Why did you move beyond academia? [00:05]
During my postdoc, I knew that the academic life wasn’t for me. I enjoyed the science but not the writing of papers or the applying for grants and those kinds of activities. I also knew that I wanted a permanent contract, so my postdoc was for just over four years, and the longest contract I had in that time was a year. It was important for me to have a permanent contract and that seemed unlikely unless I progressed a lot further in academia.
I didn’t really know what I wanted to move into at that point, so I started looking around at various different job descriptions to see what was interesting at that time.
Why did you choose the sector you moved into? [00:52]
The sector I’m in now works at the interface between academia and industry, and this has always been of interest to me from when I was doing my PhD and onwards. My PhD was between the schools of chemistry and pharmacy at Nottingham University and a spin-off company. Then in my postdoc, I also worked with a large multinational company and I really enjoy seeing the value that it brings to both sides of that divide and the impact that great research can have outside of academia.
How did you get your current job? [01:29]
At the time I was applying for jobs, I was applying for a lot of jobs and looking for them in lots of different places, so the main ones I looked at were LinkedIn, Google, which brought up lots of different websites, like Indeed, Reed, all the typical job searching websites. I’d also uploaded my CV to CV Library and got a couple of interesting leads through there. During the application process, I would ask my friends and my colleagues if I could look at their CVs and covering letters to help me shape my own, and I found it a lot easier to borrow from other people’s rather than starting from scratch and creating something that would be interesting to employers.
The application process for this job that I applied to, I had to send in a CV, a covering letter, and answer some questions as well. What I found really useful in answering the questions was we’d done some coaching at the University of Liverpool where I was a postdoc, and as part of that, we’d done some work around finding our strengths.
During that process, I was able to identify my strengths and weaknesses, and fortunately, some of the questions were centred around that, so I’d already done some of that work in readiness for the questions on the application form. During the interview, I found that I felt really positively about the job itself. The questions that they were asking and also, the way we were interacting, I felt really positive, really excited about the job, and I wanted the job after that which I hadn’t really experienced in another interview before.
One of the questions that they asked in the interview as well was, ‘Are you sure you want to leave academic research?’ At that point, I could have said I was 80 per cent sure, and I said that to them in the interview. I was like, ‘I think I want to leave research, I’ve still got some time left on my contract and I’m just looking at jobs that are interesting,’ and they seemed to like that answer.
What sources of support did you seek while applying for jobs? [03:40]
While I was applying for jobs, I took advantage of the coaching support that was offered at the University of Liverpool beforehand. It wasn’t particularly centred around jobs, it was more around being a postdoc, but I found that the skills and techniques that we learned throughout that programme really helped in the job search and subsequent process. I also found peer support quite invaluable during the job application process and search.
For example, me and a friend would arrange certain times to sit down together and apply for jobs, because it was quite daunting to do it yourself and it was easy to get side tracked, but we’d be like, okay, we’ll meet in this coffee shop, bring our laptops, sit down and apply for jobs for an hour. During that time, we’d ask each other questions about what we thought this bit meant in a job description, and how you think you should answer it.
Did your job search require a shift in perspective? [04:41]
For me, there was quite a shift in perspective. I think for a long time during my postdoc, I knew that I didn’t want to be in academia, but you’re surrounded by all these brilliant people who were aiming for that prized goal of independent research or a lectureship, and you feel that if you’re in the same job as them, you should be wanting the same end goal as them.
It took me quite a while to realise that doing something else beyond academia wasn’t necessarily a failure. It was just something different and I feel like once I’m out of that bubble as it were as well, it opens up a lot of other opportunities.
Did you find anything particularly challenging while navigating the job market beyond academia? [05:29]
I think one thing I learnt when I was looking for jobs and going to interviews and applying for different positions was to know my boundaries and my worth. For example, I had put my CV on CV Library and this company got in touch asking if I’d come to an interview, and they were asking if I’d come to an interview, I can’t remember if it was the next day or the day after, but really short notice.
This company wasn’t going to reimburse travel fees either, so this was one of my first invitations to interview, so I thought it would be good experience and I’d go and do it anyway despite the short notice and not being reimbursed for travel expenses. I went, I did the interview, I didn’t get a good feeling from it, and when they offered me the job, it was half of my current salary which was quite a surprise. I think it was a lesson to learn that if something doesn’t feel right from the beginning then maybe it’s not right for you going forward.
Which transferable skills developed in academia have particularly helped you in your current role? [06:44]
One skill that I’ve learnt in academia that I think is valuable anywhere is being able to tell a story with data.
For example, in my PhD and postdoc, I would do experiments, get the results, translate them into a story to tell either in a presentation or a paper, and in the job that I’m doing now, although I don’t do experiments, I don’t gather data in the way that I used to before. What I do is work with people to understand what their needs are. The information gathering is kind of the same, we still use it to tell a story, and I feel like that’s a really valuable transferrable skill that I’ve learnt during my academic career that I use now and I’ll use in the future.
How would you describe yourself now? [07:37]
When I was a postdoc, I considered myself a scientist, and when I moved on to this role, I had a real tough time thinking would I still be a scientist if I’m doing this role? What am I now that I’ve moved out of academia? I think it took a while to realise that I still consider myself a scientist, even maybe not a practicing one. Even though I would describe my job role as something different and therefore, describing myself as something different, I still feel like I’m a scientist at heart.
What advice would you give to a postdoc considering a career beyond academia? [08:12]
I’d say if you’re looking at a career beyond academia, there’s no harm in looking, there’s no harm in applying or even having an interview. If you think about it as just practice and if it doesn’t work out, then it’s not a failure, you’ve had an opportunity to practice, and there’s no commitment to move at that point. You’re just having an interview, you’re just talking to people about options.