Lessons learned from the Naturejobs Careers in industry panel
Contributor Annalise Smith
A love of science, willingness to try something new, forward thinking, planning and discipline were the key tenets of success presented during the Naturejobs Career Expo panel discussion on Careers in Industry. The panel included three prominent scientists who have maintained successful careers in industry, plus a recently minted PhD; it was chaired by: Simon Cutler, Innovation Programme Manager developing collaborative training programs at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
One common theme among the panelists was the importance of passion. “If you find something you love then that’s the first step,” said panelist Mark Christie, a director of Akranim Ltd, who has a PhD in pharmacology. The other speakers echoed this view. Ramana Sundara, manager of external research collaborations at Nestle Product Technology Centre (PTC) in York, UK (PhD in food science), advised attendees to “choose the job you love to do, that way you won’t be working every day.” Nessa Carey, international director of PraxisUnico and visiting professor at Imperial College London (PhD in virology), said “it’s not being successful that makes you happy, it’s being happy that will make you likely to be successful.”
How exactly does one use passion to drive a successful career in industry? The panel’s experts offered some practical advice:
Be speculative, strategic and willing to take risks
Carey explained that it is imperative to work out “what’s important to you and what drives you”. Taking a step back to determine exactly what you are good at is particularly important in industry and is a critical skill that scientists are not often trained to develop. Developing this skill of self evaluation will aid in establishing a life plan. Christie suggested thinking about this plan in 5-year chunks. It is important, he said, to constantly be assessing whether “what you are doing now is setting you up for what you want to do later”. It is up to you to take charge of your own career by thinking of your end goal and making change a part of your plan.
Say ‘yes’ to opportunities to gain more breadth
Industry positions may require the ability to take on a broad range of work that goes beyond one narrow scientific discipline. To maintain a long-term career in industry it is therefore important to have depth in a specific scientific area but to also have breadth by becoming knowledgeable and developing skills in other areas beyond your area of expertise. Early career scientists often worry about not having enough time to do anything else other than focusing on their research area. Developing breadth, Carey said, is simply a matter of saying ‘yes’ to opportunities to advance your skill set. That means not shying away from taking on extra roles to teach a course, supervise students or present at a conference.
The young scientist on the panel — Emma Garvey, a recent PhD graduate in physical chemistry who is embarking on a career in the food science industry at Nestle PTC — spoke to this point. As a graduate student, Garvey honed skills such as report writing and communication. She embraced opportunities to teach and manage younger trainees, attended conferences and also took on additional courses in chemistry and languages. These opportunities often provide invaluable skills that are relevant in your future career in industry. Garvey, for example, points to her preparation of monthly reports describing progress in her research. She found herself continually improving at this task, which she says is, “the sort of thing that’s really important in industry.”
Play to your skills during the interview process
The same skills such as time management, teamwork, creativity and leadership that are important in academia are also important in industry. Sundara in his role as manager of external collaborations at Nestle is heavily involved in hiring and states that they often “hire people for attitude and train them for skills.” Most industry job applications will ask for industry experience but the advice given from the panelists was to ignore the requirement and focus on the skills that you have acquired in academia that will serve you in a career in industry. These include transferable skills such as being able to work well in a team or balancing multiple projects efficiently.
All panel experts seemed to agree that this was an exciting time to be starting a career in industry. Carey argued “there are so many ways to have a fantastic and lifelong career in science,” In fact, she said, it’s best “not to think about it as being one career,” and encouraged attendees to “have lots of careers.” Industry research can lead to careers away from the bench in areas such as technology transfer, marketing or business development.