Are you currently working in academia, or a researcher thinking of a career move away from the world of academia? In today’s post, Dr Monika Stuczen reflects on her transition from her PhD into a role in industry and shares some tips for anyone thinking of a similar career move.
My career path has been somewhat unconventional. I graduated with an MSc in Laboratory Medicine from the Medical University of Bialystock in Poland (my home country) and began my journey into the English system following an offer to work as a Research Scientist at Manchester Metropolitan University to work on a clinical trial project.
I remember my first week at work! The stress, the language barrier and equipment which I had never used…. It was a lot to take in within a short period of time! However my focus and determination helped me pull through. Within a year of work in research I was offered a fully funded PhD scholarship to carry out research in Microbiology which I was very pleased about.
Throughout my PhD, I took advantage of any opportunities to gain experience in academia such as supporting teaching, laboratory demonstrations and working as a student support tutor. All these activities helped me develop transferable skills. I was also interested and active with developing collaborations with businesses and one of these collaborative activities gave me the opportunity to present my research at national and international conferences providing great networking opportunities with scientists from all over the world. It gave me valuable experience and developed many skills which I could transfer to any work positions in the future.
My expectations upon obtaining my PhD were that I pursue my career and research in an industrial company however my knowledge of the commercial and business sector was limited. Perhaps, I was aware of my weaknesses!
Are you aware of your weaknesses? (Aspiring Professionals Hub)
I made the decision to develop my enterprise and business knowledge (as mentioned previously, this was very limited). So what did I do? I did some research online and came across the North West Enterprise School which was run by Lancaster and Liverpool Universities. The North West Enterprise School is a four day residential workshop for researchers and post-doctoral researchers followed up by online collaboration and a final weekend residential. The activities included a series of team-working challenges and entrepreneurial projects. At the workshop, employers, mentors and skilled tutors delivered a series of seminars and role-plays simulating a work environment designed to create projects, network and turning ideas into tangible business projects. At the end of the residential and follow up each team developed a business plan and presented it to a panel of employers. My business idea and my team won the first North West Award!
The chance to work in a team, develop entrepreneurship, influence and leadership skills were very valuable and important for me. I believe this was a great opportunity to challenge myself in an area I hadn’t experienced before. It gave me opportunity to reflect on my own skills, ambitions, capabilities and career directions. Mind you, I was always focused in my career and always understood that to progress my career, I need to do it myself!
Shortly after completing my PhD, I was offered a job in senior management at a company in the medical devices sector. Initially, I found myself resistant to the idea of leaving academia for industry immediately after achieving my doctoral degree as I was aware that I’d be facing a completely different environment, work structure and people with completely different approach to work and life. After spending all my adult life in academia it was definitely a big jump out of my comfort zone. Additionally it also meant relocation from Manchester to the South of the country with my near teenage daughter away from friends and family. However I treated it as a big challenge and another great adventure in my life!
I successfully moved to the South of the UK and started my new position as a Laboratory Manager. In my new position I had to learn about products, manufacturing processes, company structures (which is so different to academia) and adapt myself to company culture and working style (within a short time). I wouldn’t say this transition was easy as it also comes with its challenges and has required adaptability, resilience and persistence, but what is most important it involved overcoming myself and facing my fears.
After nearly two years working in senior management I feel like I am close to the summit however there are still lots to learn. I think I will never stop being a “student”…. I will always have a big desire to learn new things and develop myself. I do not want to be better than others I want to be better than myself. My motto now is, to learn something new every year and apply it!
The essential requirement in industry is being able to work in a team and take projects forward rapidly. Research in academia, especially PhD or MSc research projects do not involve much of team work. If you have any opportunity of collaborative work at academia, even if it’s not laboratory based – TAKE IT! Don’t be afraid
My tips to anyone thinking of a similar career transition from academia to industry
- Treat life as a big adventure and every problem as a challenge. Take advantage of every opportunity as you never know when certain skills you have developed over years at academia may become useful.
- The knowledge, skills and opportunities at University are important and can be applied in many aspects of business. I find I am able to apply all my management skills gained at university in managing the laboratory, people and in building a strong working team.
- Also, identify your career plan and do think about your weaknesses. If you are not confident in something try to master it, find courses or workshops that may help you to turn your weakness into strengths. One of the best ways to make contacts that can further your career is networking. Don’t shy away from making contacts with people especially at meetings and conferences.
- Finally, Be Brave! Sometimes leaving an environment you are familiar with requires a little bravery. Don’t be afraid to take the leap. See it as a whole new adventure and always believe in yourself!
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Thanks for sharing your story. As a careers adviser working with researchers, I think there’s lots people can learn from your example of taking a proactive, flexible and positive approach to their career.
Thanks for your comment Anne.
Really encouraging to read about the transmission. Wondering if such Enterprise School is available around London.
Thanks Emmanuel, I know this was something Universities in the North (UK) have been doing actively but if you ask your enterprise centres/dept at your institution they should be able to identify similar workshops for you to attend nearby or in London perhaps