Thursday, August 14, 2014

How you should prepare for a career outside of academia: 7 lucky tips for a smoother transition

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Seán Mac Fhearraigh, who will discuss his thoughts on life after the PhD - a topic on which I've seen a lot of discussion here on the blog as well as on Twitter over the last year, and I'm glad to add Sean's voice and thoughts to this discussion. Sean is the founder of, a website for PhDs and Post-Docs looking for a advice on what next after the lab. You can find Seán on twitter with @postpostdoc1.

Being prepared is what a PhD and PostDoc is about, managing reagents and consumables, booking conferences, applying for grants and so on. But preparing for careers outside of academia sometimes does not get the attention it deserves. After all the likelihood that you will leave academia and transition into industry is around 30% following a PhD according to the ASCB.

To help with your job hunt during your PhD or post-graduate research I put together these ten tips to help you succeed:

1. Talk to newly graduated PhDs
Newly graduated PhDs will have a good idea of what the current job market is like, they will have potentially been looking for jobs for the past few months and will have a list of agencies and contacts from the job search.

2. Start a LinkedIn profile
Stats are you probably have a LinkedIn profile already, if not, sign up straight away. A LinkedIn profile is a great resource to make connections outside of academia in start-ups and firms. If you can, try and stay away from Facebook habits and treat LinkedIn as your professional network. It is not just about being connected to your friends, but reach out to potential employers that might be looking for candidates like yourself.

3. Volunteer
If possible, that’s if you have time, try and volunteer for a start-up that aligns with your skills, I know this might sound impossible, but lending a few hours a week to a company as an intern always looks good on your CV. If not, volunteering for scientific outreach events would also be a good idea. There are many festivals that now involve scientific outreach worldwide. Volunteering for events or conferences like this allows you to build your skillset beyond academic skills and makes you look like a team player.

4. Start reading job boards
I know it’s obvious that you will need to read job boards to look for positions, however, what you need to get use to is what type of jobs you need to be looking for, how employers might phrase job descriptions. This might be of benefit if you are non-native speaker. I think looking at job advertisements will also let you set your expectations on salary and positions within companies.

5. Meet a recruiter
Meeting recruiters can be hugely beneficial, especially if you look as equally good on CV but may be a stand out candidate because of your personality. Furthermore recruiters are always looking to fill positions, they have direct contact with HR departments and will more than likely be able to tell you if you application for a job has succeeded or failed. In many cases you might not be able to get this information or it may take a long time off a company’s HR department. Furthermore, recruiters may also help in bargaining for salary and benefits, a skill you may not have from working in academia.

6. Update you CV to be more business/industry focussed
A scientific CV will differ from an industry CV. Although they will both have a similar format, a business CV will focus more on success, management, deliverance, office skills & team work. Although most of these elements are within an academic CV, a potential business employer may not have an interest in what technical skills you have, unless they have been advertised in the job application or maybe related to your job. If possible try and highlight how you succeed in your PhD, what impact it made and what your potential would be.

7. Tell your Professor

Your Professor not only holds the keys to your PhD, but potentially holds the key to your future career. If your Professor knows that you are not interested in pursuing an academic career they may help you with finding university courses that may support your move out of academia or provide you with roles within the lab that would provide some industry experience. Also they may have contacts within companies or start-ups that might be of interest for jobs.

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