Unlike the two previous bloggers for BSDB Career Stories, I have left academia. The decision to vacate the pursuit and advancement of scientific knowledge was one of, if not, the most harrowing professional choice I have had to make.
Like many wide-eyed, bright-faced first-year undergraduates that come through practical training each year, I was entranced by the elegance and might of Mother Nature. I was a precocious scientist because I found my love for a subject very early. My inauguration into developmental neurobiology came during my undergraduate years at the University of Toronto, which then lead to a research-based Master’s degree (mouse and chick spinal cord development) at McGill University (Montreal), and a PhD (Drosophila developmental neurobiology) from the University of Cambridge. For reasons outside the scope of this narrative, the option to remain in my field of scientific passion was not viable.
So I took a gamble to explore a new scientific discipline at the University of Zurich for my postdoc. Plant sciences offered a welcome challenge that I had not been privy to for a long time, and I enjoyed it very much. Deep down, however, I knew something was missing: the intrinsic motivation and love for a subject matter that captivated me to work at the microscope for no end. It was time to face the reality, and reassess my identity.
As of October 2017, I work for Bayer Business Consulting as a Consultant. The company values and invests in my personal and professional development (I receive 10 days of training a year). I am surrounded by talented, like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds (business, engineering, natural sciences, etc.). No day is like the next so it is well suited for intellectually curious people. The transferable skills that I honed as a scientist are being applied in a real world context: my first assignment has been to work on the Bayer-Monsanto deal.
Contributing to a global project with major impact on the future of the entire agronomic industry is very fulfilling and motivating. Currently, I am taking the opportunity to explore the various divisions (Pharmaceutical, Consumer Health, Crop Sciences) and functions that a multinational corporation such as Bayer has to offer to its new joiners. There are endless possibilities outside of academia with management consultancy being just one option. I encourage all to explore and be open-minded for these are common traits of scientists.
If I have one piece of career advice to those students (and postdocs) who are in active research: invest some time to explore jobs outside of academia. Numbers do not lie. According to a report from The Royal Society, of the students undertaking a PhD in the STEM subjects in the United Kingdom only 0.45% will go on to gain a professorship. During the PhD studies, I exposed myself to various initiatives offered by the Career Services at the University of Cambridge. I participated in on- and off-site recruitment events from the top external management consultant firms (McKinsey Insight Programme), attended free business classes and programs at the Judge Business School (Enterprise and Ignite), and competed in business challenges (Biotechnology YES). When it came time to apply for jobs, I already had the necessary experience to populate my non-academic curriculum vitae and a network of individuals to support my transition into the private sector.
Wendy Gu is a previous winner of the 2015 BSDB Poster Prize, and is currently a Consultant at Bayer Business Consulting. She can be approached for advice on the transition into management consultancy and the recruitment process at BC.