OUT OF ACADEMIA -FAQs
WISC’s aim is to support the retention and progression of women and other marginalised groups within supramolecular chemistry. However, that does not necessarily mean staying within academia. We want to support members to stay in science and science-related fields inside and outside of academia. We conducted a survey of supramolecular chemists who had moved outside of academia, and asked them frequently asked questions, compiling the answers here.
There are lots of areas that you could work in outside of academia, including technical marketing, the chemical industry, material development, scientific publishing, medical devices, consultancy and sales for scientific equipment or lab supplies, patent law, the pharmaceutical industry, semiconductor manufacture, and of course teaching in schools or colleges.
"What areas could I work in?"
"Will I get to use my background in
Supramolecular chemists are very versatile with skills in physical chemistry, organic and inorganic synthesis, and analytics. These skills can be useful for a career in industry, and be a great background where a broad knowledge of chemistry is needed. Analytical or complex thinking skills are valuable in many careers even if you are not directly utilising your supramolecular chemistry. Achieving a PhD level of knowledge means that you are able to do many different jobs because you have developed skills of independence, project management, and organisation that not many others have.
"How transferable are academic skills?"
The short answer is very! Logical and analytic skills together with a solution orientated, open and creative mindset are very valuable, as is the ability to collaborate and work in a high-pressure environment. A PhD demonstrates project management skills and independent working. Showcase the supervision and leadership skills that you have learned through teaching. Demonstrate your transferable skills by highlighting the job-specific skills you have within your CV and cover letter.
"What are the main benefits and challenges of working out of academia?"
These depend on the field in which you work of course. Some supramolecular chemists working out of academia told us they include:
“Seeing my work used in everyday life — most likely I will find something on you just as you are dressed up right now ;) The challenge is to win the opportunities transferring development work into business”
- Staying close to new research without the need to actually do it!
- Maintain strong links with academia
- I have regular work hours — not all editors do but I currently do.
- Get to read and work on chemistry outside of your direct field, so always learning
- get to use and develop your communications skills
- travel (eventually!)
- lots of paths to progression in publishing
- provided with mentorship/career guidance more readily than academia
- Dealing with rejection regularly
- lots of screen time/email admin
- large international company means working across time zones on occasion and understanding different working/communication cultures
- not always as autonomous as a research project; there will always be someone you have to answer to.
- salary not always advertised and it can be very daunting to negotiate”
“Working on cross-functional project makes you discover new territories which, on the other hand it is not always possible to investigate as tasks are very precise and oriented”
Consultancy & Sales
The main benefits are: competitive salary, the dynamic nature of the job in balancing consultancy and sales aspects, and the possibility to travel to visit customers and attend conferences. The main challenges are related to meeting the expected sales quotas during the business year, and also to attain high quality engagement and feedback from customers with respect to the services provided.”
“The feeling of helping society by developing pharmaceutical products and solutions. The most challenging part is handling the high quantity of data and documentation generated”
"What should you consider before leaving academia?"
Leaving academia is not a decision to rush, but it may not be that different from what you already know. There is a lot of interesting work out there, and the leap does not have to be scary. It might take some time to find a good job, and it might also take time to get used to working in a more regulated environment. For some people, and in some countries it may be easier to find an industry related position with post-doctoral experience but this is not always true. It is important to learn how to ‘sell’ yourself and to train for job interviews. There is value in learning about non-academic work contracts, and how to negotiate for salary and benefits.
"Is a move out of academia final?"
Absolutely not, it does not have to be if you do not want it to be. Moving into and out of academia can be a fluid process, though this does depend on where you are working, and where you want to go back to.
Finally, some words of encouragement
from those working and succeeding out of academia:
"If you’re not absolutely convinced that academia is the thing you want to spend your entire life doing, why not try something else?”
“Leaving academia was the best decision of my life. I was able to move around the world, work with amazing people on great projects and make a lot of money doing it”
“Don’t be scared to reach out to people to ask for help or advice. As soon as I started doing this my CV got stronger and I got a job doing what I wanted to do”
Medical Devices “It might be difficult and different but it is interesting and it is good to change path”
“Do not be afraid. A better life is awaiting you at the other side!”