My Transition Story from Ph.D. to IndustryJun 06, 2023
Many PhDs who are seeking career guidance from me, always begin with the same question “How did you transition?”. For this week’s edition, I decided to jog down memory lane and share with you how I transitioned from my Ph.D. at Dartmouth to my first industry role at an international medical device company: Siemens Healthcare.
Let’s dive in 👇
New beginnings: Stepping onto a campus full of opportunities
Over a decade ago, I set foot on a stunning campus at Dartmouth in the midst of the crisp autumn weather of New Hampshire. The place was bustling with new faces, overflowing talent, and abundant opportunities. As a fresh graduate student, I was filled with starry-eyed eagerness to learn and grow. The first two years were tough but full of growth. I learned a lot and felt that I was on the right track to hone my research and teaching and potentially pursue a fulfilling academic career where I would have opportunities to shape the bright young minds of the next generation.
Struggles: Frustrations and doubts in academia
Around year 3, as I started ramping up research, I began to question if academia was the right future for me. The expectations of growing and succeeding in academia was beginning to overwhelm me. I’d been in grad school for many years at this point and I still had no publications and my experiments kept failing. I felt stuck. I had many skills but it felt like I had no real expertise in anything specific, for example: I wrote code but couldn’t really create ‘real’ software, I wrote papers but was never published, I supported by PI but never ‘won’ in any grant myself, I studies a lot but grades were average. Despite all the external setbacks, it was the internal struggle that hurt the most. I was halfway done with my PhD and I didn't know if I was good enough or talented enough to be successful in academia. I felt stuck and didn't know what to do.
My Trigger: Realizing that academia was not the path for me
I tried rationalizing that things should get better with time if I kept persisting and continued along not thinking much. Then, one day, during a meeting, something my advisor mentioned in passing in a lab meeting, changed everything for me….in an attempt to get more funding, he had spent 3 nights (in a row) writing and revising a grant application, while teaching and grading classes all day. This situation was more of a norm than an exception. He shared some updates about the grant application in our lab meeting and I recall leaving that meeting thinking “This is not the future I want”.
I do not want to have the burden of winning funds, each year, at the expense of terrible work life balance and constant stress and endless expectations, only to realize that things in fact won’t change long term. It wasn’t about slugging it out short term and miraculously things would fall into place. It was clear to me, if I chose to stay in academia, things most likely would never get easier. For me, I decided right there that academia was not my future. At that moment, I didn’t know what other options I had at that point outside academia but I knew there had to be something else.
Note - this experience and choice is a personal one - I do not mean to deter anyone away from Academia if that’s what you want and fits your goals.
The preparations: Networking and exploring industry options
I started networking with industry professionals with the primary goal of learning new things and discovering suitable roles for Ph.D. students like me. I talked to dozens of people, and to this day I’m very appreciative of all the alumni and contacts in LinkedIn who offered their time and wisdom. I am now doing the same in for many Ph.D. interested in transitioning to industry.
With many requests, a full-time role, and a toddler who decides when I sleep and what I do throughout the day 😅, I no longer have the ability to provide 1:1 time to everyone at this point, but I use this Newsletter as a platform to scale my career guidance to as many PhDs as I can. Feel free to reach out to me via comments here for further guidance.
During my networking, I began to refine my efforts and started to target my search to specific companies that improved medical care and health for patients (aligning with my north star goal: impact human health through innovative technologies at scale). Simultaneously, to gain business-related experience, I volunteered to consult with a wearable startup and learned a lot about startups and the business world.
Slowly, I began sending applications to a few companies. As expected, initially, I faced rejections from several companies, but I continued to learn and iterate. Out of the many companies I discovered, I got really intrigued by a program at Siemens Healthcare called the Siemens Graduate Program (SGP) - a 2-year leadership development program for PhDs, Masters, and MBAs with three 8-month rotations, including one abroad.
I applied to it (SGP) and prepared thoroughly. At first, I didn’t hear back anything for months so didn’t think of it much….although I kept networking with folks within Siemens Healthcare to learn more as I was genuinely interested in the company and the program.
A spark: The unexpected email that changed everything
While I was in New York City for a family event on a weekend, I got an email on a Sunday afternoon from Sabine von Sengbusch, a VP who had noticed my resume and offered a chat on Monday (the next day). I believe she offered a call, but I offered to come visit her office. She was based out of the Tarrytown, New York office and it was a stroke of luck that I happened to be in New York that weekend. She graciously accepted the offer and I had the chance to get a coffee with her the next day. My conversation with her went great and it changed everything - it was my lucky break - the spark that set everything else in motion.
Lucky Break: Choosing Siemens and finding a fulfilling career
After many rounds of interviews, it finally happened - I got an offer from Siemens! I was so thrilled to receive that offer. In fact, with this news, I talked to Johnson and Johnson, with whom I had an interview decision pending, and they accelerated my final interview and I ended up with another offer from them for a Scientist role as well. Compensation was comparable but I felt the growth opportunity to explore 3 different business units, a new country and 3 different functions was too good to pass up. So I decided to join Siemens Healthcare. I started my career with Sabine’s Clinical Affairs team in the Laboratory Diagnostics business at Siemens Healthcare. This was the chance I had been waiting for. To this day, I am appreciative of Sabine, who took a chance on someone when I didn’t have experience to offer but a willingness to work and learn. We need more Sabine’s in this world.
Journey beyond: Discovering a passion for health-tech product management
Since then, my career has taken off in ways I never could have imagined. I have found my passion in health-tech product management, combining my love for the clinical, scientific, and business aspects of healthcare technology. I now enjoy a great work-life balance, a fulfilling career, and a sense of purpose that I never had before. I no longer feel like a misfit, and I am excited about the future and the impact that I can make. Since Siemens, I moved to Pharma where I grew to Director of Product and today I work as a Product Lead at a Health tech startup.
I hope my story provides some insights and information for those interested in making the transition, good luck. 🙏
P.S. I’m offering 1:1 coaching/resume review sessions. If you’re interested you can book here: https://calendly.com/phdtoindustry/connections
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