#beyondAcademia: turning research into “actionable insights” (and a job)

Once you’ve decided to make a transition out of academia, and you’ve considered what kind of new career field you’d like to enter, how do you find a job in that field?

Our respondents shared four routes by which they found their first jobs after academia: through programs to transition academics to industry positions, through career and alumni services, through their professional networks, and through online job posting services.

The four routes

Programs designed to prepare academics for industry positions received very positive reviews. Katherine Livins took part in “a 3-month post-doctoral program called Insight. They take recently graduated quantitative PhDs, do some prep work with them, and then organize demos and interviews with major data teams in Silicon Valley. I ended up with multiple offers and chose the one that best suited my research interests. The program worked really well for me.”

A related strategy is to complete an industry post-doc. Katie Rotella entered “an industry postdoc that aimed to convert into permanent hires.  I was a postdoc for about 18 months before being converted to permanent status and promoted.”

Another route by which respondents found jobs was through career services at the university where they were doing their graduate degree or postdoc. Career services were instrumental in helping some respondents turn their CVs into resumes and translating their academic experience so that it could be understood by industry. As repeatedly stressed by our respondents, this is no easy task! In addition, career services can reach out to the university’s alumni network to help find a position or to connect to people in a specific field.

However, by far the most common route by which respondents found jobs was through their networks, both professional and academic. For example, Anita Bowles found her position “through connections and networking I had developed during my academic career.” Nick Gaylord applied to his first position because the company “had a Stanford professor working for them who reached out to his professional network when they were hiring for my position, and that network included my department chair who recommended me.” “The moral to this story,” he said, “is to grow your network every chance you get; the power of an introduction through a trusted connection cannot be understated”

Aside from these channels, many people found the actual job postings using LinkedIn, Indeed, or Monster. You never know what you’re going to find using these services—as Rotella pointed out: “every job I have been offered came from applying to a random posting from a job-posting site. “

The key is knowing what to look for. Rotella explained that you need to “learn how jobs/jobs skills are termed in industry—very few people who want a psychologist put that in the job ad (one of my offers had the title ‘Artificial Intelligence Engineer’ but I would have been working on just basic research on how people think that could then be applied to AI downstream).  Market research calls basic experiments A/B testing, and there are a ton of similar things that just get renamed.”


Our respondents recommended several resources that might help non-academic job seekers. Career development courses are one such resource. Maria D’Angelo explained: “I attended a career development course offered at the institute where I was doing my postdoc. That course was an excellent source of materials for exploring career options, developing networking skills, writing a resume, and considerations during the interview and negotiation processes.”

Other people who have already transitioned out of academia are another excellent resource. You can reach out to friends and colleagues, or seek out former psychologists who are in the field that you hope to enter. You might be surprised by their willingness to help. For example, Rotella “looked up people from my field who had gone into industry and pretty much cold-called them—they were all incredibly nice, generous with their time, and surprisingly happy to share information about making the transition and how to tailor my job search.”

During the transition to a new career, attending meet-ups can be useful. Stefania Mereu explained: “meetups are incredibly valuable to network and connect with people who are making similar career transitions.”

Additionally, some general resources recommended by our respondents are Versatile PhD and Beyond Academia.

Finally, one respondent, Nick Gaylord, found helpful resources lacking when making a transition out of academia and started a blog—PhDeli—to collect resources that may be useful to others.

Letting others know about your skills

If you’re looking for a job outside of academia, how you can you get your valuable skills across to those who may want to hire you? According to our respondents, the resume, cover letter, and interview are all great chances to demonstrate the utility of your skills.

Before starting on your resume, Mereu advised a thorough job listing search to “help you craft your resume based on the skills required.” “What the manager wants to know,” she continued, “is how can the candidate contribute from day one? What are they actually going to do at work? It needs to be clear from your resume, you should not let them infer it (because they won’t!) Even the experience that is unrelated needs to fit in the big picture. Ask yourself: Can I make the company any money? Can I save the company any money? Can I save the company some time? If you can quantify it, it’s even better.”

Next, craft the cover letter. Here’s Rotella’s suggestion: “use the cover letter to show how academia prepared you for industry (e.g., managing RAs is supervisory experience, teaching is being able to communicate to lay audiences, writing articles is communicating to experts, and the conclusions you make about your research are your ‘actionable insights’).”

Once at the interview stage, Katherine Livins advised to take advantage of the open dialogue time (e.g. ‘why are you interested in working here?’). “This is a great chance to point out the connections between your academic background and their business problems. Talk about the particular problems and data they have that you could imagine being solved with your expertise. Take the time to give a couple specific examples (it’s probably better to elaborate a bit than to simply say ‘this seems like a psychology problem’).”

Gaylord agreed. “Engage the person,” he advised, “ask about their needs, and the challenges they face. Respond in a way that shows them you’ve thought about what they said, and have a unique and valuable perspective that is different from what they usually hear.”

Finally, “remember that when talking about what skills you have, in academia that is a very deep and narrow thing, but in industry it’s much broader. Expertise is a relative concept, and it will serve you well to portray your expertise in a broader, less detail-constrained way when speaking to an industry audience.”

And that wraps up today’s non-academic job-seeking primer. Tomorrow we’ll share the advice our respondents wish they could’ve received when making their transition out of academia.

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