I recently made a post on LinkedIn about my reasons for wanting to leave academia.
That post has now been viewed over 29,000 times, has 484 reactions and 48 comments.
It is by far my most popular social media post to date.
I learned an important lesson through that post: there are many individuals who want to leave academia but feel stuck and are not sure how to get started.
Most of us go into PhD programs dreaming of becoming tenured professors who would have the “luxury” of doing meaningful research. I had those dreams too. But alas, dreams change!
Before I go on, let me say this:
Whatever your reasons are for leaving academia, they are valid.
It could be financial, psychological or it could be ideological. Whatever your reasons are, you get to have those reasons and you get to leave.
I share my own reasons for leaving academia in this video.
I believe in preparing before you make the jump from academia and into an alternative career path as a PhD and that is what we’ll be discussing in this post.
Want to watch it as a video? Click on the play button below.
Want to leave academia? Do these first.
Take stock of your skills and find where they fit in the market
I find that so many of us PhDs are so engrossed in our research and subject area that we fail to come up for air and realize that we have unique and in-demand skills that are needed desperately by corporations around the world.
As a PhD student, you may have used skills like data analysis, manuscript writing and editing.
You have had to sit down and prepare PowerPoint presentations and connected the dots between data pieces that at first did not seem connected.
If you worked with particular software or technology, you have that knowledge as well and can translate that into a phenomenal career out academia.
So, sit down.
Take a pen and a piece of paper.
Set a timer for 15 minutes and write down every single skill you’ve acquired during your PhD. Now, when you’re preparing your resume and talking to potential employers, make sure to strategically bring up these skills where appropriate.
Informational interviews are your friend
I would not have been able to become the science writer I am today if I had not done some informational interviews.
An informational interview allows you to interview an individual already in a career you would like to pursue. You will find people for informational interviews through platforms like LinkedIn and through career events.
Before I ever became I science writer and communicator, I spoke with a PhD who had started a PR agency for biotech and pharma companies. I reached out to another PhD who was a freelance writer who was doing quite well for herself.
Conducting informational interviews gave me an understanding of what scientific writers do on a daily basis and also helped to cement my goal to become one. Although none of those informational interviews led me to a specific job opportunity, it taught me where I could start in my quest to become a professional scientific writer.
I also find that doing informational interviews puts you on the radar of the person and potentially they could introduce you to their network if you show genuine interest and skill in a particular area.
Find out what skills the market is looking for…and learn them!
Here’s a career tip I wish I had used when I was a student: read job descriptions and use that to learn about the skills particular jobs require. Then go about actively learning those skills and adding them to your arsenal.
As a PhD, you are literally, a lover of learning.
We are masters at finding out about things we don’t know and crafting stories that make sense around the data we have collected.
Use that to your advantage and learn as many skills as possible while you’re in school, at a post-doc or in your current teaching position.
Your university likely has subscriptions to learning platforms like LinkedIn Learning. You can find everything here from UX research to coding classes.
Usually, these are free to you. Don’t waste the opportunity.
Furthermore, platforms like Udemy and Skillshare allow you to access courses at affordable prices for you to up your skills.
If you’re planning to leave academia, taking these three steps will put you way ahead of the curve.
Let me know in the comments below if this post was helpful and you plan on leaving academia soon so I can cheer you on!
Hi Dr. Nonterah, this article comforts me and gives me hope at right time. I’m a final phase Ph.D candidate. I want to shift my career to finance/Data scientist/C Programmer. I’m a Physics major and really I was highly doubting myself but lately, I started learning C Programming skills. Right now am working on my thesis documentation and working as a Freelance tutor, besides developing my skills in programming. To be frank, I’m a very beginner at programming skills. But whenever I’m exhausted in past I used to put aside my work and overthink with lots of why and what’s! But not in this 2022, so I decided to pull myself and be consistent in learning skills besides Ph.D. I love writing and reading so I started a book review blog. I just fell for your article as it was the right moment and felt to share. Thank you!