Academia and Industry – Two Airtight Compartments?

industry and academia are two airtight compartments

It is often said that industry and academia are two airtight compartments. That when you choose one, the other is forever lost to you.

Is there any truth to this statement? Or is it to be taken with a grain of salt?

Several of my guests on Papa PhD have addressed this question and some of them have shared their first-hand experience dealing with this taboo in real life.

Employers are Looking for MSc and PhD Holders

In Episode 3 of Papa PhD, Mark Roberts was the first to share his professional experience in industry with me, in this case the medical writing industry, after his PhD at Princeton University.

The important point he made was that some areas of the industry offer positions with prerequisites and skill profiles that are particularly suitable for those with a master’s or a PhD in the life sciences. This is particularly true in the biomedical and pharmaceutical fields.

And these are positions where candidates are always in high demand!

These industries include: medical writing agencies, patent agencies and clinical research organizations (regulatory field).

The Transferable Skills That Make You an Exceptional Candidate

What do you have to offer these potential employers?

The main skill is a proven problem-solving ability.

In Episode 4, Rob Hutcheson lists other cross-disciplinary skills that are in high demand:

  • An outstanding analytical ability
  • Strong organizational skills
  • An independent approach to work
  • Leadership skills

These are strengths that you develop when you embark on and complete the demanding endeavour that is graduate school.

Your impostor syndrome can make you feel confused, overqualified and lacking in real arguments to promote yourself – you can be sure that your potential employers will identify these skills in you, if you recognize and identify them yourself.

Training as a Complement to Your CV

That being said, your resume may be missing a few key elements for some jobs or for your dream job. In order to access certain positions, you will need to:

Taking Advantage of Industry Internships

Another very interesting way to test the waters is to do internships in the industry that interests you.

As Pedro Resende and Jonathan Weitzman affirmed when they were on Papa PhD, the taboo that says that industry and academia are two airtight compartments and you can’t go into industry and later resume your research career is false.

Of course, it’s a question of timing and of length of time. The more you stay away from research, the more difficult it is to go back and stay up to date with your field. But Pedro and Jonathan feel very clearly that taking a break is not harmful. On the contrary, it will allow you to build your opinion about the “other side” without bringing your research career to an end.

And in my interview with Stefanie, host of the Career Conversations YouTube channel, she shared what surprised her the most in her industry internship, namely:

  • The possibility of publishing during her internship
  • The team culture she found
  • The ease with which projects that are not working are dropped

Stefanie, Pedro and Jonathan all came back to research after their stint in an industry setting and they all consider it was an enriching experience having made them better candidates in their later positions.

Conclusion – Academia and Industry are Not Separate Worlds

If there are two things I’d like you to keep from this article, they are:

  • The importance of giving yourself the space to explore the job market during your graduate studies, if only to confirm your passion for research.
  • The certainty that by the end of your master’s or doctorate, you will unknowingly have developed a robust set of skills that will serve you throughout your professional life and that are in high demand in certain non-academic fields.

If you want to take even more advantage of what you’ve just read, fill out the form at the bottom of the page and complete the document I’m sharing with you there. It will allow you to start putting together the image of your “dream job” and to associate to it the skills and strengths that define you.

Happy exploration!