We thought it was time to gather the voices of several of our interviewees thus far, to hear about their frustrations with the bench, their quest for a more satisfying career, and any tips or secrets they have for our readers. Listen in!
by Brian Shott
Why did you leave academia?
Our interviewees describe their frustrations.
“I was on about my fourth temporary contract in academia, getting a bit frustrated. I would just get started with projects and then have to move on to the next job.”
—Dan Metcalf, microscopy sales manager
“After becoming a mother, I was thinking, ‘Do I really want to go back to research?’ And with two scientists at home—my husband is a researcher—I thought, it’s not possible.
—Gloria Fuentes, medical illustrator
“I realized that academic research wasn’t for me while trudging through days of failed experiments…I wanted to work on something that impacted society in my lifetime.
—Bani K. Suri, entrepreneur
“I realized I became a postdoc because it was the ‘default’ choice, rather than something I really wanted to do.”
—Anjana Narayanan, consultant and product manager
“We were doing non-applied science, basic research, and I had reached the point where I was like, ‘Why am I doing all of this?’ I decided to go to a company because I needed to have meaning in the work I’m doing.”
—Carla Pratt, organic farmer
On taking the leap…
Preparing, and then no turning back.
“When a recruiter approached me about selling Nikon products and training Nikon customers in superresolution microscopy, it seemed like a natural step.”
“I stumbled onto an opportunity to be part of a talent incubator. I learned a great deal about startups, thought processes, customer relations, doing market analysis and other ‘real-world’ skills.”
“I tried to learn as much as possible about management consulting. I read articles about top consulting firms, connected to consultants on LinkedIn, did informational chats, and signed up to a consulting newsletter.”
…and landing on your feet.
What skills did you need in your new position?
“Presentation skills are important in the medical liaison industry. Communication really underpins everything we do.”
—Sheri Hussain, medical liaison
“You need to know and communicate the science in order to put all these things into a visual that makes sense for the project. I find illustrating trickier than writing sometimes.”
“Being my own boss, I have to be strict enough to keep my own schedule and make sure I do all the work. ”
In a startup, you work long, intense hours on your own work while putting other processes in place at the same time—you roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done! You learn a lot and wear many hats.”
The best part of your new career…
It’s still about science, many told us.
“Meeting with clinicians and talking to them is probably my favorite bit.”
“I really enjoy keeping up with the latest research. Even when I was on maternity leave, instead of watching Netflix I was reading scientific papers. Today, I’ve been burying myself in papers related to Covid-19 just like any other researcher.”
“When I was a consultant, I loved working on different cases, understanding business scenarios and problem solving.”
…and the worst.
Paperwork, managing people, and oh, the emails!
“Meeting tender deadlines is the most stressful. Filling out tender documents can be several days of work…You can miss a £300,000 sale by missing a tender deadline by just an hour.”
“The least favorite is probably admin. That’s something I work on; I try to make sure I make time for my admin first up.”
“Continuous human interaction, which is often lacking in a lab setup, is a major part of startup life that can sometimes overwhelm people from academia.”
“After two years as a consultant I realized that consulting is more than a job, it is a lifestyle. Constant travel and living out of a suitcase was hard.”
Advice for those who want to leave academia?
Words of warning and encouragement.
“As a scientist, you have many transferable skills that are highly valuable. The key is to make sure you showcase them in the right light.”
“For creative people, I think the field of medical illustration is here to stay—especially animation. Five years ago, you wouldn’t think someone working from home could do it. Now, you invest in a GPS card and you can make it.”
“My advice for biologists venturing into entrepreneurship is to carefully consider the type of incubator you wish to join and thoroughly assess their capability to support your specific ideas and startup style.”
“Employers are less interested in knowing which labs you worked in and for how long. Focus on things you have done and skills you have picked up at each stage of your professional journey.”
—Tony Cabrejos, recruiter
“It’s only as difficult as you make it in your head.”