Things You Might Not Know About Moving Out of Academia

Things You Might Not Know About Moving Out of Academia

Most PhDs don’t have a long term career in academia

Stats from the US and the UK show that less than 10% of PhD graduates have a ten or more year career in academia. So, for those still in there that long – awesome work you’re one of the few. For those leaving, left or considering leave – you’re not unique… Sorry…

Telling people helps

Telling your friends and family you want to move is good. Telling other people as well is even better. Working with your manager or supervisor to make the change – even better still. Your friends and family will offer support as well as advice (granted not always solicited or wanted). Other people can help with the same, not to mention potential job opportunities. Your supervisor or manager can make things easier or harder. We often think they’ll make it harder. There’s no doubt that is possible; likely for some people even. But in my experience for the vast majority of people for
the vast majority of times talking about it helps. It helps them plan for you
leaving (e.g. training others). It helps you get things done (e.g. no academic career planning or associated activities). It helps you get a job (e.g. they can recommend people to talk to for advice, experience and even work).

A CV is short

Two pages. That’s it. No more. Publications, awards, presentations all don’t matter. Grants, maybe, but only in so far as getting money is good for all business. Experiences – they are front and centre. Research techniques, probably not.

You’ve got a lot to offer

Do a time in motion study of yourself. Note every task you do in the day and the skills required. You’ll find many are generic. Do that again for a week (or look back on a week) and the same for a month. You get the picture. There’ll be a lot. Not all will go on your CV, but you’ll have a lot to talk/write about in an interview/cover letter.

PhDs are good

See above…

But not everyone agrees that PhDs are good

Sometimes, some industries and some recruiters don’t like PhDs. Apparently, we’re too critical. Too analytical. Too indecisive. I’d agreed. But that’s our training. Be prepared to modify how you talk about your PhD on your CV. Don’t omit it, but maybe it’s a project.

If you want to leave academia

– your supervisor or boss can

help, not hinder the process

Learn about non-academic work

Research your potential employers. Learn the lingo. Learn their competitors. Learn the field. The more you know, the better you look. That’ll also address above – the value of your PhD will increase, and its negative impact will decrease.

Decisions are made quickly

Researchers need 100 data points and still worry. Industry needs 10 and will stop at 8 if all agree. Get used to it. Its about being the least risky, rather than the most certain or safe.

Your network matters

Depending on who you read, as many as 90% of jobs (certainly the data suggest well over 50%) are filled based on personal connection – not formal advertising. So grow and maintain your network.

Bosses and colleagues can still be ####s

People are people. There are good ones and bad ones everywhere.

Lifelong learning is important

Building and growing your skills in academia can happen automatically. You pick up a research technique here, develop a new skill there. Outside academia that can be a little harder, and shot courses and training are more the way to go. Be prepared to learn through short course with micro or no credentialing (certificates of participation at best).

Know your career path

Academic career paths are clear – even if hard progress. You know that it goes something like

PhD -> Post Doc (x2 or 3) -> Lecturer -> Senior Lecturer -> Assoc Professor -> Professor

or PhD -> Post Doc (x2 or 3) -> Senior Post-Doc -> Group Leader -> Assoc Professor -> Professor

Non- academic career paths are less clear. Be prepared to have a career path that looks like a squiggly line. At the same time, know two or three moves ahead so you can plan now, for then.

Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email ( or subscribe to the newsletter. He's on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).

Recent Posts