After 3 to 5 years (or more!) of hard work, you finally get the title of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Getting a PhD used to only be useful for a career in academia, however, this is no longer the case.
I interviewed Dr Nick Bos – a colleague and a great scientist that chose to transition to industry. During his PhD and postdoctoral years, he published prolifically while maintaining an active blog called antyscience where he presented new scientific discoveries in a way that is understandable for everyone.
Last year, he turned down funding from the Academy of Finland – a large sum of money to jump-start his career as an academic scientist – to pursue a different challenge as an Application Scientist at Neurotar – a start-up company that develops equipment for neuroscientists.
Left academia to broaden my horizon
So Nick, let’s start with when do you know you want a different career than the ones in Academia?
I guess I always knew I did not want to become a professor. From talking to existing professors, I realised their job didn’t sound very appealing to me at all. Managing a lab, doing lots of paperwork, having many meetings as well as continuously writing grants so other people can continue doing science is just not for me.
However, not wanting to be a professor and not wanting to be in science are two different things. People expect me to say that I wanted to leave due to the competitive environment or lack of funding etc.
The real reason I left is that after some time I felt like what I was doing turned my passion into a job. I did not enjoy it nearly as much as I used to, and was looking to broaden my horizon and try something else.
The winning attitude to land an industry position
Once you know you want to try something outside academia, how do you go about looking and securing your current position?
At first, I thought I would land a job as a programmer. There is a shortage of programmers at the moment, and I did have an interest in things like R and Python.
Therefore, during the two years before my career switch, I followed lectures at night to teach myself how to get better at using Python. I was loosely following the job market, but never actually applied to anything.
Once I applied for my current job…I never heard back from them! However, I was very interested in their technology, as what they developed for mice loosely resembled the equipment I used for my ant experiments.
To follow up, I mailed them saying something like “would you have time for me to come by to look at the equipment?”, to which they agreed. Naïve as I was…I completely didn’t think of the possibility that this would immediately be an interview (as I thought I was not chosen anyway). We got talking while looking at the equipment and had a lovely conversation.
Few days later I got a call that I was shortlisted, but due to my lack of experience in neuroscience, they asked me to do an assignment. Once I did this, they called me again saying they wanted to offer me the job.
Later I learned from the CEO that they didn’t want to invite me for an interview based on my CV, but that the conversation we had convinced them I was right for the job. Furthermore, she mentioned she liked that I was assertive, mailing them that I wanted to visit their premises regardless of whether I was invited.
Personal meeting is worth a thousand online applications
I find it very hard to give tips on how to go about to secure a position, as I realise I was very lucky and this is not the standard way to do it. However, a personal meeting is worth a thousand ‘online applications’ as far as I’m concerned, which makes networking a very important thing to do. The more people you know, the more people that can recommend you to others.
I recently saw this on LinkedIn (if you don’t have one yet, make one!), where a Dutch guy I knew from Denmark was moving to Finland. He just asked his giant network on LinkedIn directly: ‘Hey I’m moving…anyone know of something that I would like?’, and he got many replies with people referring to different recruiters.
One thing, outside of science people don’t tend to care about whether you published 10 papers or 30, so don’t spend too much space on your CV and application letter raving about your Nature paper.