Nov 26, 21

From Academia to Industry

I am writing today to discuss the transition from academia to industry. I will cover some of the differences between these two sectors and what a PhD can expect when transitioning from one to the other. The main difference between an academic career and a job in the industry is that academics work primarily on their own, while workers in the industry typically collaborate with others on projects. There are many benefits for someone who prefers collaborative work over working alone, but it may take time to adjust to this new dynamic if they have been used to working autonomously as an academic researcher. Also, academics tend to focus more heavily on research rather than development or engineering like those in the industry. In terms of the pay scale, there is often a discrepancy between what people earn at universities compared with the industry sectors.

Many of us may wonder, after getting a PhD, what kind of career pathways could be there apart from postdocs? Research published in Nature Biotechnology pointed out that “While postdocs are necessary for entry into tenure-track jobs, they do not enhance salaries in other job sectors over time.” (Kahn and Ginther, 2017). Surprisingly, it appears that postdoctoral training, instead of increasing the salaries, salaries growth is on average less than those who have not completed the postdoctoral training (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Predicted inflation-adjusted salary 1-15 years after PhD completion. Sourced from

Why may people with PhDs want to transition from academia to industry?

As a PhD student, you have been working on your research for years. You have seen it through from the beginning stages to the final results and are now looking at obtaining an academic position in the industry. It is understandable that there may be some trepidation about making this transition from academia into the industry, as you will be leaving behind many of the comforts that you have become accustomed to. As someone who has made this transition before, I can tell you with confidence that if done correctly, it can lead to exciting new opportunities, including increased salary and benefits! There are many reasons why someone with a PhD may want to transition from academia to industry. A few examples include the need for financial stability, an interest in mentoring or teaching others, and working on projects that have practical applications.

Challenges that PhDs face when transitioning into industry

PhDs face many challenges when transitioning into industry. It is not uncommon for PhDs to find themselves in a position where they lack experience in the business. Regardless of their field, most PhDs have limited exposure to many of the skills that are required when transitioning into industry.  This blog post will explore some challenges that PhDs may face when transitioning from academia to industry and provide ways to overcome these hurdles.   The first challenge is learning how to communicate effectively with non-technical people, which includes using a language that your audience can understand without making them feel dumb or condescending. Second, it’s important to know what you want out of your career before you make any decisions about what company or product line would be best for you at this point in time. Lastly, they often find that company culture and work style can be very different from what they’re used to, and the expectations of PhDs and other employees may not always line up. There’s often a big change in company culture, which could be difficult if you’re not used to working in such an environment or don’t like it. You may also experience a difference in work-life balance as your hours may be longer than you’re used to; this is especially true for those who have been academics at research institutions where the expectation was lower hours.

How can academics prepare for an industrial position?

As a graduate, the transition from academia to the industry can be difficult. However, there are a few key things that academics can do to prepare for an industrial position. This article covers networking, preparing your resume and highlighting soft skills in more detail. We should not underestimate the power of networking, as applicants with referrals are 15 times more likely to get hired than those who apply through a job board or standard means (Gemkow and Neugart, 2011). Additionally, different from academic resumes, when applying for a job in the industry, they typically expect a concise resume no more than two pages long. Sometimes, a short video that is around 2-3 minutes long outlining your unique selling proposition is preferred. As PhDs, instead of focusing on your technical skills, we would also need to highlight our soft skills such as excellent communication skills, great focus on details, analytic skills and problem-solving skills. When talking through these soft skills, it is important to support your soft skills with a scenario using the START method to ace a behavioural interview (Apple et al., 2021).

What kind of career pathways can Medical PhDs pursue?

A lot of PhD graduates in Medicine or Biomedical fields can look into career pathways in medical affairs. For instance, being a medical science liaison (MSL) is an excellent introduction to the area of medical affairs for PhDs. Another popular role that Medical PhD graduates can consider is being a medical communications specialist like a medical writer. This way, you can provide scientific and technical knowledge and collaborate with the company’s marketing, sales, and medical teams. Furthermore, medical advisors are frequently promoted from MSLs and senior medical communications professionals. A medical director role is the pinnacle of medical affairs for PhDs. However, PhD graduates are not limited to working for pharmaceutical companies, and you can also consider being a CEO yourselves or starting your own business providing medical services or consultations. A quick and easy way to do so is to hire a medical session room instead of committing to a long-term rent. Medisquared provides consulting rooms and medical suites for short-term or even sessional bookings. What don’t you start your own business now by clicking on

I hope you find this article helpful. I wish you all the best in your career.


APPLE, J. M., GUERCI, J. C., SELIGSON, N. D. & CURTIS, S. D. 2021. Adding the second T: Elevating STAR to START for behavioral interviewing. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 78, 18-21.
GEMKOW, S. & NEUGART, M. 2011. Referral hiring, endogenous social networks, and inequality: an agent-based analysis. Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 21, 703-719.
KAHN, S. & GINTHER, D. K. 2017. The impact of postdoctoral training on early careers in biomedicine. Nature biotechnology, 35, 90-94.