A glance outside of academia in 13 letters (Part 1 of 2)

© Lubos Houska

Give me a “P”! give me a “H”! (you see where this is going…) Don’t worry, this alphabetical listing isn’t about delivering the classic “prepare your Post-PhD career from day one” message in a twisted way. Consider it more like a brain trainer to help you notice there is activity — and job opportunities — outside of academia. And, as a famous French scientist once said, “fortune favours the prepared mind”: so here’s heaps of advice in just 13 letters.

This article was originally published as a series by Berenice Kimpe, International Partnership Manager at Association Bernard Gregory. You can find the whole series on her blog.

A like…

Anticipation: It’s the keyword for a successful career development because it gives you enough time to gather information on your next professional step and thus enables to make decisions accordingly to wishes and reality. It’s the twin word for proactivity: don’t wait for your contract to end to question yourself.

B like…

Business oriented communication:

The rule n°1 for an efficient communication is to speak the same language as your interlocutor (tongue and body). If you, academic researchers, want to take the plunge and go to the non-academic sectors (industry services, non-profit/international organisations, administration…), you have to do some translation, from an academic mindset to a more applied one. Translation is not only a matter of vocabulary but also a matter of context. Avoid using words like “bibliography”: use “benchmarking” or “technology watch” instead. Edit your own dictionary by analysing job ads and news from professional associations.

E like…

Expert: In many companies, the career development inside a company is related to a choice between being an expert or a manager. It doesn’t mean that there are no in-between positions, but it’s the common representation of internal development. That being said, it’s interesting to highlight two main challenges for experts: maintaining their status and being visible. 
The expert status is like airlines’ fidelity programmes: to join the club you have to fly a specific amount of miles. Once you’re in, you have to maintain your flight frequency and to get more benefits, you must upgrade your status by flying more or booking additional services. As an expert, you capitalise on your experiences and knowledge; at the same time, you have to sometimes leave your confort zone and develop new skills. It’s a continuous life-long learning process, benefitting both to you (increased value on the market) and your employer (updated staff able to conduct technological or not technological changes).

G like…

Grass may not be greener out there: Many of us tend to think that we could blossom more in a different environment, that it sucks to be where we are now. Considering the grass is greener on the other side is a threat as long as it remains a fantasy, without any reality-based information. So instead, the questions should be: how do you check the colour of the grass out there? what actions do you undertake to reach the right patch of grass?

H like…

Hidden job market: The job market is like an iceberg: what we see is the smallest part of it. The visible job market (advertised jobs) makes only 30–40 % of the overall market. In order to see the hidden part, you need to activate your network: make yourself visible and let your network know you’re looking for a new position!
 Another line of attack is to consider the different kinds of employers for PhDs. For most of you, when you consider working in the industry, you target big companies. Which is obvious because we all know them, they are visible, unlike a large part of small and medium entreprises (SMEs). Yet the figures speak for themselves: around 50 % of researchers in France are employed by SMEs, 73 % of R&D staff in the US work in SMEs. To find them, explore clusters and SMEs that get funded by the European Commission.

I like…

Industry: A PhD doesn’t necessarily mean an academic career! Over half of the doctorate holders in many European countries have left academia and found a fulfilling professional life in industry: positions in R&D, sales and marketing, patent application, communication, quality, production, consulting… To discover what the industry has to offer you, browse job boards and analyse ads: positions, responsibilities, tasks, required skills and qualities. Then, ask yourself how you relate the requirements to your profile. This is the tricky part:

Fortunately there are some ***FREE*** resources available online to help you in the process, like the “20 Transferable Skills for PhDs” ebook from Cheeky Scientist (only valid for biotech, biomed & biopharma industries) or doctorate schools guides (like this one from a French school for instance). Or you can also use our skills portfolio web app, which is basically a tool to help you identify your skills and illustrate your level of expertise.
Last piece of advice: meet professionals to really understand what a job means. The same position titles don’t necessarily imply the same missions!

K like…

Kiwi: There are two kinds of kiwi: the classical green one, the sweeter golden one. Same fruit, same shape but inside colour and taste are really different… like your work experiences! Of course you’ve got a specific position, within a specific organisation, with a specific research project to conduct. That are facts you can’t change but you can decide how to present it in order to make it tasteful for non-academic recruiters: less jargon and more business-oriented vocabulary, bigger focus on tasks and results than on your research topic itself…

What flavour do you want to give to your profile? An academic one or a more transferable one? It’s up to you!

To be continued next week…

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