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I need to get out! What am I good for?

(20 Posts)
TheElementsSong Thu 04-Feb-16 14:14:41

On paper I have a pretty successful academic career - BSc and PhD from "top" universities, many years of postdoctoral experience in respected institutes, and a good publication record. In reality, I hit the wall a few years ago and have been struggling with anxiety and depression. To cut a long story short, I realise that I just can't do this any more and if I stay in the laboratory it is going to kill me.

Over the past few years I've looked half-heartedly at job sites for any job but it's clear I'm woefully overqualified in some ways yet totally lacking in useful experience in others; my job history is just too damn specialised sad Has anybody successfully escaped the academic treadmill and lived to tell the tale?

aniakg28 Thu 04-Feb-16 17:10:57

Not sure if I quite meet your criteria - have a PhD in sociology, in terms of academic employment only worked as teaching/research assistant and then six years ago decided that an academic career path did not appeal for a number of reasons and managed to carve out a career in IT project management in university sector. Here's some thoughts:
- have a look at some online resources such as or
- I am assuming you are working at a university at the moment, in which case you might want to have a chat with careers services - they will help you find direction and also can help overcome some unhelpful beliefs (such as that you are overqualified and too specialised, think transferable skills) and will also help you brush up on your job hunting skills. Obviously, I'm speaking from personal experience, you might not need that but I did need help with things like interviewing skills etc. as I was applying for jobs both within and outside of HE
- speaking of looking outside of HE - get yourself registered with recruitment websites. I found HAYS really good and this is how I found my current job (funnily enough, I was open to leaving the university sector but the job I went for did appreciate the fact that I had an understanding of university life as well as a background in project management)
- see if your current employer can assist you with any staff/professional development. In my previous jobs, I managed to convince my employer to pay for my PRINCE2 qualification and a coaching diploma

and feel free to message me if that's of any help. Equally, ignore if it's not applicable to your situationsmile good luck!

jclm Thu 04-Feb-16 21:30:50

Great advice anaik. I'm considering a similar career change after having children and a career break. I'm considering admin type roles or charity research/evaluation.

TheElementsSong Fri 05-Feb-16 09:11:35

That's really useful aniak, I'll have a read of those links. I've never even thought of consulting the careers service at my university, I always assumed they would only be for the students.

fluffikins Fri 05-Feb-16 20:12:42

Civil service but the cuts are still going and getting worse so you'll need to get in somewhere without a recruitment freeze and prove your worth very quickly

margaritasbythesea Fri 05-Feb-16 20:16:24


Curioushorse Fri 05-Feb-16 20:19:18

Teaching? Your mad overqualifications wouldn't look too out of place there. Every school I've been in has had several PHds, and MAs are ten a penny.

PeppaPigStinks Fri 05-Feb-16 20:21:24

If you have a science background you will get £30k to go into teaching!

margaritasbythesea Fri 05-Feb-16 23:37:35

I would not suggest teaching unless you are 100% sold on it. It is not less stressful nor does it have shorter working hours. If you are very sure it is be rewarding but it demands serious commitment.

TheElementsSong Sat 06-Feb-16 19:46:30

I had a look at going into teacher training a few years ago and realised there was no way I could do it - not to mention never having felt any calling to do it. I was already struggling with work-related anxiety and depression, going into teaching would be like leaping from the frying pan into the fire!

margaritasbythesea Sun 07-Feb-16 08:41:20

Exactly. I did it. Mistake, although many things I did love. A suggestion based on my experience which may sound far fetched would be to look at examining for the IBO . That wouldn't pay the rent but once you know them a bit there are lots of jobs with them. Worth a look. They love a PhD they do.

fluffikins Sun 07-Feb-16 10:09:16

If I were you I'd look for related but 9-5 type jobs in the uni, like the funding teams, external consultancy engagement roles or staff development posts

NotAMumbutOnMN Sun 07-Feb-16 10:19:32

I have successfully moved out of'actual' academia but still in the university sector last year. The role I am in is within the research office where I support colleagues in writing funding applications and identify opportunities etc. There are quite a number of jobs going in this sector and it is full of people with phds... Even though having a PhD is strictly speaking often not a requirement - though having research experience would be. If you like talking to people, reading proposals and generally helping others on funding out about finding guidelines etc then I would definitely recommend it. Happy to answer any questions if interested.

Bolshybookworm Sun 07-Feb-16 10:43:44

Are you on a short term contract with your uni? If so does your uni have a decent redeployment scheme that you can access in the run up to your contract ending? This is a much better way of transitioning out of academia if you can access it as on our redeployment scheme you only have to meet 75% of the essential job criteria versus 100%. Makes it a lot easier if you are missing the admin skills that a lot of other jobs require.
I have moved from a similar career history to yours (although not such a great publication record, sadly) into a purely admin base in clinical trials with my uni. I had to go down a couple of grades to do it (be prepared for this if you need to retrain at all) but my long term prospects in my new job are much better and I'm getting a great grounding in clinical trials practice. Job progression and promotion prospects are much better too.
Other jobs I looked at:
- Working for the NIHR or your local CRN in clinical trials support.
- Working for the NHS in R&D (evaluating clinical research).
- Working in research support, innovation or outreach at your uni.
- Applying for the clinical scientist training programme (this is only once a year and v competitive).
- industry (there isn't any where I live, sadly)
- Sales eg for Sigma, Nikon etc
- medical writing
- patent law (I imagine this involves long hours though)

Whatever you decide on, the key is to get an inside contact before you apply for any jobs, if you can.

Good luck, there is life outside of academia! I miss the excitement and mental stimulation of research but I don't miss the long hours, stress and lack of job security. I actually feel appreciated in my current job- such a novel feeling! I also quite like working on something with more immediate impact to society (I felt that a lot of academic research was produced merely for the sake of publications).

I'm still a bit sad that my dream career (I always wanted to be a scientist) was such a bust, but hey ho. Maybe we should start a thread for ex-academics?

TheElementsSong Sun 07-Feb-16 14:52:37

A support thread for ex-academics is a great idea! And I'm loving all the helpful suggestions too, lots of food for thought.

Orrery Wed 09-Mar-16 23:29:52

I could definitely join the 'Ex-Academics' thread!

My history is similar to yours. After years of postdocing, my next move was either a fellowship or a lectureship, and both of those proved so ridiculously competitive that I was already burnt out and thinking about a career change even before my son was born and changed my priorities! I limped through the last year or so, waiting for my contract to end, and wondering what else I was good for.

BUT, I recently started doing freelance science editing, and so far I'm really enjoying it, fits around my family time, I can still say that I 'needed' a PhD to do it, and it's like being a peer reviewer who also helps with good presentation. I also get to read a much broader variety of the literature than I did as a postdoc, which is sparking my enthusiasm for science again (but only when someone else is doing it!)

I like it, but I'm still new to it, and frequently have to soothe my ego that's bruised from not actually doing research for a living anymore, and I still can't quite let go of my favourite textbooks and labcoat, but I think this is just attachment to familiarity!

There is definitely life after academia smile

MutualWeirdness Sat 12-Mar-16 08:07:00

Hi Orrery, if you don't mind me asking, how did you get in to science editing? I could have written many of the above posts.

Y0uCann0tBeSer10us Thu 17-Mar-16 20:49:33

I'm another one in the same situation as you OP (and I've just found out that we have an academics board - fantastic! grin )

BSc, PhD, post doc, post-doc, published a dozen or so what? I've already completely withdrawn from wet lab work and now do data science as it's way more family friendly (regular hours, can work from home if needs be) which has been working well, but my contracts up in a few months and I'm starting to think now is the time to get something with more security.

I've been doing all the careers events going at my University, and am finding them surprisingly useful (I had previously assumed that they were more tailored for students and not for the likes of me..). There actually seem to be a lot of employers who are interested in the soft skills you gain along the way in academia (time/project management, written/verbal presentation, problem solving, summarizing complex data etc) and the message I'm getting is just get your name out there and enquire about anything that seems interesting to you. That and polish your LinkedIn profile - that's coming up a lot too.

Parietal Fri 18-Mar-16 21:59:47

if you can code and have reasonable stats skills, do look at city / finance / startups. My DH did a phd / postdoc etc and now works with a small startup doing data analysis / programming for websites, and the company is also hiring lots more PhDs.

If you want to get into this area, look out for local meet-ups which seem to be mainly good for networking and getting these kinds of jobs, because they aren't widely advertised.

TheElementsSong Mon 21-Mar-16 09:54:50

As an interim step, I have just changed to part-time (school-friendly) hours but still in the same lab-based role. We will see how it goes, both in terms of fitting in lab work and managing on less income. I am not optimistic as I already feel burned out and heartily sick of being in the lab at all.

I would be really interested in doing science editing or something similar!

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