Leaving academia is a pivot for some folks, and a leap for others.
I spoke with Matteo Tardelli about his new book called “Beyond Academia: Stories and Strategies for PhDs Making the Leap to Industry.” Matteo is currently a Consultant and Project Leader at PreScouter Inc. He completed his PhD in 2017 for Immunology and Metabolism from the Medical University of Vienna an got his Postgraduate degree from Cornell University. He previously authored The Salmon Leap For PhDs during the Covid pandemic to help PhDs find fulfilling careers outside academia.
To view the full interview, watch the full episode:
Book Inspirations For Beyond Academia
Ryan Collins PhD: I’m kind of curious about your inspirations for the book. And I know like you talked at least through LinkedIn that you wrote the Salmon Leap during the pandemic, and can you just maybe talk more about the experience and maybe what you learned from that experience going into this new book?
Matteo Tardelli PhD: I was looking into transitioning careers from academia to industry myself. To give a little bit of a background, I was doing my second postdoc at Cornell in New York City. I was really trying to explore the post-academic landscape outside of university research. It was a struggle really to understand what was out there for me. I was looking for these titles and things that you find in the industry, and I didn’t really have any idea what these titles really meant, right?.. So then the pandemic hit and I was like, well, I’ve been learning so much myself and why not really put it together into something that can be transferrable for someone else that they can use and read.
On The Importance of Going Outside Your Bubble
In his new book, Matteo interviewed around 50 different people who lived across the world. Their research varied, but there was a common theme of going outside of one’s comfort zone.
Matteo Tardelli PhD
“PhDs, especially in academic research, we are so much in our bubble all the time…You’re not really connected so much to the outside world. My advice was really trying to get out a bit of your bubble and really try to start a little bit talking to different people and networking and attending events and things outside the bubbles. That was a common thing that made successful in that transitions.”
In an earlier question, I asked Matteo about informational interviews.
Ryan Collins PhD: So I know a big portion of the book is about informational interviews. Where should they start with informational interviews? Should they start with folks with PhDs in their name already, or should they kind of already make the leap to maybe talk to people who don’t have a PhD but they’re in a role that interests them?
Matteo Tardelli PhD: I always recommend to people is really reach out to some alumni from your school. So for instance, I find that a very valuable kind of bunch of people that can really direct you in ways are interesting because they’ve been in your shoes as well, they’ve been studying most likely university. So I think that’s, that’s a good way to start. And I think generally speaking we should sit down and really think who do I really have in my network that can help me out?
The Importance of Translating Your Skills
Leaving academia is often about communicating the skills you gained during your PhD, although it may not often come across in a CV-style resume usually written by academics.
Ryan Collins PhD: What is your take when PhDs talk about being overqualified for a role or being underqualified? Or do you generally believe that PhDs are in one of these categories, or is it just depending on the person?
Matteo Tardelli PhD: I really don’t think so. I think we are qualified for anything we really want. It’s just a way of translating your skills in a way that it’s understandable to an employer. I don’t think we are really overqualified to apply for jobs that do not require a PhD, you’re obviously gonna be qualified. But for the jobs that, you know, require a PhD out there, I think, yeah. It’s just a matter of really transferring your skills and translating them in a way that they’re kind of interesting to an employer. It’s not really more than that.
Leaving Academia: Learning About Yourself
After Your PhD emphasizes asking questions internally as well as externally.
The toughest question we often ask ourselves is where we want to go next in life. Other people can’t answer this question. You have to explore on your own.
The book ties in the themes of exploring careers by learning about yourself and asking exploratory questions to inform your career pivot.
For example, here is a brief excerpt from Beyond Academia about looking inward to determine where to go next in your career.