Guest Blogger: Dr. Sujata Bhatia, Harvard University:
On August 16-17, 2013, I had the distinct honor of attending the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the PROMISE Summer Success Institute as a Distinguished Guest Speaker. A question that arose from young PhDs during each of my mentoring sessions was, “How did you manage the transition from industry to academia?” Indeed, my background as an academic leader is completely non-traditional: after completing my MD and PhD degrees, I spent close to eight years working in biomedical research and product development at DuPont. I transitioned to my current position at Harvard in 2011, and found the transition to be very smooth. Here are my tips for a young PhD who would like to keep the door open to academia.
1. Recognize that various opportunities are available in academia, even if you have started your career in industry. In other words, you have many options, and each of these options will have different demands. You might decide to pursue a position at either a research-intensive university or at a primarily undergraduate institution. The research and teaching demands of these positions will be different (heavier emphasis on research at the former, heavier emphasis on teaching at the latter). It behooves you to show that you are competent at both, which leads to points #2 and #3.
2. Look for opportunities to teach part-time at local universities while you are working in industry. From 2009 to 2011, I served as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Delaware, while still working full-time at DuPont. I taught courses in biochemical engineering and biomedical engineering, and also prepared a textbook to inform my teaching. Many universities are happy to have adjunct professors from local industry, particularly in science and engineering fields. Students benefit from the practical perspective that industry practitioners bring to the classroom. As a university teacher, you will benefit by gaining valuable teaching experience, strengthening your academic network, and testing out whether you enjoy interacting with students. I am convinced that my positive teaching evaluations from the University of Delaware, as well as my experience writing a textbook, were pivotal factors in Harvard’s decision to hire me.
3. Look for opportunities to publish while in industry. I received a key piece of advice from a gentleman at DuPont who transitioned into an academic leadership position at Rutgers University: when someone types your name into PubMed or Google Scholar, at least one publication from the past year should show up. Publishing your work gives you legitimacy in your technical field, and forces you to stay current in your technical field. If you are working on projects that involve intellectual property, talk with your supervisor about the possibility of publishing the work after patents have been filed. If you absolutely cannot disclose your current projects in industry, think about publishing a review paper or book chapter (or even a book!) on your technical expertise.
4. Keep your academic network alive. You should set a goal of attending at least one major technical conference a year. Again, talk with your supervisor about the possibility of presenting your work to an external audience. Even if you cannot give a technical talk on your industry work at a conference, you could give a general overview talk on your technical field, and you can still use the opportunity to network with academics. You should also look for opportunities to give seminars at universities – these visits will allow you to meet faculty one-on-one.
5. Browse academic job postings. My favorite websites for academic job postings are higheredjobs.com and chronicle.com. By browsing the listings on these websites, you will have an idea of which universities are hiring, as well as the specific job opportunities and requirements. I would suggest that you start applying to positions even if you haven’t completely decided to make the switch, just so that you can gain experience with applying and interviewing. I applied for several positions, and interviewed at two other universities, before interviewing for my current job at Harvard.
Transitioning from industry to academia is not impossible. In fact, it is a career path that is unique and valuable – you will bring a special flavor to your teaching, research, and overall leadership style. If you develop your teaching, research, and publishing skills while pursuing an industrial project, you will certainly be an asset to any academic department.
Sujata K. Bhatia, MD, PhD, PE
Assistant Dean, Harvard Summer School
Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies, Biomedical Engineering, Harvard University
Associate, Harvard Kennedy School of Government
206C Pierce Hall, 29 Oxford Street
Cambridge MA 02138
Dr. Bhatia served as a Mentor-in-Residence for the 2013 PROMISE SSI. She was an excellent mentor for students, postdocs, and alumni. More about Dr. Bhatia: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/experts/2760/sujata_k_bhatia.html