Returning to academia after years in industry is hard. People have already disclosed how difficult it is. “It was a shock,” says molecular endocrinologist Steven Kliewer to Nature when recalling the move from industry to academic research. Assistant professor Jeannie Holstein says in The Guardian that she “won’t pretend it has been easy because it hasn’t” to pursue a PhD after an MBA. Those people, however, are commenting on returning to academia from jobs in related fields. What do you do if you’re making a complete career change?
In my case, I am moving from fashion to neuroscience, with very little to bridge the two fields. This transition between related fields is not easy. The transition between disparate fields is harder. But luckily, as one commenter in an Ask Metafliter query said, “a couple-year absence from [your chosen] field would be a hurdle, but not a deal-breaker”.
So how do you break into academia? What do you do? I’m in the middle of the transition, having been accepted into a graduate program but still looking for a job in my field, so I have a few tips to share about getting started.
- Decide whether graduate school is right for you.
This seems like an obvious step, but if you’re coming from a completely different field, you may not know what academia looks like in practice. Do your research. Set up informational interviews. Use resources on the Internet, such as the previously mentioned Ask Metafilter thread, Facebook, or Twitter. Ask if you can sit in on a class. Show your commitment.
- Connect your current work experience to your future academic field.
Even if the two fields are completely different, such as fashion and neuroscience, you can bridge the two with volunteer or internship experience. Take classes about your subject of interest, or ask if you audit or sit in on them. Use distance learning options if you can. It’s important to show the transition. Stay focused on your field.
- Network, network, network.
Remember those people you contacted for informational interviews? Maintain those relationships. Ask if they would be willing to be a resource for you. Follow up with updates about your progress. Similarly, you can make connections through the work you did to bridge your experience. Whether it’s through your volunteer work, internship, or class, you will meet people in your field who are willing to help. Don’t be afraid to ask to keep in contact, and then don’t be afraid to catch up.
- Use your alma mater.
Many people forget that their alma mater has resources, such as almuni/ae directory, career services, and employment listings. You already have access to many people and opportunities. Don’t forget to use them!
Beginning your career change is daunting. You will be learning about an entirely new field and an entirely different subject matter. But breaking into academia is not impossible. Be sure to stay focused on your path and interests for your efforts to bear fruit.