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Science Beyond the Ivory Tower

As an early career scientist, there comes a time when you know you are ready to move on. When that whisper in your ear becomes too loud to ignore. "Aren't you ready for something more stable? More permanent?" "What are you waiting for? What is it exactly that you are preparing yourself for?" For me, this was about a year and a half into my postdoc. And I loved my postdoc, it was everything a postdoc should be. I was living in a beautiful mountain town, I was part of a phenomenal lab with a fantastic advisor, I was publishing, I was pursing exciting research and teaching opportunities. But I was starting to feel anxious about my next professional move, and I was ready for the next step.

At the time, I was exploring a number of career opportunities and had interviewed for a staff scientist position, assistant professor at a small PUI (primarily undergraduate institution), and yes, for positions in the private sector. I was considering making the switch from academia to industry. Gasp! I was offered a great opportunity at Indigo Ag, a biotech company in Boston, MA that develops microbial solutions for increased crop yield and quality and sustainable agriculture. It wasn't a difficult decision as my career motivations have always been quite simple, I want to do cool research. And this position as a scientist on the Research and Scientific Insights (RSI) team seemed pretty cool, so I took the plunge into the world of biotech.

I've recently celebrated my one year anniversary at Indigo, and I'm grateful that I allowed myself this opportunity to leave the Ivory Tower. I've gained many important skills that make me a much more effective scientist, skills that I was not able to develop as a graduate student or a postdoc. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I soon came to realize that for many scientists in academia, research and career opportunities in the private sector are shrouded in mystery and misinformation. I routinely receive LinkedIn requests asking to "share my experiences in industry." Recently, I participated on a career panel "Enabling the next generation of computation biologists" at the iEvoBio conference, and I answered a number of questions about how to best support and mentor students who are considering jobs in industry. It's clear that there is general lack of information about STEM industry options, and I think this is unfortunate.

There are amazing opportunities outside of academia, and these careers aren't alternative. They just aren't in academia, and I think these choices and career paths should be normalized in academic STEMS communities. In an effort to help demystify science in the private sector, we'll be rolling out a number of posts covering topics like, applying for a science position outside of academic, debunking common myths about industry, and offering some personal perspectives of life in industry.

In the coming weeks, we'll take a look at the application process for industry jobs. How do you find these opportunities? Do you need to reformat your CV? What can you expect from the interview? But we also want to hear from you! What questions do you have about the transition from academia to industry? Leave a question in the comments below, or tweet your questions as us using #askFeminaSci.