The “Real World”: Academia to Industry by Lindsey Anderson

Academia and industry are two very different worlds. During my time in academia, my peers and I talked about those who worked in industry as people who “just work”. Culturally, there was a sense that those people had sold out or given up to some degree. There are multiple problems with this mindset, the most prominent being that there are simply not enough academic positions for all of the graduate students and postdocs working in academia to stay - even if they wanted to. In my case, after 6 years of graduate school and 1 year as a postdoc, I decided I did not want to. It was a scary transition; it was hard to let go of the priorities of the academy and take a leap into something new. The job market ended up being very different from what I expected - it was rough. If you are currently in this position and are ready to pull your hair out, I am sorry to say that there is no magic bullet solution, but I will share a few things I learned.

Scrap the CV

One of the most difficult parts of the transition was to let go of my CV. It seemed impossible that no one cared about my publications anymore. Mostly, your co-authors, your institutions, the journals you published in, and the quality/quantity of publications are not going to be a big part of your reputation anymore. This also means that the blood, sweat, and tears you put into that work are mostly meaningless as well. Don’t get me wrong - having a Ph.D. is valuable, but the details of the research are not so much. More than half of my CV was painfully squished into a single bullet point on my resume.

Side note: people who transitioned into an industry position that was closely related to their academic work may have had a different experience.

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I thought that having a strong research career with a Ph.D. and a postdoc from good institutions would make getting a job a synch. Those flowery dreams were crushed when I learned that many people in my shoes apply to literally hundreds of jobs before they find one. It is a long, depressing road where you are left questioning your worth. The world of online job applications feels like a black hole - you are throwing your resume and painstakingly curated cover letters in, and rarely hearing anything back. Resumes are broken down into plain text where the work you put into formatting is destroyed. Your applications are loaded into applicant tracking systems where they may very likely never be looked upon by human eyes. In the end, there were jobs I applied to where I received a denial email from a computer nearly a year later. Experiencing this broken process first hand makes me all the more passionate about my current job at HireVue, where we are transforming the traditional hiring process.

During the application process, I found myself in a strange limbo: I had never had a “job”, so I was entry level in many ways. On the other had, having a Ph.D. made me overqualified for many entry-level jobs. I interviewed for positions where I knew I lacked on-the-job skills, and others where the recruiter was unsure that the position would be stimulating enough for someone as ambitious as me. Being in this position, it is crucial to connect with people who see the value of investing in someone smart who will eventually outperform other candidates, as opposed to someone who can make impact from the get-go, which brings me to my next point….

Connections are incredibly important

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In academia, I was lucky enough to be acquainted and work with some of the top researchers in my field. I honestly did not think about connections much – I happened to work with great people and I relied on my credentials to speak for themselves. I found the idea of “networking” to be somewhat nauseating. A lot of this feeling came from the fact that in academia, there is a pretty clear hierarchy, and many times the “networking” I saw consisted of  shamelessly kissing the ass of those who can give you opportunities; nothing about that felt authentic to me.

I’ve since learned that good networking means getting to know people and sharing your passions and talents. As an example, I work in Data Science, a field that many people are trying to break into. I see countless online courses and bootcamps to “get a job as a Data Scientist in x months!”. I recently attended a Data Science career fair and I have a pile of student resumes from that day. What do they all have in common? They are all pretty great! That’s it. Everyone is quite competitive, they have done a lot of self-teaching, college-level coursework, Kaggle competition projects, and possibly even Machine Learning research at a University. Given that so many people have awesome credentials, what really sets them apart? Personality. The students who stood out are the ones who seemed interested in what we were doing and generally, interested in talking about Data Science.

The truth is, your resume is a terrible representation of who you are as a person.  After all the applications, I ended up finding work through relationships. Now that I’m on the other side of this job search, it totally makes sense. Given the choice, we would all want to work with people who are excited, smart, driven, and easy to talk to. Even if you are not working in a field, there are ways to insert yourself into the community. Not only are these great learning opportunities, but also ways to showcase who you are and the types of people/projects you want to be working with.

Everyone needs to be a “lifelong learner”

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The term “lifelong learner” once seemed to be reserved for the truly driven and passionate. In this economy, where technological change is exponential, everyone needs to be a “lifelong learner”. Online learning is changing everything - people without college degrees are now getting high-paying technical jobs with the skills they have acquired online. Consider this a new paradigm - not only do you need to be learning the skills necessary to break into an industry, but you will need to stay up-to-date with that industry once you are in it.

Conclusion

Again, these are my major takeaways from my experience; I realize every path is different. Please comment to share your own experiences!

Meet Lindsey Andeson, Data Scientist at HireVue