When I started my scientific journey as a young biotechnology student, I had a clear vision in mind: I wanted to become a life-saving researcher, to cure some terrible disease, and eventually, to win a Nobel prize. In other words, I wanted an academic career.
However, reality hit me at some point during my PhD studies: staying in academia really wasn’t a good fit for me. I loved the science but didn’t feel at home in the lab. Instead of performing never-ending experiments and fighting to publish my less-than-exciting results, I wanted to spend my time making innovations accessible for people who actually needed them. I was passionate to transform scientific knowledge into something concrete and useful—not just into a list of publications. That was when I realized it was time to leave academia and move to industry.
But how to make the transition? From what I had heard before, this was almost impossible—at least in Finland. The transition was supposed to be especially difficult for PhDs.
And even if there were positions available, the fierce competition would make it almost impossible to get one without perfect connections. I almost started to believe this, but then I got a job in a medical science agency. How on earth did that happen?
A few weeks ago, some colleagues and I from the biomedicine field were trying to answer this question at a career event for MSc and PhD students. How did we manage to make the leap from academia to industry?
Although we couldn’t find a simple answer to this question, let alone provide a foolproof plan for getting your dream job, we came up with four tips to get the process started:
1. Don’t apply for anything—define what you want
This sounds self-evident, but first and foremost you need to define what kind of job you actually want. You don’t have to be too specific; it’s enough to figure out whether you enjoy writing, working at the lab bench, or some other type of work the most. Becoming aware of what you’re passionate about will help you decide what kind of jobs to apply for, and it will make writing convincing job applications much easier.
And remember: apply for jobs that you actually want, since no one is as transparent as a person desperately applying for a position just to get out of academia.
2. Stand out from the crowd
So you have an MSc or PhD in biosciences with good grades. Guess what, so do all the other 200 people applying for the same position. Don’t expect to stand out even with an excellent science degree, because you won’t. Instead, combine science with communications, marketing, law, or whatever you love doing. Also teach yourself new skills; if your dream job involves science popularization, start writing your own blog to practice it. If your dream job requires sales experience, volunteer for nonprofit organizations to get it.
3. Learn to promote yourself
No matter how great your skills are, they are useless until you learn how to put them into words—both orally and on paper. The first thing to do is recognize your strengths: participate in a mentoring program, utilize a web-based self-assessment survey (there are plenty), or simply have a discussion with someone who knows you well. Practice an elevator speech that describes your skills, and use concrete examples that demonstrate how they would benefit your future employer.
And, most importantly, stop underestimating yourself. For example, PhDs in biosciences tend to emphasize how they’ve “only been working on their PhD” while they could also describe the project management, problem solving, writing, independent working, and various other skills they’ve gained during their doctoral studies.
4. Network with people (and be nice to them)
When you’re looking for an industry job, network actively. Go to events, talk to people, and ask them about their jobs. Whenever you have the chance, tell people what kind of job you are interested in. You never know if the person standing next to you is looking for an employee like you, or knows someone who is.
Talking to people is also a way to practise your interpersonal skills, which are not particularly emphasized during science studies, but are valued much more by most companies than the perfect CV you may have.
And finally: don’t give up. It might take a while before you find your dream job, but once you do, it’s certainly worth the wait.