A lot of PhDs get to a point in their research where they wonder how they can fit into career roles outside of academia. As a PhD I found this a very frustrating period and finding out what transferrable skills I had during my PhD was the only way it allowed me to figure out what roles I could apply for in a business orientated career following my PhD.
Leverage your PhD focus
The primary focus of my PhD was biochemistry. I was investigating how cells decide to die following prolonged mitotic arrest. Like most PhDs this meant my day to day activities were Western blotting, Protein production, cloning, cell culture, PCR, transfecting cells and ELISA Assays. However, not once during my PhD did I ever have to deal with finance or budgets. This meant that my financial skill set was very limited to common sense experience you would expect to have being a 25 year old student.
Not till I arrived at the end of my PhD did the pressure really start to build as to what I would like to do after I completed my VIVA. I enjoyed the research, I read a lot of papers, I enjoyed going to lectures and interacting with other scientists. These interests I thought were a classic example of someone who would like to continue with research following graduation.
As it turned out I went on to carry out a Post-Doc at the University of Cambridge in a field that was similar to my PhD. My Post-Doc research focused on understanding how microtubules interact with the kinetochore and sense tension allowing for the cell to complete metaphase and carry on into anaphase to complete mitosis.
During my Post-Doc nothing much changed with regards to my transferable skills to any other industry that wasn’t academia based. I was still a biochemist/cell biologist looking at mitotic arrest in a lab.
Interviews following your PhD
During interviews for pharma roles I leveraged my years of lab experience and how this would contribute to a successful research team focusing on pharma development. This can be a natural position for most PhDs/Post-Docs looking for jobs after academic research who like to keep researching but may be looking for a more structured and defined work week.
After a few job interviews looking at R&D positions, I decided I would look at moving into the sales and marketing side of science. Scanning through advertising boards on Indeed, Nature and Jobs.ac.uk I found it intimidating at what experience can be required for roles. Like most PhDs after leaving research they feel they can handle most tasks and solve problems in a quick logical manner but lack these skills on their CVs.
Scientists are market researchers
The key to a great scientist is being able to carry out market research, present data to the market (conference audience), analyse data from piers and make decisions on what is the best data to increase your position in the market of scientific research.
Being great at market research is a key element to becoming a great scientist and keeping your data ahead of your competing market. The concept of scientists being market researchers didn’t appeal to me at the start.
Science should be held in high esteem, reviewed and not subject to trends, but to finding the truth and how we can understand and benefit from knowing and advancing our knowledge. However, science is hugely subjected to market trends. These trends may come from new technologies and how they affect or can improve your research.
Scientitsts and data analysis
One key skill that scientists have in buckets is data analysis and presentation. Which is key in every business sector. After working in the lab for years my excel skills to carry out data analysis were in good shape. So once I moved into a sales role I found presenting sales figures an easy task. Furthermore, my ability to explain numbers and look at where gaps where in the market made my presentations look experienced for someone with little sales skills.
Scientists and presenting
Following on from being able to understand data, scientists have invaluable experience in presenting data and some can with ease present their data to large audiences. During my PhD and Post-Doc I presented my work nationally and internally, so standing up in front of a crowd and discussing your work is something that might not be as daunting to a business person presenting their data. Something I always found during our sales meetings was how scientists in the sales team could pick key data to discuss in an informative way. The skills for many scientists were leagues beyond their non-scientific colleagues who would repeat smalls pieces of data that would not engage a crowd of tell a story.
During your PhD or Post-Doc you will have to run a committee, departmental or potentially a national event. Following my PhD I ran the Pint of Science festival in Ireland for 3 years. Directing this team gave me lots of management skills, delegation skills and PR/Marketing skills. If you live in one of the countries hosting a Pint of Science or Taste of Science event, taking part is really worth it and can develop many skills you will not get in the lab.