• Sarah Koops

Leaving 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?”

– supramolecular chemist, now working in technical marketing

Progression and retention always seem to be the main goals when it comes to one's career. You are not supposed to struggle or stop on the way to success. Groups that are marginalised often feel an even greater pressure to succeed. If one decides to pursue an academic career, the path seems to lead straight ahead, but after finishing your PhD , there are few opportunities to work in academia. What if you feel you want to change course and leave academia?

“It might be difficult and different but it is interesting and it is good to change path”

- supramolecular chemist, now working in medical devices

The desire to leave the academic world often leads to feelings and thoughts that might overwhelm you: the feeling of failure, the fear of what the future will look like, the question of what family and friends might think. Also, you may have a lot of questions to think about: What fields can I work in? Will I be able to use my background in supramolecular chemistry? How transferable are academic skills? What are the main advantages and challenges of working outside academia? What should I consider before leaving academia? Is a move out of academia final?

WISC aims to support women and other marginalised groups within supramolecular chemistry in all professional environments, not just in academia. WISC think that it's very important to talk about different pathways to success; Pathways that are not straight, but also lead to a goal. A goal that corresponds to your individual wishes and abilities.

Even if you know about the various opportunities to work outside academia, you may lack awareness of your own strengths. What can you offer as a supramolecular chemist? Here are some important qualities you should be aware of: 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. Also, your analytical or complex thinking skills are valuable in many careers, even if you are not directly utilising your supramolecular chemistry. And very importantly: 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!

Still wondering just how transferable your academic skills are to other fields? The short answer is very! Logical and analytical 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. You can demonstrate your transferable skills by highlighting the job-specific skills you have within your CV and cover letter.

“Do not be afraid. A better life is awaiting you at the other side!”

- supramolecular chemist, now working in the pharmaceutical industry

Of course, "the other side" can offer advantages, but also challenges for you. When you think about leaving academia, you should consider the advantages and disadvantages. These will depend on the field you want to work in. We asked some supramolecular chemists working out of academia to tell us what they include:

IF you have already decided to leave academia, there are a few more things you should consider: Leaving academia is not a decision that you should 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 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. 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.

“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”

- supramolecular chemist, now working in the pharmaceutical industry

If you feel that leaving academia is the right step for you, go for it! The step is not final. Moving in and out of academia can be a fluid process, depending on where you work and where you want to return to. Reach out to people you know and ask for help. Also, you can always contact WISC for support in this process.

If you want to learn more about working outside of academia, look out for WISC panel events and webinars!

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