Crossing the divide from academia to industry

  1. 19th Dec, 2022

Dr Connor Bowen is a Senior Scientist working within the molecular biology team at Ingenza. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Dundee, and followed it up with a PhD and post doc at the same institution, studying Serratia marcescens and the role of the Type 6 secretion system. Connor came to Ingenza in August 2022, moving across from a position in academia, where he was a postdoctoral research fellow studying streptococcal biology. 

What motivated him to make the change to a role in industry? The answer is multifaceted. In this blog, Connor describes his experience of settling into his exciting new role at Ingenza, and the comparisons he has drawn when reflecting back on his time in academia. 

Stepping into the unknown 

I spent several years in the lab, juggling numerous different roles and responsibilities on top of my own research. It was a constant struggle to stay on top of everything, and I was most definitely dropped in at the deep end. Though I did have some great colleagues, they were frequently snowed under with work themselves, and weren’t able to find the time to assist me when I needed it, despite their best intentions. I also often spent long hours working alone, which wasn’t good for my mental state or my work-life balance. To be honest, I found academia to be all consuming. 

On top of this, I’m sure many academics will relate when I say there was always the looming pressure of securing funding when a grant came to an end. While I enjoyed my job on the whole, eventually I realised there was no career progression for me in that particular role, and my conclusion was that it was high time I seek out a new experience on the other side of the great divide that would broaden my skill set and better align with my future life goals. I began looking for a job in industry. 

Looking back on the application process, I initially felt woefully underqualified for an application-based role, and doubted any other company would even consider me. However, I soon recognised that my years in academia had equipped me with lots of extremely useful transferable skills, like project and line management, mentoring, lab management and others. I’d had to perform so many different tasks as a post doc that I’d had on-the-job training without even realising it. These skills are taken for granted in an academic setting, but they’re highly sought after in industry. That was an eye-opener for me, and really boosted my confidence in making the transition. 

A collaborative environment

I’m glad I put my doubts aside and took that leap of faith! At Ingenza, I have a large community of scientists that I can bounce ideas off. We make committee-based decisions, and there is always a team member around who I can go to for advice and troubleshooting help. In all, I’m really enjoying having a readily available support network around me. 

I also appreciate being able to concentrate on a small number of projects in depth, and working to a defined timescale, without stretching myself or my resources too thin. It’s good to have that kind of focus and structure to my work, and it’s reassuring to know that I won’t suddenly lose my position due to a lack of funding. I feel settled and part of the team already, and that gives me a sense of permanence and belonging.  

I was happy to find that there are some similarities to my prior position, and this has helped me to feel right at home in no time. It’s certainly a different environment from pure research, but I would say that my day-to-day lab work is actually very similar to what I was doing before; I’m still problem solving through scientific research, but in a more application-focused setting. I’ve discovered that, surprisingly, there is a big overlap between the two fields of academia and industry, and Ingenza is a great mix of both. 

Making the right choice 

I never thought I’d end up working anywhere outside of academia, but here I am! At Ingenza, I have so many opportunities to learn and try new things, to hone my skills and develop new ones, and I get to work on a range of interesting projects. There’s definitely more potential for career progression in my new role, and I’m looking forward to what the future has in store for me here. 

My advice for those considering a similar career change will come as no surprise: go for it! Academics are valuable assets to application-focussed companies like Ingenza, and you may just find that a role in industry is exactly what you’ve been looking for.