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#55 Maria João Pereira on how to get a job in industry after PhD: Tips and Tricks

Dr. Maria João Pereira shares stories about her transition from academia to industry

Published onAug 17, 2018
#55 Maria João Pereira on how to get a job in industry after PhD: Tips and Tricks

Maria João Perreira is a Portuguese researcher with a biochemistry background, who moved to Sweden in 2011 to do a Master’s project at the Biomedical Center of Lund University.

Her interest for stem cells and regenerative medicine led her to a PhD in Stem Cell Biology, which she finished in December last year.

Very early in her PhD, she realized that career in academia did not fit well with her personality and interests, and so she started looking for opportunities to switch to the industry. 

Today, Maria is a research scientist in a pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk.  

In this new episode, she shares some tips on how to facilitate the transition from academia to industry, as well as some advice on how to navigate the selection and interview process successfully.

“Start early. Remember: looking for a job is a full-time job. Even before starting to look and apply for jobs, you need to set your mind to it”

– Dr. Maria João Pereira


Hello everyone,

My name is Nika Seblova and you are listening to PhD Career Stories. In this episode, you can hear Maria Pereira, who will share her 10 tips for transition from academia to industry. Maria is an accomplished scientist and finished a PhD in stem cell biology at Lund University in Sweden. She is very goal oriented person, so from early on in her PhD career she engaged in several activities related to job hunting and industry. We hope her tips will be very helpful for you! Have fun listening!

Hi and thanks a lot for inviting me to do this podcast!

I really hope I can pass on some of the things that have worked for me in this transition from academia to industry. And hopefully I can help someone with it; that [is] maybe in the same situation as I am. 

So I'll start by introducing myself - My name is Maria Pereira and I’ve recently graduated as a PhD in stem cells biology. I originally come from Portugal, where I graduated as biochemist and in 2011 I moved to Sweden, first to do my master’s project and then I started as a PhD at BMC in Lund. After defending my thesis in December last year (2017) I got a job at Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company that is now starting to focus on developing new stem cell therapies for chronic diseases.

So how did I end up here and why? 

I will start with the “why”. For a long time during my PhD I knew and felt like I was a researcher but I really didn't feel like an academic. So I truly enjoyed developing a project from initial hypothesis to planning, obtaining results, concluding things from it, but there was something missing. And the fact that I was actually not in the process of delivering something to a patient, and that publishing was the end of the line for it, really made me realize I could not continue in academia forever. It was just not the right thing for me.

I started looking for alternative options very early on. I think after my half time, I did some thorough thinking and sought to find support through LinkedIn groups; I searched  for mentorship programs, for example, and started looking also for conferences related to industry in several fields. And it actually took some time to start, you know, getting some actual activities going, but I would say that during my very last year of PhD I was then heavily involved in these activities. And this meant being enrolled in mentorship program, participating at least in one activity once every other month, and reallytrying to find out what space I would fit in when I finish my PhD. Whether it was a biotech company, a pharmaceutical company, becoming an entrepreneur, etcetera. 

So here are 10 tips I think might be helpful for you who are considering applying for jobs in industry and that think this could be a good for you. And these are of course things that’ve worked for me when applying and going through a selection process at Novo Nordisk. 

So tip number 1 is start early. Remember that looking for a job is a full-time job. So even before starting to look for jobs and applying for jobs, you need to set your mind to it, and that also takes time. A while before I defended, I let people around me know that I did not want to continue in academia, and this included of course also my PhD supervisor, who was truly supportive, and also colleagues and people I knew at work and outside [of] work. 

So my tip number 2 is keep your network close and let them know what you want to do and what you need from them; either if that is help finding a job or simply getting advice. If something comes up, people will know you might be interested and give you a heads up. And in this context, it is very important to say that my first contact within Novo Nordisk was through a referral. So this is something that for sure is very important and that works. 

Tip number 3 is be patient and keep yourself an active job-hunter. So after I defended I started looking for jobs quite actively, and I know it can be really really exhausting to apply for jobs without a positive outcome arising from it, but the truth is I realized that as I was applying for more and more positions, I was getting better at it. So it was getting better and better at it over time. So be patient, something will come up. During this time be an active job-hunter even when you're not at the computer and applying for the job, so register in several different jobs posting forums, LinkedInGlassdoorMonster, and create alerts that help you keep up-to-date on new positions posted.  

Tip number 4: create a CV and a cover letter template that is easy to change. So work, really work, on a good version of your CV and cover letter, so that you can become more effective at writing applications; because if you have a good template from the beginning then all you need to do is to (you know) add a the few details, move things around a bit, remove things that don't matter for the position, etcetera. 

Tip number 5Be open to new learning opportunities. So I truly recommend the job security foundation job-coaching and workshops: it really helped me understanding how the recruitment process works and to how to tailor my job applications for different positions that become available. If you still haven't finished your studies, mentorship programs are excellent for this. They don't take much of your time and they're totally worth doing. It’s also very good first contact with the industry setting, which is for sure very different from the academic. 

Tip number 6be open to criticism - and this is regarding your application or CV writing. So if you feel like you should have input from outside people, people that, I don't know, work with you and that might be good to read or to go through your applications, really accept criticism. Because it really brings positive change into your application. It's good to have outside eyes looking at what you write and how you expose your experience in your CV.

Tip number 7be honest during applications and interviews. In the process of job applications don't hide anything. Sell yourself, show what you're capable of, but be honest about the things you're not an expert about! During the interview, it will become very very clear in your answers, and in the way you present your experience, what you're capable to do or not. So remember there are extremely experienced people conducting these interviews and that you really have to be honest about it. The same thing when completing personality tests: be honest. There will for sure be a series of questions during the interview that will aim at testing how true your answers in these tests where. 

Tip number 8: prepare for interviews but don't rehearse too much. I recommend you preparing the interview, and really thinking about questions that relate to what kind of person you are, what are your ambitions and stuff like that. These are things that you really sometimes need to think before expressing them verbally, but don't rehearse too much because that would also become very clear. So let it be somehow spontaneous! 

Tip number 9: during the interview show, that you're interested in what they’re doing. Show that you need to know more about the position at all times. Ask exactly what will be required from you, so that you know how you can, on your side, conduct the interview too and give satisfactory answers, and also ask even more questions.

Tip number 10: take care of your social network pages - so, make sure your LinkedIn profile, Facebook, wherever you make public, is well taken care of and contains all the appropriate information. Believe me, people use LinkedIn a lot in Industry, so, you know, if they want to know more details about certain positions, where you where, if there is something in your application that might be missing, sometimes they look at your LinkedIn profile to look for that information, and to see, you know, which people is in your network for example. So do that.

So these were my tips and tricks, and I will have to say again that this is what worked for me, and really hope it helps, and thanks once more for inviting me. It was a really nice experience. Bye!
And that is it for another episode, this time episode 55, of PhD Career Stories. As always, we would love to hear from you. You can contact us by commenting on our blogFacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter. If you like what we do, please subscribe to our show on Itunes or Spotify. So that’s goodbye for now, but we will be back with a new story for you in two weeks time.

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