The four step transition from academia to industry (with confidence)

By Edyta Rynkowska.

I was heading into the unknown, with my life packed into a suitcase and a plane ticket to Scotland in hand. A few days earlier, family friends had unexpectedly extended an invitation to theirs to see if I wanted to try my luck in a different country. After one day of contemplation, I eagerly accepted. I arrived in Glasgow very excited; after all, I love to travel and this was my first visit in the UK. Yet, a persistent question echoed in my mind “And now what?”

Soon enough, I was to discover that not just one, but four industries were interested in my skills. Two months after I moved to Scotland, following a systematic approach to career transition, I decided to pursue a job in the automotive industry, leveraging my niched expertise in the development of membrane electrode assembly for hydrogen fuel cell, in London, baby!

It has been nearly 2.5 years since I made a leap from academia to industry. Did I ever imagine myself working in the automotive industry, for an electric vehicle start-up that became the largest company listing in history of the UK? Never. However, during my academic journey of pushing boundaries of knowledge on a laboratory scale, I realised my desire to develop innovations in the real-life products within industry.

Setting off on a Journey

My life underwent a major reshuffle. I had completed my double PhD in Chemistry I pursued simultaneously in Poland and France. Over a year later, I wrapped up a government-funded project I had started on top of my PhD.

Flying to Scotland, I had no idea what awaited me there. As I contemplated the inevitable job hunt, I wasn’t sure how to apply my specialised experience. However, two things had been always clear to me: I didn’t want to stay in academia, and I didn’t want to continue living in Poland, my homeland (I primarily wanted to move to an English-speaking country though, since I didn’t want to master a new language, cough).

Building a Plane as You Fly

Transitioning from academia to industry is no easy feat. You may need to consider your own desires or factor in your family’s needs. Whether you’re an MSc or PhD student, or a postdoc seeking a change, determining the right moment to shift is a personal decision. Nevertheless, one crucial lesson I’ve learned over the years is that you’ll never feel completely ready to make an important decision or take action. The readiness comes from taking action itself.

Heading towards Industry Career

Reflecting on my transition from academia to industry, I can distill the process into four key steps:

Step #1: Commitment

If you genuinely desire to make a leap to industry, you must make a 100% commitment to work on it. Without this commitment, you may give up after facing a few rejections (which will happen), feel discouraged (I’ve been there), or choose safer option of remaining in academia (which is perfectly fine if it aligns with your goals).

Step #2: Exploration

Inward exploration (Understand your current position – be honest!): After spending years in academia, it’s essential to take a step back and conduct a career audit. Ask yourself important questions: What tangible results have I achieved? What is my area of expertise? What are my talents and strengths? How can I leverage my transferrable skills? Reflect on your past experiences: What did you enjoy doing? What drained you? What do you value? What is your purpose? Use frameworks like the Japanese concept of Ikigai to help you identify the intersection of what you love doing, what you are really good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. This self-reflection will provide valuable insights into work of purpose and the direction you could pursue in industry.

Outward exploration (Defining your desired direction): Imagine stepping into a taxi, the driver asks, “Where are we going, love?”, and you don’t know what to say. Clarity is crucial! Sit down and brainstorm niches that you’ve encountered, heard of, or are interested in – based on previous jobs, projects, or personal interests. This will serve as a foundation for determining where you could work. Once you’ve identified a niche, make a solid effort to understand it: what are its biggest problems and needs? What values does it prioritise? Working in industry has taught me the significance of finding solutions to problems and building meaningful and strategic relationships.

Step #3: Creation (Closing the Gap)

Now it’s time to take action. Utilise the insights gained during the exploration phase and bring it together to create a compelling LinkedIn profile and CV. Prepare for interviews by anticipating and practicing common questions. Develop answers with case studies or projects that demonstrate your ability to solve real-world problems and your hands-on capabilities. Think about it as your marketing strategy, showcasing the value you can bring to potential employers. Most importantly – network. Don’t rely on applying via job boards solely. Actively network with industry professionals, decision makers, and influencers that can potentially be your boss or peers. Build connections with recruiters who specialise in your niche. They often have access to unadvertised opportunities. Building meaningful connections and relationships can greatly enhance your chances of finding (or creating) the right industry role. Remember to seek ways to bring genuine value to others without expecting anything in return. And think outside of the box – ask yourself what you can do differently to differentiate yourself from the crowd and be memorable for people you talk to.

Step #4: Closing the deal

When you receive job offers (congratulations!!), remember to negotiate your salary. Do your research to determine your worth in the industry and market value for the roles you are applying for. Advocate for yourself during salary negotiations to ensure you’re compensated fairly for your skills and experience. Securing your dream industry role is just the beginning, and you want to start off on the right foot.

That end is really a beginning

Transitioning from academia to industry is an exciting journey that can lead to unexpected opportunities. It requires commitment, self-reflection, action, and negotiation skills. Moving into the industry marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. It paves the way for adopting an industry mindset and learning the industry language, and these unlock a next level of identifying new career possibilities.

So, don’t wait. Embrace the challenges, leverage (or build) your skills and network, and have confidence in yourself. You have the power to create your own path and find success in the industry.


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