Recently, I read an interesting article in The Chronicle written by a scientist who decided to skip an academic career and head straight into industry. The author offers his perspective 10 years later as a person who both made the transition and now is in a position to hire others. While based on the author’s experience in the hard sciences, there are several useful bits of advice for anyone planning or currently in the midst of a post-academic job search.
The most thought-provoking and useful part of the article for me is a discussion of how fear, regret, or second guessing one’s decision to leave academia can be detected in application materials:
It is my job to hire people who will succeed and thrive in my company’s environment. And you cannot do so if you are hesitant about stepping out of the ivory tower, or are constantly looking back over your shoulder at the life you had, rather than looking forward. So I probe for both the ‘push’ factors that are motivating job candidates to leave the bench, and also the ‘pull’ factors about why they are interested in my industry or my company. If either factor is unclear, or if I see telltale signs—such as the ubiquitous lists of laboratory skills that show up on academic CVs—then I know that the candidates aren’t quite ready to step into the nonacademic world.
This paragraph got me thinking. How does one gracefully transition out of academia? It seems in poor taste and unprofessional to speak too negatively about one’s previous career, yet it is its shortcomings that are my “push” factors. In my letters I tend to focus on the “pull” factors of a position. I wonder if this is convincing enough? In any case, it is worth thinking about the subtle (perhaps even unconscious) messages that we transmit through the formatting of our credentials and how we sell ourselves through cover letters.