Ask the Experts: Transitioning from Academia to Industry
Read some of the engaging Q&A session from our recent careers workshop on moving from an academic to industry position.
Breaking into an industry career can be tough, especially if you don’t know what careers are available or how to curate your resume for the position you want. In honor of National Postdoc Appreciation Week 2022, Proteintech held a careers workshop on “Transitioning from Academia to Industry.” In this workshop, we covered tips and tricks for a top-notch industry resume, showcased some of the job roles at Proteintech, and held a Q&A with a panel of current Proteintech employees to answer all your questions!
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We received so many amazing questions from our audience that we wanted to share some of the highlights from our panel discussion.
You asked, we answered!
Dr. Afrida Rahman-Enyart
Dr. Tara Little
Mid-Atlantic Account Manager
Dr. Jacob Culver
Dr. Laura T. Brown
Technical Account Manager
Question #1: How did you decide what role was for you? I’m having trouble deciding a path.
Laura: “You don’t necessarily need to jump into a role thinking ‘oh this is my final landing spot.’ That’s rarely the case. Most people will jump into industry in an entry level position […] and network with everyone [they] can at the company and fellow companies. Look around at all the other positions that people have, see what they do, and see what those positions entail […]. You can start tailoring your personal development towards jumping into that next role and making that next step. Generally, if you find the right company that has an awesome culture, like we do at Proteintech, they’re going to be 100% supportive at your efforts at career development.”
Afrida: “I actually didn’t apply for the job that I have right now! I applied for a different job, and during my interview, I was told about the Scientific Liaison position and how it might be a good fit. They were totally right; I absolutely love this job! During my interview I was mentioning how I liked to present and talk to people and so they told me about this position. So, a lot of the times you just need to get your ‘foot-in’ and just start talking to someone and they might know about roles that you didn’t even know existed in industry or that the company has a need for but hasn’t advertised yet.”
[What about you, Culver? Did you know that you wanted to be in the lab? Was that the only type of job you were applying for?]
Culver: “Yeah, I basically only looked for scientist positions. Throughout my PhD I loved being in lab but I kind of hated the structure such as the grant writing, some of the current layout and pay. So, I kind of knew to go straight ahead.”
Question #2: Do you feel that you can grow (move to a higher position) in your job at Proteintech?
Tara: “Absolutely. Proteintech is really good about having people grow as the company grows. I’m frequently having conversations with my boss about how I can move up to the next level and take on a management role.”
Culver: “This is something I openly discussed and asked about during my interviews. Since I left academia without a postdoc, I wanted a position that would encourage growth and provide me with new skills. Glad to say that’s exactly what Proteintech has provided.”
Question #3: How difficult is the transition from academia to industry for candidates with no industry experience? I noticed many industry jobs mention to have a prior industry experience
Tara: “It was easy for me to make that transition. Every position is different, but I think in general the biggest difference I noticed was lower time demands and higher pay. Both of those were easy to get used to!”
Afrida: “I think that the transition is mainly difficult because we aren’t taught in academia how to market ourselves for an industry position. If you sell your skills on your resume, I don’t think the transition is very difficult. Oftentimes, lack of experience is overlooked if you have quality academia experience that you can communicate well.”
Question #4: Is there an age limit to get into industry from academia?
Tara: “Absolutely not – you can make that transition at any age. And you probably have way more experience than most applicants!”
Afrida: “Industry (like academia) values experience and expertise. Your time in academia is not wasted if you switch to industry later on in your career – that time is still experience! Just make sure to highlight how the skills you learned over the years in academia can translate to your job in industry.”
Question #5: How do you measure your performance in industry?
Tara: “I’m in sales, so my performance is measured in terms of year-to-year revenue growth in my territory.”
Afrida: “This will depend on the type of job you get. Generally, you will sit down with your direct supervisor and come up with goals that you will want to meet by the end of the year. A lot of your performance is measured based on whether you have met your goals. Since I do a lot of events/webinars, one of my metrics is awareness of Proteintech as a brand.”
Question #6: How stable are industry jobs?
Laura: “Generally, I would say industry jobs are slightly more stable than academic jobs because you’re not fighting the constant grant writing race and the fact that funding is not always an easy thing to obtain. Also, once you’ve been in industry you have the opportunity to jump into other roles and further career development, so you can use your position as a platform for your next steps.”
Question #7: Did you all have connections to Proteintech beforehand that helped you land the job?
Tara: “I didn’t know anyone at the company beforehand, but I had used Proteintech antibodies in my own research. Being familiar with the products really helped during the interview process.”
Culver: “My only prior connection was having used Proteintech products during my thesis research.”
Afrida: “Similar to Tara and Culver, I also did not know anyone in the company prior to joining. I also was familiar with the Proteintech brand because I used their antibodies in the lab.”
Question #8: How is the work life balance in industry vs academia, especially for working parents?
Tara: “I’m not a mother yet, but I’m expecting my first child later this year. I find the work/life balance really good as a sales rep – I spend a lot of time working out of my home office, and I usually know about overnight travel months in advance. Since I mostly make my own schedule, it’s easy to find a gap in my day for doctors appointments or whatever else I need to get done during business hours. My schedule is flexible enough that I can just get some extra work done early in the morning, in the evening, or during free moments on the weekend if I need to do something else during the normal work week. I had classmates in grad school that were moms, and it seemed like they struggled a lot more trying to balance their schedules compared to my colleagues now. I always like to point out that we have a LOT of working moms at Proteintech – it’s definitely achievable to have a healthy work/life balance!”
Afrida: “For me personally, I have felt that industry is much more considerate about the struggles that working parents face than academia was. It, of course, depends on the company you work for, but Proteintech is flexible about hours if you need to pick your child up from daycare. We also get a good amount of PTO, so I have been able to take a few days off here and there and spend it with my son.”
Question #9: Can we use a senior scientist or staff scientist as a reference instead of our PI if our PI is not very supportive about a switch to industry?
Afrida: “Yes, you can use whoever you want as a reference as long as they know you well in a professional setting. So, if you don’t want to use your PI as a reference that’s totally fine. I don’t think that looks odd to people who are hiring in industry because that issue is very common. Use whoever you think would ‘sell’ you the best.”
Tara: “As someone that is currently hiring for sales positions, I would say definitely (as long as it’s someone you work close with). I’ve had people apply for jobs and they [have] let us know, right off the bat, during the interview process that, ‘Hey my PI is very old school [and] not supportive of industry.’ If we know that then we can […] avoid talking to them during the interview process. So, I say just be upfront about the situation. If you’re not going to have the PI’s reference, maybe just mention it. Like Afrida said, that’s a super common attitude out of academia so that’s not going to throw any of us for a loop.”
Question #10: How do you answer the question, “why are you looking to switch from academia to industry?”
Laura: “It depends on the recruiter. Some of them are brutally honest and are looking to see if you’ll say, ‘I want a bigger salary.’ But most of the time it’s better to lead with, ‘I need a change of pace’ or ‘I want to be able to help other people’ or ‘Academia is not the best fit.’ Maybe put it that way.”
Afrida: “I agree that you want to be a little vague about it, but make sure to be honest too. You can say something like ‘The work environment in academia is just not for me’ and most people will understand what that means.”
Culver: “My tip would be to answer it with positivity. So, instead of saying ‘I want to leave academia’ [say something about] entering industry. [For example,] ‘I learned what I wanted to from my PhD and now I’m ready to apply those skills in industry.’ So, basically, saying the same thing but on the positive side of it so that [it sounds more like] ‘I’m excited to start working here’ and not that ‘I’m excited to leave academia.’”
Tara: “My line that I always used (which was totally true [for me]) is that ‘I liked working in the lab and I loved doing my PhD but my favorite part of doing that PhD was traveling and talking to people so I’m looking for roles that allow me to do that 100% of the time.’ That way you can put more of a positive spin on it.”
Interested in making the switch to industry? Explore job opportunities for you at Proteintech!
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