Making the transition from academia to industry can be a challenging step, both for new graduates and seasoned researchers. In this blog, Daniel Cox, Senior Researcher at The RSA Group, discusses his experience of moving from University to Life Science Executive Search and shares his key learnings for others making this shift.


Expectation vs reality

When starting your first job out of academia there will be surprises, both good and bad. You will find you are more equipped in some areas than expected, and more clueless in others.

A university degree offers many benefits when it comes to starting a career. The obvious advantages; you will be more academically qualified and will have the necessary tick-in-the-box for your CV, and the less measurable benefits; becoming confident conversing with those in positions of authority through frequent interaction with senior lecturers. Moreover, if your degree has a placement year, you will have gained some in-situ industry experience, which can help separate you from the crowd when it comes to job applications. For me, the placement year I had working in a lab was one of the most valuable opportunities, it opened my eyes to how a business operates and the working environment I could expect in my chosen sector.

However, even with industry experience, adjusting to a corporate lifestyle is not easy. University life and corporate life are, in many ways, polar opposites. Yes, there are transferable skills and my science degree has been a huge part of helping me work successfully in this sector, but standardised office skills aren’t something you tend to learn at university so most graduates will be met with a steep learning curve when they join the workforce.

This is where having an employer that takes the time to train you is invaluable, and although it may feel like it takes time to complete the onboarding, it saves countless hours down the line in comparison to following a ‘self-taught on the job’ approach. When applying for your job after university, be sure to ask about the induction programme and what support you can expect from the management team.

Keep an open mind and hit the ground running

When moving into any corporate role from a position of little or no industry experience, maintaining the right mindset is key. In my experience, you need to approach a new role with an open mind and with the view that you are a ‘blank slate’ who can be rapidly take on vast amounts of information. Every day in a new job you will learn new, transferable skills which not only equip you for your current position but prepare you for your next career move. In my case, these skills set me up for a career in Executive Search.

It is also important to continually take advantage of where you are. Working with RSA, I am surrounded by highly skilled colleagues who have been working in this profession for years, even decades! Don’t miss the opportunity to engage in open conversation with your colleagues as often as possible, and take the opportunity to learn from their successes, mistakes and experiences.

Transferable skills

When finding your feet as part of an organisation’s workforce, interpersonal skills are key. You have been developing these skills subconsciously your whole life, but it is important to actively invest in and develop them as often as possible. Being a ‘people person’ will not only really help you to thrive in your current position it is a strong asset to have both internally and externally.

Also, the ability to balance multiple projects and deadlines is a strong trait in any industry. It is common to be working on several projects in parallel, so efficient time management is essential.

Learning in lockdown

Lockdown has turned almost everyone’s lives upside down. No more commuting, communal offices, or group meetings, and working from home has become the new normal. It may seem that this would weaken team spirit, limit learning opportunities and make settling into a new position more difficult. However, despite challenges along the way, we are emerging out of the other side a more focused, tight-knit and stronger team.

Fortunately, RSA has a strong IT infrastructure, which made the transition to working from home as smooth as possible. For me, as a researcher, working remotely was not a difficult task, as most of my work takes place online so I could pick up where I left off. RSA supported the team right the way through, offering training with a virtual communications expert to ensure we continued to be as effective as possible despite the constantly changing situation.

Internally, communication ramped up and we had regular ‘all company meetings’ and updates. Our research team banded together and communicated daily, being physically apart also brought us closer as we found ourselves having more virtual meetings with our global colleagues as well as the UK based team.

Enjoy the journey

Feeling unsure or lacking confidence in your progress are inevitable steps on the journey to a successful career. Always remember that you are one of many struggling with the same challenges; ask for help if you need it, and most of all enjoy where you are – this is what all the work at university was for!

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