Ten years ago, Donny Wong was finishing his Ph.D. in a "somewhat oncology-related" life science field, studying enzymes that contribute to DNA repair. Today, he holds a supervisory position in the pharmaceutical industry "identify[ing] trends and creat[ing] forecast models for new drugs based on the hidden meanings behind clinical-trial results," he writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Getting from a grad school bench to a corporate office required strategy, attitude adjustment, and plenty of effort. In a clear-eyed and informative essay, he shares some key insights into how to successfully make that change.
Wong's advice is particularly useful because he sees the problem of moving from academe to industry from two sides. Having accomplished the jump himself, he now hires people who are attempting to do so.
A key step in a successful transition, he writes, is to "[s]wallow your pride. Having a Ph.D. means you are knowledgeable about a specific topic and can produce original research. But it doesn't make you necessarily smarter than non-Ph.D. holders. And certainly, a Ph.D. is not necessary for most jobs, including my own."
One must also "[b]e clear about your reasons for leaving academe." Wong emphasizes that "leaving the bench is not a revolving door, but is very much a one-way street" and that employers want you to be committed to your new job and company and not "constantly looking back over your shoulder at the life you had, rather than looking forward."
Good communication skills are necessary not only to succeed in nonacademic work, but also to get the first interview. Three-quarters of the resumes that Wong receives go directly into the circular file, he says, because of elementary typing mistakes or failure to tailor the information to show knowledge of his company and its needs.
Wong offers a number of other useful tips besides these, which you can find in his essay.