Thirty-Eight Things to Help You Transition out of Academia

Leaving academia isn’t easy. Especially if that’s what you’d thought you’d do your whole life. So, although this post won’t help you deal with the emotional side of leaving, it does offer 38 practical things you can do to help make the transition easier.


Good day there, bakers, writers, and rock stars. Dr. Richard Huysmans here. Coming back to you again. Another vlog, blog, podcast coming up. So, this week, I’m going doing a bit of a catch-up. So, I wrote a blog a while back about 38 things that you can do to transition into academia. It’ll be linked here in this video somewhere. So, you can go and find the actual written blog, but I’m going to talk to each of those points today. So, to make the transition to academia 38 things that you should be doing or at least doing some of them.
So, the first one relatively obvious apply for jobs. You can’t transition out of academia hoping that someone will randomly offer you a job. If you’re not applying for jobs, you’re not trying hard enough. So, people that I work with find it scary to apply for jobs. They feel like that that’s kind of maybe not necessarily the end of their academic career, but certainly the beginning of the end of their academic career. One thing that I would say is that applying for a job doesn’t mean even if you get an interview and you get offered the job that you have to take it. The whole process is about finding out about whether you want something and how you might want it. So, don’t think of the application as being you saying yes or being forced to say yes.
Secondly, in terms of whether it’s the end of your career or not, it’s definitely not the end of your academic career. There are lots of examples of people going into industry or leaving academia, and then coming back later on. Yes, you might be a little bit behind your early stage matched peers. But you’re not prevented from coming back. I would argue that in 5 to 10 years’ time, if things progress the same way as they currently are in academia, having industry connections will be a highly valued or highly sought after attribute of applicants. So, having worked in industry that might be an attractive part of your career, and why you might be recruited back into academia at potentially a more senior level than you might have otherwise been appointed. Given that you might not have had the papers or the grants that other people have.
The next thing to do is the number 2 is to attend interviews. Again, just like applying for jobs is self-evident attending interviews. Somewhat self-evident but I have heard with the great resignation that we’re experiencing in 2022 that people are ghosting interviews. Please don’t do that. It doesn’t provide you with a good, it doesn’t leave you with a good reputation amongst potential recruiters. Amongst potential hirers. Same with applying for a job, doesn’t mean you have to take it. Attending the interview it’s not implied that you are going to accept the job. Certainly, they’re not interviewing you with the implication that they will offer you the job. They’re interviewing you to find out whether you’re suited to the job. You should be interviewing them to find out if you are suited to their company, to their organization, to their staff. So, attend interviews. The interviews will also help you learn about the organization. Certainly, when I’ve applied for jobs previously, interviews have really let me know whether I wanted to work with that organization or not. In some cases after the interview, in fact during the interview I made the decision that I wouldn’t take the role. So, that attending interview is really useful. The other kinds of interviews that you might undertake for yourself is an informational interview. Where you look through your network to find individuals that have experiences, skills or roles that you would like to have, and then you go, and you chat to them. How did they get there? How did they get that? How did they develop it? You’re not asking for a job. You’re not asking them to do anything for you other than to tell you a little bit about how they got to where they are, and you might find that they’re happy to have a chat, an interview about that or they might do it via a series of emails. So, attend interviews.
Number 3 is to put yourself out there particularly in terms of blogging. So, in this day and age of social media, you need to manage your own brand. One of the easiest ways to do that is to blog. You can blog about all manner of things. Your hobbies. Your intro. Your other interests. Your work interests. Your non-work interests. You could blog about the trials and tribulations of being in research. The whole point of this is to kind of give people the impression of who you are as a more rounded individual. Not just to present you as particular as a one-dimensional character who only occupies the academic space. If you are interested in leaving academia the ability to communicate in general is highly valued, and to communicate in a way that other people understand. In a way that isn’t, I guess lofty or haughty or a way that is accessible. That’s all useful and blogging will do 2 things. If you’re not good at that it’ll develop that skill. It’ll also make your information and you more findable by other people.
Which brings us on to point 4, build a network. So, people I guess there’s a bit of trepidation about what networking is and how you should do it. So, on one level it’s about collecting connections. On the next level it is about nurturing those connections. So, you collect connections by going to a conference and saying let’s connect by giving a talk and inviting people during that talk to connect with you potentially on social media. Then the nurturing of the network is how you share content. How you share information. So, just like when you catch up with family or friends, you might provide them with an update about your life. You’ll do the same with your connections potentially that are on social media. If you’re all of your network is only through say email, then you wouldn’t really have a personal newsletter. Although I’m sure there are people out there that do have something like that. So, shifting the connections over to say LinkedIn in particular is a really useful way of facilitating, nurturing your connections. Regularly providing them with updates. I can definitely say it’s who you know that will help you get the job that you’re after. At the very least your referees are going to be really important for getting a job. But I reckon more likely the person that hires you will be somehow related to you. Maybe not a friend. Certainly, a colleague. Certainly, a friend of a colleague or a colleague of a colleague. So, those close connections are really important.
The next thing I think people should really do is describe their ideal boss or their ideal manager. So, what I see a lot in academia is you know what you don’t want. So, you know that your supervisor has been micromanaging. They give you too many tasks to do. They expect those tasks to be done in an unreasonable amount of time. They undermine you. They go behind your back and get other people to do the same work that they’ve asked you to do. They do all these bad things and so you have a good idea of what you don’t want in a boss or manager, but I would then go to the trouble of writing what your ideal boss or manager would do. How they would behave. They might just be the opposite of what you currently have. So, you might have someone who’s supportive. Someone who understands your workload. Someone who is happy to work with you to build your career as well as building their career or their entity. So, writing these things down is really useful. So, when you come to interview or when you find this kind of manager, you can not necessarily latch on to them in a leechy kind of way. But you can latch onto them and say, “Hey, I’m looking for a job in this place.” Doing this thing. You know, do you have any positions available? Or you might try to follow them and find when they do have a position available, so that you can make an application.
Similarly, number six, describe your ideal employer. So, just like you’re describing your ideal manager, what does your ideal employer do? You know, what sort of work are they in? What are their ethics? Perhaps, what’s their remuneration? Where are they located? How many cities in the world are they located in? All those kinds of things.
Continuing on the theme of ideals, I definitely encourage all the people that I work with to describe their ideal job. So, Cal Newport has this idea of not necessarily describing the work you do, but what you might do and how you might do it. I think that’s really useful. But I also think given you want to make a transition to industry, if you know what you want to do in terms of an actual job that can be useful too. Because we can start then narrowing down the kinds of organizations companies and people that we approach. But if you describe your ideal job at least in terms of hours work, so you know, full-time, part-time, Cal Newport talks about intensity. I like that idea. So, you know how intense is the work? You know, and I think about full-time. Regular intensity would be say, 40 hours a week. Full-time high intensity might be 60 hours a week. Full-time low intensity might be 30 hours a week. You might you know Cal Newport talks about things like prestige or value or impact. So, think about all of those kinds of things in terms of describing your ideal job.
Now the next one is about building up skill sets that I think are useful for people who are in academic roles that want to transition into non-academic roles. So, do extracurricular activities particularly project management. Get to learn the language of project management, and try and learn the language of multiple different types. So, if you’re watching or listening to this or reading the blog. Later on, Google words like PMBOK. So, PMBOK, Google “Prints Two”, Google “Agile”, Google “Scrum”, and read up. Watch a few videos. Spend up to an hour learning the lingo, and if you’re enjoying doing that go deeper. If you’re not enjoying that at least learn the language of project management. Because that no matter what job you have managing projects is going to be really important. Even if you decide in the end that you want to stay in academia, everything that you learn in relation to project management will be useful.
Next learn financial management. So again, Google things like “Profit and Loss”. Google “Accrual”. Google “Cash-based Accounting”. Google “Balance Sheets”. Self-educate yourself. Spend about an hour doing that look at different ways that people can manage budgets. Again at the end of that process if you’re bored of it and it’s not interesting you, the information that you found will be really useful. So, don’t stress. If you’re excited by it, you can continue going down that path, but also being able to express these terms. Talk that language will be really useful outside academia. Again, if you decide to stay in academia, I think a lot of academics lacks sufficient financial management skills and they expect the university to do a lot of that budget management for them. If you build up those skills, you might actually find you become a better academic as a result.
Number 10 is dress like the job you want. When I was doing my PhD, I deliberately dressed up when I went into the lab. I didn’t dress exactly like I am now: shirt, tie, lapel, pin, pocket square. But I did dress up more than others. So, others tended to take the lab a bit more relaxed and that might be where you’re at. You might do that, but I like the idea of dressing like the job you want. So, I tended to wear slacks or jeans into the lab rather than shorts. I tended to wear a shirt rather than a t-shirt. All those kinds of things, a jumper or a pullover rather than a hoodie. Then when I got my first job outside of the lab after my PhD, I did wear a suit and tie to work because that’s the kind of job that I ultimately wanted. I didn’t need to wear that. I would not have been judged how I addressed differently or dressed like my peers but I dressed like what I wanted to be where I wanted to be at.
Tip 11, engage a recruiter. There are lots of recruiting firms out there. Don’t be afraid to give them a call. Tell them what you’re after. They will help you get a job. It’s in their interest to place you. The better relationship you can have within a recruiter ultimately the better you’re going to be. There are designated I guess, science research recruiters out there who don’t necessarily help you make the transition from academia to industry, but they are interested in placing people with academic training in industry roles. So, engaging a recruiter like that it would be really useful.
Tip 12, get to pit crew. So, there’s a lady Janine Ghana who talks about the support network that you need around you. She describes that whole network as a pit crew. So, they’re the kinds of people that help you. You know, essentially like a pit crew services the car and gets the car good to go. The pit crew does the same for you. It helps keep your head up around your job hunting process. It’s not always easy. Although having said that research isn’t easy either. Just like research, job hunting is lots of applications, lots of rejections, a few successes, and small wins along the way. So, be prepared for that and a pit crew can help you do that.
Thirteen is get a truthsayer. So, you really want someone to give you true proper free feedback about your resume. About the job application process as you are applying it. So, the pit crew is really good they’re going to build you up, but the truthsayer is going to be the one who says, “Hey, Richard. Your resume isn’t well written. Isn’t well formatted. The English is wrong. It’s too detailed. It’s too long, et cetera, et cetera. In many respects, the recruiter could also be that truthsayer role, but what you’ll probably find from a lot of recruiters is that they’re busy. A lot of recruiters they’ve got somewhere between 3 and 700 individuals who they’re trying to place into roles. They don’t have that many roles. So, they might play put forward 3 or 4 candidates for any one particular role. So, you’re still going to be in a high amount of competition if you’re with a recruiter. So, they may not always have the time for you, but I would definitely say listen to their advice when it comes to say resume interview, etc., etc., and lean on them they are keen for you to get placed in a role. So, you know when you get an interview and if they’ve particularly been the one to help you get an interview, ask them if you can have a mock interview. Ask them if they can give you some coaching around being successful in the interview.
So, keeping on with the network aspect of this, know who your champions are. So, who are the people who are pumping up your tires when you’re not in the room? Who are the people in meetings when they say we need someone to do ABC? That’s saying you have the skill to ABC. You should contact them. Find out who they are and make an effort to support them to support you. So, if you’re looking for an industry role and you’ve got an industry connection who may or may not be a champion, find out whether how you can help them help you. So, you know is that sending your resume to them. Is it updating your LinkedIn? So, that they can easily, and they don’t feel ashamed or a bit conscious about pointing them in the direction of your LinkedIn. Tidy up all of those things. Know who your champions are and make your information easier to find.
Number 15, get used to working 9 to 5. As a PhD student or as a researcher a few things might happen that mean you’re no longer working 9 to 5. It could mean that it could have been that equipment isn’t available. Reagents aren’t available. Samples aren’t available. All of those things mean that you might have got out of the habit of working 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. But for the most part, most organizations work or have work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. So, getting into that regular habit and certainly showing up to work at least 40 hours a week for a full-timer will be a really useful way of helping your referee see that you’re committed to this process. So, when they come time to say, “Hey, can Richard work a normal job not an academic job?” “Yep, I see him here all the time.” “He’s not making overuse of the flexibility of academia.”
Number 16 is know the industry you want to move into. So, we already kind of described the ideal manager, the ideal job, and the ideal company. If you know the industry you want to move into then you can start looking for those companies’ jobs and managers inside that industry.
Know the employers in the industry so for example. If you want to work in biotech, who are the top 5 biotech companies based in your capital city? What do they do? How do they recruit staff? How big are they? What are their focus areas? Who do they collaborate with outside their organization? So, know the employers in the industry.
If you’ve got time, number 18 is know the issues faced by industry. So again, if you know that these top 5 companies are the big employers in your town or city then what are the issues that they face? Do they face regulatory issues? Do they face economic issues? You know, we’re currently going at the tail end hopefully of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, if they had to deal with that in some way. Are they responding to that? Were they overworked during COVID, and now as we get out of cupboard will they have a drop downturn in the amount of work that they need to do? Will COVID allow an uptick in the work that they do? Know the issues and how they could be resolved.
Don’t be afraid to think of number 19 is know the issues faced by not just the industry but the employers in the industry. So, are they a largely migrant workforce? Are they rarely an international workforce? Those kinds of things are really useful.
Number 20 know the roles at the different employers. So, if you’re going for a job at a big 4 consulting firm, know the hierarchy that they have in place. Know the names of the different roles. You know, whether it’s consultant, senior consultant, advisor, senior advisor, partner, seat and your partner. Whatever the levels are know what they are and know how they work together. You can mostly find that out by looking at their website. If you can’t find it out by looking at their website, find people who are currently working there, and basically conduct an informational interview. Ask them about their role. How do they promote? How do they progress? What do they all talk about? And then you’ll get a picture if you know, when you’re looking at jobs. What are the role titles then that you need to be targeting?
The next thing you have a look at for making the transition item number 21 is to know the jobs of the future. There are lots of lists out there. If you Google jobs of the future, you’ll get a long, long list of what’s possible. What people think. Knowing that information can help you target those jobs. So, you can use those keywords to look for new roles. You can also build skills that relate to those new roles.
And that leads me on to number 22, what are the skills of the future? You can go ahead and build those or maybe self-rate and develop those skills if you need.
Obviously, knowing the jobs that are out there and being advertised is really important. So, head on over to all the different recruitment sites, set up a profile, and get regular notifications. But I actually have found LinkedIn to be the most valuable site to give a bit of an insight into the jobs that are out there and being advertised. That’s a really useful way of getting a bit of a finger on the pulse.
Tip number 24 in my 38-tip list is know what you don’t like. That’s a really use like, so if in all of these lists that you’re making of what you do like or what you don’t like. Sorry, of what you do like I should say and what things should have. If you’re constantly thinking rather than this is what I want. You’re thinking this is what I don’t want, make that list as well. Then if you see those things, you can immediately rule them out, okay and obviously know what you’re like. Know what your skills are. Do a skills audit both hard and soft skills.
They’re tip number 26 and 27. So, hard skills that’s really easy. You can do a time in motion study. So, for a week, every 15 minutes to half an hour, stop what you’re doing, and write down what it is that you’re doing. So, for me right now, if I was to do it, I wouldn’t necessarily stop but I’d go cool. I’m recording a video. I’ve written a blog, etc., then you’re going to have this long list of if you’re working 40 hours a week. You’ll have somewhere between 40 and 160 data points. Then for each of those points, you’re going to write well, cool. If I was recording a video, what skills did I need? So, I needed a video editing software. I needed writing software. I needed communication skills, etc. That’ll give you a good list of the kinds of hard, and perhaps soft skills that you’ve already got.
Then you can kind of work out 28 and 29 is to know which ones of these skills are transferable or not and in what context? So, for me SDS page and western blot very transferable between say, academia and bio industry. Maybe biotech industry. Certainly, the biomedical industry not so transferable to non-biotech biomedical industry. So, as a hard skill yet transferable for one industry or sector but not another. So, be aware of what isn’t transferable to where. If you’ve already made a list of the sectors or industries that you want to be part of I would definitely cross match your transferable hard and soft skills with that industry or sector, in order that you can better build up your own skill sets. So, you can more easily make that transition or make a transition knowing that you’ve got this full the full backing behind. You already talked about growing in network.
The other thing that I found really useful for people that I’ve coached is to let your network know why you’re growing your network. So, a lot of people come to me and say, “Oh, Richard. I know I want a job search strategy.” I say, “Cool, let’s talk about social media.” I’ve got LinkedIn but I’m not connected to anyone. There’s 150 or 200 people I could probably connect to. I feel really embarrassed going out and doing that. I’m like now that’s a perfect situation to connect with someone say, “Hey so and so I know we’ve been friends for a while. I’ve never connected with you on LinkedIn. I’d love to be connected and I’m doing a going through a process of building out my LinkedIn profile.” Then they might say accept the connection request, and not do anything else or they could say, “Oh, why are you building out you connect your profile on LinkedIn?” Then you get an opportunity to tell them, “I’m looking for work. Here’s this my ideal job would be this or my deal manager would be that.” Or whatever might be appropriate to take from this list, from your job search strategy, and plug it into your response back to them. Now you’re having a chat about what it is that you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and they might be able to help you get a job. To the extent that you can, I would also let your peers know.
So, you know if you can let your supervisor or your manager know you’re looking for work that’s awesome because they can help you. They’ve got a big network that they can bring to bear on it and if you feel comfortable sharing it with them obviously. If you’re working with other people in your research team, you know whether that be ECRs or post docs or PhD students to the extent that you feel comfortable, letting them know will help you find more work again. This kind of goes into that networking and building your network side of things. So, that was tips 31 and 32, let your peers know, let your manager or supervisor know.
Remove the excuses, and procrastination. So, if you’ve gone through this list and go, I don’t want to do this or I feel conscious about doing that or I don’t think this will work, you’ve already made the decision for yourself. To be honest you’re less likely to succeed. What I would say is instead of doing that let go of the of the advice that you might be giving yourself, and let others take control. You know, if they’re saying update your resume, go ahead and update your resume. If you don’t want to apply for the job because I’m not quite ready to leave where I’m at, again another excuse. Let it go. Apply. Once you get to the point of being offered the job, offered a start date, you can then say, “Oh, I’m in the middle of a big bunch of experiments. I feel really bad leaving my research team. You know, with that amount of data or to collect or collate, Can I start in 3 weeks? Three months?” Then they can make a decision, “No, we don’t want that. We want you to start tomorrow.” Cool. So, then you you can start now a negotiation about when you start. Most organizations if they’re interested in having you, they want you for many years, and so a delay in 3 weeks or 3 months is not a big deal as long as they know they can get you. A lot of these things could be negotiated. You might find that you’re willing to work on the weekends in your academic environment for a few weeks to get that stuff done. Get paid to do that of course and working your other job so that you can make a start with them easier. So, lots of different ways about making progress. So, remove the excuses and the procrastination. Stop behaving like an academic. So, one of the things that academics love to do is prove that they’re right or that someone else is wrong or get out negativity. The whole peer review process trains us to find all the problems with things. Stop doing that. Start looking at the bright side of things. You know, stop. Again, sample size is going to be tiny. Let’s forget about whether things have got enough evidence or not. Start thinking about, well what do I have enough information to make a decision, and to take action. That’s all that matters. So, focus on those kinds of things rather than, “Do I have enough information to be 100 certain.” Those 2 are vastly different to me.
I’ve already talked about networking, and social media. But understand how social media works. Particularly in the new industry. Particularly new channels, and how they’re using it. Don’t be afraid. You know, that’s another useful data point when it comes to finding out the sector.
Item 36 in this long, long list of 38 things, you can do to transition from academia to industry is to gain work experience. If you can afford to working, offering to work for free for a certain amount of time is really useful. So, I’d strongly encourage you to do that. Like I said if you can, if that’s something that you can’t do, ask. Work out a way that you could perhaps shadow someone. Offer people you know, a longer probation period. All of those kinds of things might be useful. Ask whether someone will let you follow them around for a week or a day. Any kind of work experience is useful. You’ll be surprised to know particularly for entry-level industry jobs that things like your part-time experience in a cafe, doing customer service will be relevant to them. So be mindful that. There’s lots of kinds of work experience that you can have.
Write your CV. So, to me, a resume is the short document. A CV is the long document, and that makes it just really easy to cut and paste things. When someone says, “Have you got experience ABC?” You can easily go and find it in your CV, and then you can tailor your resume for the job or the application that you’re going.
And finally tip number 38, I already talked a little bit about social media but definitely focus on having a good and complete LinkedIn profile. A good profile has a nice picture. A good title. Don’t say, “I’m looking for work”, and no one searches on LinkedIn for someone who’s looking for work. Everyone searches for skills or experiences. So, those are the kinds of words that you need to go out there and build into your LinkedIn profile.