Tobias Maier, scientist and Senior Consultant at hfp consulting answers some questions on career development.
What kind of careers can scientists consider beyond academia?
Actually, there’s no limit to what jobs scientists can do.
Not only can they access jobs related to academia such as facility manager, lab manager, and project manager but they can also do R&D in industry or, moving further beyond research-related activities, they can go into sales, marketing, communication, or rather even finance or consulting. The fact is that there are plenty of fields where skills like writing and presenting, project and team management, or resilience can become useful.
What are the strongest assets that a scientific background brings to the job market?
Although skillsets are personal, there are some which are basic for scientists: presentation skills, critical thinking and logical reasoning, frustration tolerance, self-management (project management).
On the other hand, there are other points where scientists could improve, like learning how to delegate or gaining better prioritization skills. A situation often observed in new PIs, who often have difficulties prioritizing, is, for example, that their time might be better spent writing a grant than performing experiments at the bench.
How to realize what your “ideal” career path is?
Taking career decisions starts within oneself by discovering the core values: what is important for you, what drives you, what are your wants and needs. Asking these questions can serve as a compass to help guide your next steps.
A second important aspect of the core values is that they help to overcome the feeling of failure many scientists have when they leave academia. Your core values might be implemented just as well in the world outside of academia.
Together with your core values, realizing what are your strong points, being able to translate your skillset into accessible language, and finding out what you really want will all help making active career decisions. To do this, gathering information from people who already left academia, is a good way of informing future decisions.
What is the need for a professional network and how to develop one even before leaving academia?
I think having a good network and mentors who care are career deciding aspects. It is important to start building your network early, be it on LinkedIn or by actively networking at conferences. Alumni networks are more common in the US than in Europe. They assist in maintaining the relationship to your academic institution and ideally allow you to follow up on where other scientists with a similar profile are currently working. Contacting them and asking how they got there and what their job is like is a good starting point. It is important to start early before actively searching for a job.