UConn Alumni share their experiences transitioning to industry

The panel on April 26th featured four alumni of the UConn Health Biomedical Sciences PhD program at UConn Health Center in Farmington, Connecticut. The panelists shared their experiences transitioning from their academic training to various positions in industry. The panelists included Dea Gorka, PhD, who graduated in 2022 and now works as a Research Scientist at Arvinas Inc. in New Haven, Connecticut. Spencer Keilich, PhD, who graduated in 2020, currently is a Scientist III position at Millipore Sigma in Waltham, MA. James Fink, PhD graduated in 2018 and joined a startup called Q-State Biosciences, where he now serves as Director, Epilepsy Therapeutic Lead. Finally, Matt Antel, PhD, who recently graduated from UConn now works as a Sales Representative at STEMCELL Technologies, where he works with local groups in both academia and biotech to support their immunology workflows.

General Advice

“I would say that it’s going to be fine no matter what you choose. I think it’s really scary whether you’re going to postdoc and the worries that come with the uncertainty of academia and getting jobs or having successful postdoc or going to industry and is it going to be the same science I want to do? … You’ll find that you will gravitate towards the things that interest you. Being part of your training is being open minded to new scientific questions. If the right people are around you, mentoring you and cheering you on, then I think you’re going to be just fine.”

Thoughts on the Job Search

The panelists discussed their journeys and the timing of their job searches. They emphasized the importance of starting early and being open to different opportunities.

“If you don’t think you’re qualified, you probably are just because you have the potential for it after going through a PhD program.”

Some knew from the beginning of their PhD program that they wanted to work in industry, while others discovered later that academic research was not their preferred choice of career.

“…There are also options intermediate between graduating and continuing on. I understand most people probably wouldn’t want to do that, but if you do have the option to stay on as, like, a postdoc and your advisor is okay with that, it could help you feel less stressed about having to find a position immediately after you graduate.”

Was your LinkedIn profile useful in getting you your job?

“So, I would say that maybe it’s not so much daily posting on LinkedIn so much as having your updated documents ready to go on LinkedIn and being able to apply through the LinkedIn job search tool, because you can filter for anything you want to filter for and it’s a really great tool.”

“And also in 2023, personal branding matters a lot and LinkedIn is your professional brand, right? Everything you have on your LinkedIn page is sort of reflective of who you are, sort of your skills you have, how you present yourself, what you want the external world to see about your professional profile. And so, I think that in that way, it’s also important.”

“I also found the job for our business through LinkedIn and then a couple of the other positions that I ended up getting but rejecting for Venice. It was just through a random recruiter on LinkedIn. So, look through your messages, it’s usually not spam. And, I paid for the premium for one month and I found that actually to be really helpful for LinkedIn because it does show you exactly what the hiring manager is looking for. Skill sets, for example. So maybe there’s something that you didn’t think was important to put for LinkedIn specifically or on your resume.”

Thoughts on Converting your Academic CV to a Resume for Industry Positions.

It was suggested to tailor the resume to match the specific requirements and to include keywords specifically mentioned in the job posting. Priority should be given to highlighting your relevant skills and experiences on your resume and not necessarily your academic publications.

Thoughts on Industry Interviews.

The panelists shared insights about their interview processes, which typically involved multiple rounds of interviews with different individuals, including hiring managers, supervisors, team members, and sometimes even higher-level executives.

“You need to know your worth as a scientist, as a critical thinker, or whatever role you’re applying for. And I think the people you’re interviewing can sense that. And especially when and if you do get that job offer, advocate for what you think you’re deserved in that role. Do your background research, like look at Glassdoor, stuff like that and figure out what you want and what that company can provide and how that can mesh together.”

“Treat an interview not just as a one-way street. It’s more than just you trying to get a job. It’s also you trying to find what fits for you. So, if you know going in that you won’t be happy because of the type of work or personality that you find during the interview process, then maybe consider that that’s not for you.”

“Don’t be afraid to just turn it down if it just seems like a bad fit. Because you don’t just have to take something. It’s long process. [Job searching] It’s not easy or anything, but there are opportunities out there. So don’t get stuck with the first one that you think you should take just because it’s easy, if that makes sense.”

Thoughts on Interview Presentations/ Job Talks

The duration of the job talks varied among the panelists, but it was emphasized that these talks are to showcase your range of skills and experiences rather than solely focusing on your dissertation research. Your presentation should be clear and timely. You should present yourself as a team player and don’t forget to showcase your research collaborations. Finally, your talk should address the significance of your research as well as convey its potential marketability. While publications were seen as important by some employers, the panelists often conveyed that they did not feel their publication record was the defining factor that led to their job offer. As far as timing to receiving a job offer, panelists shared that often it took several weeks to a couple of months from the initial application to receive an offer.

The panelists mentioned three main challenges they overcame at the start of their new position.

Communicating to Broad Audiences: They highlighted the need to communicate scientific concepts effectively to individuals who may not have a scientific background. In industry, it is crucial to be able to explain the significance and implications of research in a way that can be understood by colleagues from diverse backgrounds, such as sales, marketing, or engineering.

Having a BIG Picture Mindset: Panelists shared that they often have to shift their mindset from focusing solely on specific research projects to considering broader goals, such as product development and patient outcomes. This shift in mindset involved aligning experiments and research goals with the overall objectives of the company.

Learning Business Skills: While some panelists mentioned that having business skills or an MBA could have been beneficial, they also highlighted that it is possible to learn and acquire those skills while working in industry. The importance of continuous learning and adaptability was emphasized, as the transition to industry often requires developing new skills and adjusting to different work environments.

The speakers also shared their perspectives and advice for anyone transitioning to a position in industry or a postdoctoral position.

(1) The importance of being open-minded, gravitating towards your personal interests, and having a couple of supportive mentors to guide you through the process. Tips for finding a mentor: https://www.npr.org/2019/10/25/773158390/how-to-find-a-mentor-and-make-it-work

(2) The interview process is a two-way street, you must also assess your “fit” in the company. Don’t just take a job! Resource on assessing your fit: https://harver.com/blog/organizational-fit/

(3) Confidently advocate for yourself and research the company’s offerings before the interview. Remember to negotiate! More about negotiation skills can be found here: https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/negotiation-skills & https://beyond-the-phd.com/2023/05/17/negotiating-salaries-and-job-offers/

(4) The timing of securing a job varies, with some applying months in advance and starting immediately after graduation, while others took a postdoc position for a transitional period.

(5) Try to take some time after completing your degree to recharge.

Overall, the panel provided valuable insights into the transition from academia to industry and the different paths that can be taken after completing a PhD in biomedical science.

Published by Britt Knight PhD, Director

I received my PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Connecticut. My doctoral research focused on basic mechanisms in peripheral inflammatory pain biology. After, I completed about two years of postdoctoral research understanding how biomaterials can be used to deliver analgesics for treating musculoskeletal pain I transitioned to the Program Coordinator position for the United States Association for the Study of Pain (USASP). I am also the regional Director of CT Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

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