Advice on career move - from industry to academia - no responses

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Advice on career move - from industry to academia - no responses

Postby John W.R. » Wed Nov 22, 2017 5:33 am


I think my situation is somewhat unusual and goes into the opposite direction: I am wondering on how to move from industry to academia.
Background: I finished my PhD in plant molecular biology in 2011. Got luck to publish two good papers during that time and had been offered two postdoctoral positions, which I refused to join a multinational American company (company A) in my home country. My position in this company was an entry level-technical one, which motivates me to move to company B after 3 years. My experience in company B was not so good – my boss was terrible, the sector is going throughout mergers and acquisitions, and my future is uncertain.

During that time, I was able to save a considerable amount of money and I always wanted to get back to academia for a postdoc, making this transition a lot easier. The work in the lab always motivated me, along with the possibility of an international career. I have no wife and kids and I really want to live overseas again.

I tried to apply to innumerous postdoc positions in the US. Probably more than 30 different positions that pretty much were in agreement with my background and experiences. Got no responses at all. My last paper was published in 2011, but I had experiences with lab and science during those 6 years working in the industry.


1 – Am I being crazy about considering going back to academia?

2 – In many postdoctoral posts, they say that a PhD earned in less than 5 years is required. Why is there such requirement?

3 – I am not sure if the lack of responses is because I am doing something wrong or the reality is that I have no chances at all, based on my CV and age (35 years old).

I would appreciate any feedback.

Thank you!
John W.R.
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Re: Advice on career move - from industry to academia - no responses

Postby Rich Lemert » Wed Nov 22, 2017 8:28 am

A post-doc is (theoretically) intended to do two things: 1) provide you with a broader (or deeper) background in a field not-necessarily related to your PhD; 2) provide you experience in developing and conducting independent research.

You have had six years in industry in which to do the same things.

The professors you've been writing to probably feel the same way. They are probably wondering why you want to return to something whose goal is to get you to where you are today. (A more cynical viewpoint would also be that they are afraid you won't put up with the type of crap many post-docs are subject to because you already know it isn't necessary.)

Transitions from industry into academia are possible, especially at a senior level. At a junior level, you're going to have to explain a) what you bring to the table, and b) why you want to make the change. You're also going to have to convince them that this isn't a temporary switch; you're in industry now, what's to stop you from returning there in a few years.

My suggestion is to figure out what you have to offer academia, talk to people already there to find out what they would be looking for, and target junior-level faculty positions.
Rich Lemert
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Re: Advice on career move - from industry to academia - no responses

Postby MCJ » Thu Nov 23, 2017 8:15 pm

Your best bet in my opinion (as somebody in academia) would be to informally write to lab heads whose research aligns perfectly with your background and future goals. You need a very targeted and specific reason for fitting within their research group and you should include a compelling justification for why you would like to re-enter academia. It would be even better if you had some connection to the lab (for example if your PhD advisor were to send a heads-up message to the lab in question) so you would be taken seriously. In the US we receive hundreds of "spam" letters seeking postdoc positions, and it is rare to find a directed and fitting applicant. It is also much more likely that you will find a position through informal channels than through formally applying to posted positions.

As for seeking a junior faculty level position, I do not know if there is much hope of securing an independent academic position from your current position without at least a short stint as a postdoc. I have served on search committees, and we receive several hundred applications for a single opening. Dozens of these applicants check all of the boxes one would like to see to secure a faculty job - including consistent funding and publications from their academic postdoc. Many would see lack of academic postdoc training as troubling.

One potential reason for the "PhD less than 5 years ago" could be so that a) you are still eligible for external funding or b) more than 5 years experience requires a pay grade that cannot be supported by the PI.

Your age does not disqualify you from successfully landing a postdoc - I have known plenty of people who have returned to academia later in life. It just requires a very compelling justification that you are an excellent fit for things to work out.

Can you reach out to the labs where you were previously offered a postdoc position?

Hope you can find something - Good luck.
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