is development of complementary skill sets.  Certainly people of certain personalities and skills and strenghts from a work-style prefferance perspective may not be able to realize developent and refinement of those skills in academic environments.  Such as leadership competencies, soft-skills, presentation and group faciliation and so and so and so on. When I was in the lab I felt parts of my personality and skills which I later learned were my strenghts was stifled. So with your Preparation, find opportunities to build on complementary skills that you think needs development or excercising - you can talk to them in interviews etc. - rather than the opposite, being in a spot where you can't really talk to certain soft-skill or leaderhip competencies or what ever you identify (formal project management, funding sourcing, meetings management, editorial ..what ever).

For example the 2 areas I highlighted above, I was able to source that from of community service. With out saying much more it was a community service that often received alot of attention on interviews which well helped me shine a bit beyond being a lab rat.

Informational interviewing goes a long way - not only do you contribute to your knowledge buidling but also you're networking. So put alot of investment of time into that from a prepareness point of view.  As they say, if you want to get results, you got to make the calls.   For the record I don't know who "they" are but..still..relevant.

Of course there is your subject matter expertise - see how you can get some apriori hands on experience as noted - if not ok, but work on those other points.  Try to know the language a bit.  You don't need to be a full expert but at least beable to have a relevant discussion. 

Have a great CV targeted to your job ambtion, learn the skill of good coverletter writing (you'll need it even if you have a network early and into later stages of career), and do pay attention to interview communications skills - the latter is where alot of people fumble.  You can come across odd quite easily and in todays uber competitive world , any little fumble on words you use, tone and communication ability can work against you quite quickly. You want to come accross as a professional, lack of experience does not matter so much when you're called for an interview.  They want something, so handle yourself like a professional and be an authority the areas where you are, be the humble apprentice in area where you're not. Master saying "I don't know" and "Let me get back to you on that" and "can you inform me more?, I'm not well informed on that".