In episode 17 of PhD Career Stories, Dr Amanda González-Bengtsson shares the story of her transition from academia to industry.
Dr Amanda González-Bengtsson is a Public Relations Manager at Stockholm University and her passion is to promote science and make it known in society and to stakeholders. She explains how she managed to get a lot of job offers after the PhD just by actually doing all those things that career advisors tell us to do. She hopes that all of you can benefit from listening to the podcast and that you will achieve great things in your life.
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I started a PhD because everyone told me I would not stand a chance without it. They told me I would not get any good jobs if I didn’t have a PhD. And looking back on it, I do agree with them.
What I loved about being a PhD student was the part when you got to use your brain. The science part really appealed to me. Analyzing results, making a story of it, hypothesizing what the physiological importance for humans could be, the creativity. Actually, the greatest impact that the PhD had on me is that I love science, all sorts of science.
But there was one deal breaker. I realized that I wasn’t as fascinated about the practical work as I should have been. The nitty gritty, actually doing the experiments in the lab was not my thing. I got good at it since it is a major part of the job. Rather than zooming in on the small picture, I love having a holistic view and the visionary thinking. Although there was a lot of lab work, I never considered not to finish it. I always finish what I start. I also had other strong reasons to continue with a PhD – the work place. The work environment was great. To have close friends that are always there for you as colleagues is priceless.
Since I understood quite early that I would not stay in academia I also started preparing for it quite early on. For example, I took courses in psychology first because I was interested in it. I talked with the career service at my union, where a career advisor gave me the idea to take evening master courses in business at Stockholm School of Economics. I felt that business was a good subject to study since you can use it in so many professions. It was an extremely intense time working in the lab during the days and working on the master courses in the evening. A long time I actually thought I was going into life science sales after the PhD.
I also knew I had to have advantages over others in the labor market since some people consider a PhD to be pure education and not a working experience. Also, because I knew I was a woman, I knew I was going to have to do at least twice as good as any man to be rated half as good. For example, some PhD students and I took the initiative to start a PhD council to be able to influence decisions affecting us that were doing a PhD. I started getting really engaged in the PhD councils’ work, and I noticed that I really liked scientific communication. I interviewed Nobel Prize laureates and moderated events.
I got a scholarship to go to a private course in project management. I always had an eye for opportunities and to seize them, which I strongly advise for you to have as well. My driving force is joy. I want to experience new things. I always had a plan to start looking for a job one year before I finished my PhD. I didn’t, however, which I regret. But seven months before I finished my PhD I started to contact people that I thought had interesting jobs. Most of them were CEOs. The last period of my PhD was very extremely stressful, I worked day and night; however, I always kept meeting employers and stakeholders.
The feeling kind of grew on me that although I am pretty sure I would have been a good sales person, I would not have loved to do it. And I started to shift interest towards scientific communication. I am not really sure how this thought evolved but I think it was there all along; I just didn’t pay attention to it. So learn from my mistake. Listen to what you want to do from the beginning, and do it. Everything is easier once you know what you want to achieve.
One day I also saw an advert at the university about a course in journalism, and I thought that would be a perfect way to improve my scientific communication skills. However, the course was expensive, but I managed to get a scholarship for it. I took the course, though, when I was the most stressed with finishing up and writing my PhD thesis. It was extremely interesting, though, and I learned the basics of journalism, media and scientific communication. In the meantime I had also started looking for jobs, but only the ones that I really wanted.
For the course we did a study visit to TV4 news morning show. We had to choose ourselves where we were doing the study visit and it took us a lot of effort to get to do a study visit. It was so much fun. Of course we took a lot of pictures in the studio and sitting in the chair of the news anchors. Once we were there, I realized, “This appears to be an awesome to work at,” and we got to see the person in charge of recruiting people. I was very clear with what kind of work there I thought sounded interesting. I told him about my working experience. He told me to contact him if I would apply for a job there. I remember that on my way out, I had a TV4 visitor’s badge, and I kissed it and I promised myself I would not rest until I had a normal TV4 badge in my hand. I of course sent my CV to the recruiter, but unfortunately, there was no job currently available. But he said, “Let’s keep in contact; I’ll call you if a job comes up.”
At this time period, as I had accumulated a lot of vacation time during my PhD, I thought, “Why not take some of it to do an internship.” I want to stress that this was my own initiative, and not part of the course. I actually had contact with another science editorial team at the moment, but they could not give me an internship although they wanted, due to regulations dictating that I could not since I was employed by Stockholm University. So, then I tried my other connection that I had at TV4 and they said that they would gladly have me as an intern, although they usually didn’t take interns for such a short time. It was a dream come true. I got to interview really cool people that were going to be on the show, and I made manuscripts for the TV hosts. To see your work coming to life in the studio is a surrealistic feeling.
At this time, I had gone to one interview to a job I really wanted but didn’t get. But I established a good contact with the recruiter. I also went to an interview to become a medicine and science reporter for a company producing trademark magazines in life science. And I got the job. Then I got a second job offer, the one that I’m currently employed at, as a public relations manager at Stockholm University at the Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences. The abbreviation is “DEEP.”
I love my new job, creating a communication plan and strategy from scratch. The scientists go on field trips to Madagascar, Tanzania, and Vietnam. To remote and spectacular places that most people never visit, and do science to promote the environment. They dive and analyze coral reeves, for example. Imagine the pictures they capture! If you’re into sustainability and the environment or just like to look at cool pictures, please, feel free to follow us on Instagram. The Instagram is “deep_insights_sthlm_uni”.
Furthermore, only a few hours after I signed the contract for the job I have now, I got offered a third job. How I had gotten the job was that I was at a stand-up comedy show and one of the comedians said he was working with scientific communication in his performance. After the show I emailed him, said I had seen his stand-up show and that I wanted to hear more about scientific communication. He suggested a phone call and after hearing my merits, he said I could call his boss to see if I maybe could do some small freelance work to get experience in scientific communication. It resulted in that I got to see his boss for an informal interview after I sent my CV, but it was mostly like a nice conversation. She said that if they got money for a particular project, she would contact me and the job would be mine. It was a fulltime job, not just freelance.
A fun thing was, once I had gotten the job that I’m currently at, at DEEP, I contacted everyone in my network that I had had lunch with to tell them I had gotten a job and that they should add me at LinkedIn and so on. One of the CEOs that I had contact with told me that her company was expanding and if she could invite me for lunch. I thought, “Maybe she missed that I already had gotten a job?”, but no, no misunderstanding. She practically wanted me to quit my new job and start at her company instead. She needed someone with my dedication and passion, she said. So, the world is out there, and it’s up for grabs. You just need to realize it.
During this period of time, before I got my jobs, I also got headhunted into sales. One of my friends had asked me to be a reference for a job in life science and that I should write a reference letter. When the recruiter called me, she said that she was impressed by my merits that my friend had told her about, and if wanted to go to an interview in life science sales. I didn’t get the job due to someone else having more experience, but the CEO called me and said they wanted to keep my contacts since I performed very well on the interview. Also, my friend recommended me to her boss when they were hiring people at her company. I went there for an interview.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a strong network of friends and acquaintances when you are looking for a job. And give the favor back. If someone helps you, try to help them back in any way you can. I have a clear view that the happier your friends are, the happier you are. You just need to help each other and look out for opportunities for each other.
I somehow always thought I would get a job due to my efforts, since I felt so well-connected. Unemployment scared me, though. But I never thought it would happen to me, because I had prepared so well. It would have been devastating if it did. I also want to say that I had a career advisor at Stockholm University that always had my back during all of this time, approximately one and a half years before my PhD finished.
To new PhDs I want to say, think about what you want to do after your PhD, even when you’re in the very beginning. My experience is that if you already in the beginning of your PhD somehow are doubting that you want to continue in academia, you probably won’t. So, start preparing then, early. Maybe even just do a licentiate. In my experience, the ones that continue in academia belong to two categories. Those that were determined from the very start to do so; or the second one, did not get another job, so they did a post-doc. You definitely don’t want to be the latter one. Think about that you’re over-qualified for some jobs as a PhD. Imagine what a post-doc can do. I’ve heard that if you want to have a sales job you almost need to hide that you did a PhD. This is just a heads-up that the sales people are not impressed by that. My feeling is that sometimes they’re actually just out to have someone with a PhD for the credibility and to connect with customers at universities.
All of you that are in the end of your PhD, I strongly advise you to put more effort in the search for a job. It will pay off much better than only preparing for the dissertation. Do at least something every day to get you closer to getting a job – at least ten minutes per day! Also, you have to eat. Have lunch with a CEO. You’re smart, you did a PhD. You can make it work timewise. Work efficiently. Time management skills are really good. A book named “Bli klar i tid och må bra på vägen – handbok för doktorander” [Finish on time and feel good while getting there – handbook for PhD students] by Åsa Burman will help you on the way. I strongly recommend you to read it, but mostly to implement the strategies of the book in your life. Theory is nothing without practice. It is the action you do that takes you somewhere, not your thoughts. So, go out and do something, hopefully something that has meaning and makes you happy.
Thank you for listening.