Academia or Industry?

Dec ,16 2016

I just finished my PhD at Trinity College Dublin. I was fully focused on writing up my thesis in the last three months of my PhD, however, a constant and sometimes heavy question was worrying my thoughts: stay in academia or move to industry?

Working in a laboratory as post-doc is the next step in academia. The academic advertisements are very specific and generally, the candidate must have a strong background in the project field, a good and specific experience in several cutting-edge techniques, a well-established research track record as demonstrated by journal publications plus the ability to work both independently and as part of a team. Career options are broader in industry, indeed a candidate with a scientific background can apply in different areas, such as Research and Development (R&D), Quality Control, Clinical Trials, Sales and Marketing. Interestingly and sadly, being overqualified can decrease the chances to enter in industry, for example a candidate with post-doc experience might be too qualified for some roles and the recruiters could alternatively choose a less qualified applicant. On the contrary, moving back from industry to academia may be easier and less complicated. I really like science and research but I never saw myself as a principal investigator in a university. Therefore, I decided to look for all the possibilities available at that moment, focusing on a career in industry.

Job hunting

I started to look for a job straight after I handed in my thesis at the end of March 2016.

Europe is full of pharmaceutical companies and some international big brands are based in Ireland, such as Pfizer, Novartis and Roche. My initial research was concentrated in job advertisements from Ireland and UK, subsequently I expanded the search area to other countries, such as Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Italy. I went throughout the career webpage of many companies and I also used a key app for job hunting: LinkedIn. Despite the large number of job advertisements for a scientific role in Research & Development, every single vacation requires specific qualification and skills. Therefore, based on my background and knowledge, the real number of possible available positions for myself as candidate were lesser. I focused my attention on scientific positions that required candidates with a strong background in Immunology and with skills I gained during my PhD, moreover I also selected the vacancies by type of contract, possibility to undertake a career in industry, facilities and salary. The first big issue I immediately found was my lack of industry experience and the constant requirement of this parameter in the job advertisements, even for entry levels. Therefore, my cover letter and CV were written with the aim of highlighting my other personal and specific skills which could make myself a suitable and interesting candidate for an interview. Job hunting was a very stressful period because it takes time and every application must be perfect: no grammatical errors or misspellings, specific for the job advertised emphasizing personal skills, short and easy to read. I sent more than 40 job applications in April and, in the meantime, I was also studying for my thesis defence and preparing the presentation for my Viva.

The interview

At the end of May, after a long list of emails with a negative replies, I got a phone call from the Human Resources of a company in Ireland. I was selected as candidate for a job interview!

I immediately confirmed my availability and the recruiter communicated to me that the appointment was in Dungloe, where the company facility is based. Living in Dublin, Dungloe is on the opposite coast of the Emerald Isle, in the wild countryside of Donegal. I had two days to prepare myself for the interview and, on the prearranged day (30th of May), I attended my first job interview for an industry vacancy. I was scared and nervous (not true, I was very relaxed after my pint of beer at 11.30am), however the recruiters were very kind and the atmosphere was positive. I was asked to summarize my PhD experience and my previous internships in other laboratories as an undergraduate or master student, detailing all the techniques I used and the acquired skills. The recruiters also asked me why I choose to apply for the position of Scientist, what motivates me and why I am the best candidate for the role. At the end of the interview, it was my time for questions. I asked how is the working environment in the lab I will be assigned to, what specific tasks will I be required to perform, the salary and a possible starting date. Unexpectedly, the recruiters told me straight away that the position was mine if I wanted it and that the starting date would be the beginning of September. What an amazing news! I got a job and also time to finish up my thesis corrections and go on holiday! Life is so unpredictable and full of good events! I immediately informed my friends and my family. Everyone was very delighted about my news (not Mary, she wished I moved back to Italy….).

I am really excited to start a new adventure! A career in industry as Scientist in Research & Development is a great opportunity and I will do my best to use the skills and knowledge I gained in my academic path. Science is my life and I will keep going to give my contribution with the development of new techniques and products for treating human diseases.