“If you leave, you failed”

So you know I left academia about one year ago and started working in biotech, selling analytical equipment to researchers in and out academia. It was a painful process, and at first I didn’t really want to leave – but life just lead me to expand the horizons on my job search and now I’m really happy with my job.

A big part of my job is to visit customers, and in the academic world, professors that currently own or that may be interested in purchasing our equipment. And even though I still live in the same city where I used to be a postdoc I’ve never really taken the time to visit my former University. At first, I thought that I didn’t know exactly what to say or how to behave, so I rather go to my first visits with a more experienced sales fellow. So that’s what I did, and it was great! If felt so good to be in an academic environment again, and to talk to professors about research, grants, etc. I felt I could really contribute to this, because I understand the complexity in academia in a different way that someone that has never been there. Professors also like the idea to deal with a Ph.D., not as a status thing, but also as a peer thing.

But still, I didn’t go to visit my University. I thought “I’m still to raw into this whole biotech thing, I need to learn more about the instruments and the applications before I go there”. So I did it. Went to trainings, attended to a lot of webinars. Talked to professors, made quotes, learned with all the specialists that help me to put together an instrument. After my vacation I felt like I was ready (or let’s say as ready as one can be) and I literally had no excuse not to go there. I had a business lunch with a staff scientist from my University and he pointed me in the directions I should move there. He’s been at the University for many years, and I’ve known him for a long time. He is one of those people professors seek for advice regarding instrument’s purchases. So after we talked, I made a few appointments and scheduled today to be “former University visit day”.

From the moment I woke up, I was feeling weird. It took me forever to find a good outfit. I didn’t want to look too dressed up. But couldn’t look too casual. Should I bring brochures? OMG, everything was a big problem and a huge decision to make. But still, I couldn’t understand why I was feeling that way. So I asked Twitter about it, and @sennoma nailed it:

EXACTLY! The reason I never really went for a campus visit at my former University was because of that little voice in my head. Everybody there knows me as a postdoc. No matter how successful and happy I am with my job now, but showing up as a sales person now seems to me like a fail. I tried to have a deep breath and just enjoy doing what I do best: smiling and networking with people. Half of the day passed and so far, so good. Met some old professors that seemed genuinely happy for me moving on. Met new professors that were very kind to me. Gotta come back to my afternoon appointments, but despite all this, little voice is still in my head. I hope that this will eventually get better and go away.

Looking for *alternative* options

That’s it. It is definitely time for a change. And probably took me way too long to realize that. But It’s not easy to think about giving up almost 20 years in academia. It’s really scary to look into the unknown and think about other options. During all our training, we are very familiar with the academic way of life, teaching and grants, but what else is out there? What are those *alternative* positions that most of the PhD’s end up getting? And most important of all, how to look for them?

The first question people ask when you say you want to leave academia is “What do you want to do?” That’s such a tricky question when you are not really sure what’s out there! Industry is the first thing people usually suggest. I am a little skeptical about going that way. I really love my research, and it’s not about the bench itself. It’s about the scientific discovery, doing research with a purpose. As I’ve been working with a very specific subarea of neuroscience, and I am not sure if industry cares about fundamental questions in science. I believe they pursue more practical and translational aspects. It’s not that I’m not interested in those either, but again, it’s hard to let my research go… I don’t want to be at the bench for the sake of just being there, so it seems that industry is not the most appropriate pathway for me. Right?

Then the second question is “Are you willing to relocate?” Again, this is another tricky question. I mean, I’m single and don’t have anything that really ties me to this town. So yes, I could relocate. But, I’m also not that young anymore. It is already too scary to think about leaving the academic path into the complete unknown. However, it’s even more scary to think about moving to a complete different place where you don’t know anyone to work in a job you know nothing about. It’s not about the money, it has never been. I am passionate about science. I certainly believe there are amazing jobs out there and that I can be happy doing something else science-related. Just need to know exactly what!

I’d rather think about my skills and what could make me happy. In case you haven’t noticed, I am a VERY social person. I love interacting with people, I really love science, reading and talking about science. In that line of thought, I’d rather go for jobs that I could work remotely, like science editing or consulting. But apart from that, I’m not sure what else I could try.”You know nothing, Jon Snow”. Please, let me know if you have other ideas/suggestions of possible jobs. I am ready to move on. Just need some directions now! Can you help me?

Tips for your industry resume

As I am not sure if I am going to have a job or not next year, I decided to be prepared. If necessary, I will have to apply to everything and everywhere. And this includes industry jobs. I’ve never ever done a resume in my entire life, and it took me a lot of effort to come up with a decent draft. Luckily I met a person working for the government that was kind enough to look at it and today we had a coffee meeting to discuss it. It was really useful and I hope I can help people our there!

– Leave the impostor syndrome behind. Academics tend to be too modest and don’t brag about themselves. Don’t short sell yourself. If you think you are good at something, call yourself an expert. Make it stand in your resume. You should put it in a way that you are the best person on earth with those skills.

– Make it simple. To the point. They don’t care about where you gave the talk or even the title of it. Just that you are an excellent speaker with extensive practice on oral presentations and teaching. For every skill, set up how you acquired that skill, in a clear and concise way (I know, it’s easier said than done).

– Try to read it with the mind of someone that doesn’t really have lab experience and explain why that particular point is great. One cannot just say “supervised XX UG and XX GS”, but also state what they were being trained to do. Don’t assume they will know why you think that particular bullet point is important to be there. Explain it.

– Add a section named “Professional Development” where you can add service and other things that are not skills neither job experience. Peer review, member of associations, organizing committee for scientific conferences. They like service. It shows outside involvement and initiative.

– Also cut the BS. Critical thinking and other skills that any other scientist will have don’t need to be in your resume.

Hope it helps! Good luck 🙂