In this podcast, Naturejobs interviews Sterghios Moschos, reader in Industrial Biotechnology and Biochemistry at the University of Westminster in London. We talk about his transition from industry back into academia, and the different attitudes to science that he has experienced.
Sterghios Moschos originally started on a very traditional career path in academia: undergrad degree in molecular biology, then onto a PhD in pharmaceutics and then onto a few post docs… before being head-hunted by Pfizer.
He never saw himself as an industrial scientist. Having seen an industrial site and the negative experiences people were having at the time, he vowed he’d never put himself through this. How things changed.
Pfizer approached his research team, in the hope that they could work together in Moschos’ current research field. After a chat, Pfizer offered him the job. “I had to do the application process, prove what I said I could do on the tin.”
His reluctance to take it was changed by his supervisor, who had industry experience himself. “Well don’t be stupid, go and get it done… If you don’t like it, you can always come out.” Sterghios left London, and headed to south Kent for a stint in industry. And it was a lot better than he expected.
The skills that he gained in academia were incredibly useful in industry, “The presentation skills that you develop, public speaking, the organisational skills that you develop. They’re fantastic. And those helped with my transition to industry”
Now, Sterghios is back in academia, but not in the traditional way that he started out. “I had seen a niche to start my own company.” But to go alone or to partner was a decision to make. Luckily, the University of Westminster had an opportunity, and were happy to let Sterghios pursue his business ideas as well as hold an academic position. “It’s offering me the opportunity to do things in research that otherwise might not have been available, which is great as a scientist. Its offering other opportunities as well, with regard to networking, with industry, with other academics, starting collaborations in things I would never have thought of before…It’s something I don’t regret doing.”
Sterghios noticed that science is approached differently in academia compared to industry. “In academia as long as something is published in a peer review journal its fine. As far as they’re concerned it’s published, it’s done, it’s gone.” This isn’t the case in larger science companies in industry, “you need to appreciate also the difference between what I can achieve in the lab, even if it is reproducible, and what do I need to cross that hurdle to get something into the market.” In order to make a claim saying that this or that product will help people, scientists in industry need to prove this beyond anything that is done in the lab.
This difference also depends on what level you enter industry at, “If they go into pharma, pharma is all about validation. If they go into biotech, biotech is all about quick data, good data, that give you the answers that you want to move forward.”
Sterghios has learned from his move both from academia to industry, and back again. When making the move to industry, you never appreciate just how much you have learned, or how many skills you have gained throughout an academic career. “You are capable, and you know a lot more things that just what you did in the lab”.
Make your CV appropriate and relevant to the job you are applying to. Sterghios recommends having a list of all your achievements in academia: make it as detailed and long as possible. Then when it comes to applying for a position, get rid of everything that is irrelevant. The industry employers are looking to hire you for one specific task. Make sure they know that you can do that. Nothing else matters.
Once on your way back into academia after a stint in industry, there are also some things to consider. “One year in industry, working hard, is equivalent to three years in academia, because things are so much slower,” so make sure that you are ready for the change in pace. When you go back to academia, take a step back, and try to get your colleagues to adopt some of the things you learned in industry.
And if you’ve not had any publications whilst working in industry, it’s not the end of the world. Your other experiences are also extremely valuable, especially the networks you have made. “So network, network, network,” and then drop names where you can (although not too much! There’s a balance to strike here.)
Finally, if you have any questions for Sterghios about his experience, or want some advice, leave a comment below and he’ll get back to you. Or comment on Twitter using the hash tag #NJPodcast.