Propel Careers

Transferrable skills: Showing relevancy from academia to industry, By Lauren Celano, Propel Careers 

December 7, 2011 
by Lauren Celano 

Lauren Celano, CEO, Propel Careers wrote this article for Bio Careers as part of her monthly contributions. To learn more about Bio Careers, see link:

The years of academic research, perfecting your techniques, long hours, and design of novel experiments provides you with so much more than just a strong scientific foundation. As you perform your research, analyze results, and prepare your publications, grants, and presentations, you are using and building many other non-scientific skills which will benefit you as you grow in your career. Whether you pursue an academic path or an industry one, these skills are important to realize and cultivate to ensure a successful career

As individuals engage on a career search, it is important to reflect and differentiate yourself from the rest of the job seekers on the quest to find the perfect job for you. As you think about differentiation, one way is to focus on the transferrable skills that you have. These make you unique and also provide tremendous value to your employer. You can view these skills as your personal "tool kit" that you can transfer to the workplace. These include both the "hard skills" such as specific assay techniques and experimental design knowledge, and the "soft skills", such as being a team player and a good communicator.

The market place is quite competitive. Many individuals with advanced scientific degrees are looking for the same type of opportunities. Many have similar scientific experiences, publication records, and exemplary reference letters. The question then becomes, why would an employer choose you, over another seemingly equally qualified candidate (on paper)?

When transitioning from academia to industry, highlighting one's scientific skills and accomplishments is important, since industry is certainly looking for individuals with a solid foundation, expertise with specific techniques, and relevance to their research/therapeutic focus areas.

However, a solid scientific foundation is not enough. Industry wants more than just a stellar scientist. They want a stellar scientist who can be a strong part of the team, who can work across disciplines, who can communicate, grow and develop, so that they add significant value to the firm with their efforts. In many cases, these "non-scientific" transferrable skills, the ones that are often not as visible in academic settings, are the ones that make the difference between a person being hired, or not, in industry.

To succeed in industry, individuals should be organized, demonstrate attention to detail, be able to manage projects and people, have good communication skills (written and verbal), networking and relationship building ability, leadership qualities, and a strong work ethic. Fortunately, many scientists have these skills. Many just don't realize it or, more importantly, showcase them in the career search and interview process. The more individuals can highlight their skills, the easier it will be for industry to realize their relevance to the open jobs.

Depending upon the type of career path interested in, you will want to highlight different skills. For example, in business development roles, scientific knowledge with a commercial perspective is valued as is financial skills. Networking and relationship building is also extremely important in these types of roles. Marketing roles value writing ability, creative skills, and branding insight/experience. Product and project management roles value organizational skills, the ability to work with many different types of people, attention to detail and strong communication skills. Strategy consulting roles value analytical and logic skills, scientific knowledge (in many cases), the ability to evaluate trends and see the larger view of how research, development, and commercialization fit together. Strong presentation, written, and verbal skills are also highly valued. Research and development roles in industry value strong scientific foundations, adaptability, interest in working cross functionally, and commercial focus on the research that you are performing. Research and development in industry is not just an academic exercise. Rather it is performed to develop a novel technology which will be used, bought, sold, or acquired, with the overall effect of impacting human health.

Evaluating and deciding your career path, will certainly take self reflection and time, but the exercise of deciding what interests you, what you are passionate about, and what skills you can offer, is well worth it in the end. This will lead to you being more focused and sure of what you are looking for and where you want to be. This clarity will help you identify with relevant employers and clearly articulate why you are relevant for the open job. To start this process, you can read a book like "What Color is Your Parachute" to assist in defining the qualities and transferrable aspects of your career and life which could be relevant to your career path. As you begin this process, remember that graduate school teaches you many foundational qualities which are valued in industry careers. These include specific scientific abilities and research skills, strong quantitative data analysis skills, the ability to synthesize complex information and learn new areas, the ability to ask questions, a foundation built upon writing (abstracts, papers, grants), a work ethic and drive, decision making, perseverance, and the ability to work independently and to be accountable. The key is, to clearly articulate what you have learned, and why your skills are relevant to the role(s) being applied for. This makes all the difference.


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