Careers in Academia | Panel Q&A

How do I apply my academic skills to a new industry / corporate opportunities?

We spoke to two academics who are kicking ass to learn how they made the move from ‘traditional’ academia into a career they love ahead of our digital panel on 25 March:

How would you recommend others start thinking about an ‘alternative’ career to academia?

Dan: “I think what’s exciting about academic careers is the skills which are transferable to so many other areas. I would encourage those seeking a new opportunity to figure out what big problems you want to attach yourself to and you’re passionate about.

“Take research work, which is a curious and creative endeavour and apply that same curiosity to other areas. Be interested in learning new skills, exploring other industries and sectors and explore how you can think of developing a transferable T shaped skill set which demonstrates a depth of skills.”

Dr Kenny sharing her insights with young girls in STEM.

Dr Kenny sharing her insights with young girls in STEM.

How might others apply their academic skills to industry / corporate?

Jillian: “I realised I wasn’t going to be an academic pretty quickly after starting my PHD. Academia is about research which is brilliantly suited to others; for me, I’d always been drawn to outcomes I could see the tactical results in real-time. There are differences culturally between academia and the commercial and entrepreneurial space, however once you start to look at it, there's a lot of similarities as well.”

Dan: “Academics have so much conviction. It’s that feeling I’d encourage someone to pursue.

Researchers and academics have depth of mastery, which demonstrates a passion and creative pursuit. Research is about rumbling with ideas so as an academic you have inherent skills you’ve developed as subject matters expert. Skills in creativity, exploration and asking really good questions are adaptable to organisations who need refreshing thinking.

When we think about ‘T’ shaped skills, it encourages us to think more widely than our niche. So many academics would have incredibly relevant and translatable skills to any industry.”

Dan Sleeman at The Shed Melbourne, applying his love of education to a new venture.

Dan Sleeman at The Shed Melbourne, applying his love of education to a new venture.

What about alternative examples such as consultancy, or entrepreneurship?

Jillian: “Academia can be a little isolating in that you’re working by yourself a lot, and you have to do everything which is like entrepreneurship!

I founded Power of Engineering. We were supposed to do one event and it turned into one organisation. We reached 10,000 regional students across Australia; 75% report they’ve changed their mind from a no to a yes as a result of coming to our events. We had no money, we knew no-one, and threw our hat over the wall, made a grand statement.”

A move doesn’t have to be ‘grand’. Ask yourself what is it that you care about and you want to create an impact in. The size of it isn’t important it’s the action of taking a step that’s important.
— Dr Jillian Kenny

Dan: “There are a lot of similarities between an entrepreneurial and a research setting.

I think the most important thing is to think about when seeking a new opportunity is to ask yourself what purpose you’d like to be aligned to. That could come in the form of a consultant, an advisor, a Board member or an entirely new career in a different industry who needs your expertise and skills.

Entrepreneurship in particular, relates to any kind of group of people who are doing something new and can apply experience and expertise into different areas and turn that into value. If we look at startups in particular, having access to someone as experienced as an academic with a depth of knowledge could be hugely beneficial. (Many Universities have an accelerator programme, that’s a great place to start if you’re curious about entrepreneurial opportunities, too.)”

How to I market myself if I've been in academia all my life?

Jillian: “Network. If you are interested in a move, or finding out more in academia, talk to a variety of people. The more people you talk to the broader perspective you get. You might be really surprised by the similarities and the skills you’ve accumulated would be really valued.

Start by asking people about their experiences. There are loads of networking opportunities and events available through those forums.”

Dan: “Creating 1:1 connections with people is a great start. Your personal network is so important in terms of exposing you to opportunities you mightn’t know about in a way that mightn’t be limited to one academic niche. Using LinkedIn as an example, connecting with people who are doing things that excite you, and creating connections outside of your area and educational organisation. Offer to help others who do things you’re interested in.

Meet with people who are doing things that excite you. Seek some real world validation about your ideas and talk to others about it. You never know what might come of it.”

Any other tips?

Dan: “I would encourage anyone to reflect and think about the skills you have learned which demonstrate creative thinking. You might surprise yourself!

Be flexible and adaptable to things going on you and: have faith in your ability. If you are used to having a certain expertise, new things can feel out of your domain. It doesn’t mean you’re not capable: it just means you haven’t done it yet.”

Where to start? If you’ve been an academia, what’s one small step?

Jillian: “A move doesn’t have to be ‘grand’. Ask yourself what is it that you care about and you want to create an impact in. The size of it isn’t important it’s the action of taking a step that’s important.

Don’t think academia is the limit to your skills. There are so many non-technical skills academics bring. I’m giving you permission to think creatively.“

Join these legends at Alternative Careers to Academia at our Digital Panel on March 25!