If I Leave Academia – Should I Retrain and What Matters to Industry?

What questions do you have about looking for work? I’ve listed a few here. But if you’ve got others I’d love to know. Maybe I can answer? Or the crowd that is social media can?


At this point in time, you might be thinking, "I'd like to leave academia.". Probably because the job market in academia went from bad to worse. COVID-19 made it really hard to do academic work. I might have a few questions about leaving.

One of the most common questions that people ask me, "Should I retrain?". I think as academics, we can tend to focus on retraining because that's what we've learned. You know, the whole system is geared up towards training, and more training. As result, that's our go to thing to retrain, and I say more important than training is actually experience. So, If you can perhaps, invest the time and effort that you might have otherwise invested in education, and experience. You probably get a much better career outcome than just going for more training. Particularly, if you're going to do say, more degree training. The only exception to this is if the career you want to have require some kind of degree qualification or some specific qualification in order to enter it. I'm talking about a vocational training here. You know, optometrists need optometry training. Doctors need doctor training. Carpenters need to go into carpentry apprenticeship. So, all of those things mean you will need to retrain but there are certain roles, and jobs where you won't need necessarily retrain and you might just build on the skills you had previously. Particularly if you got an undergraduate degree that might qualify you for a particular sector.

If you're thinking changing careers, you might have a question you know, "Do publications matter in non-academic role?". Generally, the answer is "no", but you really should think about, what does the publication show about me all the work that I do. That's more the question that you need to ask yourself and therefore answer in your resume rather than having a long list of publications.

Knowing whether you should stay or you should leave, that's a question entirely up to you. But what I've seen some people do is trying to treat it as a bit of experiment. So, what are variables that you can take out of the question or out of the equation, and make it easier for you to understand what is causing the problem with academia or your PhD or whatever it is that you might be having problem with. So, I've seen people "You don't have to do this.", but they moved country in order to work out you know. So, they've change their institution, they've changed their supervisor. You might just try to do change one of those two things: our institution or your supervisor, to work out whether or not it's research or whether it's your supervisor or whether it might be project that you don't like rather than the PhD itself. Everyone is really concerned about making the wrong decision. I won't argue that it's not the case of right or wrong. It's a case of understanding yourself. So if you leave academia and find out that your other option what did you leave to is not enjoyable as academia, then it's not the wrong decision. You just now understand. Actually, relatively speaking, academia was enjoyable for you. Or relatively speaking, you enjoyed your previous role compared to your current role. That's a good thing to know because it means when you look for your next role, you know what not to look for as well as what you are after.

The next question you might have is "What if I cannot find work?". I totally get this is a real problem for people. So, my only advice is to have a back-up plan. So, in the first instance that might be willingness to accept all manner of roles. So, I'm talking here about customer service. Working as a delivery driver. Any of those things might be kind of your "Plan Z". Your lifeboat. Then also have some other plans. So again, if you have set aside some money for education, experiences are gonna be far more important than education. So maybe you can put some of that funding into perhaps supporting yourself while you look for work. Or having you know, a trigger point when my savings get down to X amount then I start looking for other jobs or have a lower threshold of what am I accept. How do I know what industry I want? I think the easiest way to answer that is do is treat it as a literature review. Go and have a look on Google. Type in some of the skills that you have or some of the industries that work in your sector. Or some of the companies that work in your sector and have a look at what they're hiring. Who are they hiring? Do you know anyone they hired recently? Do you know anyone that has left that company recently? Could you go and talk to those people and ask them what it is that made them like the job? Dislike the job? Stay? Leave? Turn the idea of finding out about the industry into a research project. That is something that you are good at as a researcher. So can treat it like a research project looking into what industry want.

Finally, people also ask you know, "How should I structure my resume?". I think the biggest thing is think about is to be or to do is empathetic. So, what is it that industry might want from you? You might not be able to do this easily in the first instance. So, toy them to other people about what they like in a resume is a good place to start. Don't assume people don't want to help you out. Most people would be happy to talk about resumes and resume writing. Try to talk to people who hired other people in the past. Not just people who applied for the jobs because getting on the other side of the recruitment table is important way to understand what it is that recruiters want. Put yourself in their shoes. What would you want to see? How many applications would you want to look through if there were 10 pages long? How many applications would you want to look through if there were 2 pages long? How many applications would you want to look through if they were edge to edge text? How many would you want to look through if they all look nice and what easy on the eye and easy to scan? So, think about those things as you prepare your resume.

As always, good luck as you look for work. It's challenging time. You need some help, feel free to reach out. I'm sure I can provide you with some support.