What You Need to Know About Cheeky Scientist

Finding a new job outside academia is an incredibly stressful process. Academics are faced with the challenges of changing how they approach the job market, meeting new people, and the financial anxiety tied to finding a new job after the loss of funding.

While there are free resources online, career coaches can often be an important resource for clarity, direction, and personalized career guidance for PhDs. Career coaches and the services they offer range in their experience, specialty, and their coaching style.

Career coaching services range in price, but on the upper end of this scale is a career coaching service called Cheeky Scientist. From one conversation I’ve had with a PhD, they paid $5000, plus interest for subpar services and aggressive sales tactics.

They were understandably unset.

In this article, I provided a brief overview of the company, its founder, and some experiences of past clients and reviews of the company.

This article is not intended to be an in-depth report of the company, rather, I hope it can be a word of caution since I deeply emphasize with PhDs not only emotionally, but from a fiscal perspective since PhDs are coming from barely living stipends in some cases.

What is Cheeky Scientist?

Cheeky Scientist is a career services organization that helps help PhDs solve the following problems: networking, job referral help, “overcoming the fear of failure after leaving academia,” and salary/job offer negotiations. They state on their Google Profile that they “turn PhDs into confident and successful industry professionals.” According to their promotional content and their website they are a company founded by PhDs.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=0-58NE82bYg
Cheeky Scientist Welcome Video

Cheeky Scientist has gained a large following over the years and is one of the biggest names in the career services space for “alt-ac” and PhDs making the pivot to academia. According to their LinkedIn page, they have over 50,000 followers.

Who Founded Cheeky Scientist

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the CEO and founder of Cheeky Scientist. From marketing material, he also acts as the face of the company appearing in several online videos, social media posts, and on the website. He also hosts a series of YouTube videos with some of his published works sitting on the table for “Cheeky Scientist News.” Dr. Isiah Hankel is also the author of several books for career pivoting including “The Power of a PhD: How Anyone Can Use Their PhD to Get Hired in Industry.”

Controversy Behind Cheeky Scientist and FTC Complaints

Despite the success of Cheeky Scientist, there have been vocal criticisms of the company, with a strong focus on the sales tactics of Dr. Isaiah Hankel. A large share of the complaints are dealing with high-pressure sales tactics targeting academics/PhDs and charging thousands of dollars in program fees. While there is a resource hub, reviews of this hub are not glowing with reviews either.

Major publications like Science have written in-depth articles about Cheeky Scientist, even noting claims submitted to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) submitted by PhDs. Science writes that “Science spoke with and examined documentation from five customers who committed between approximately $3000 and $8000 to join the company‚Äôs Diamond Program.”

As of right now, the price of the program is a one-time installment of $4,998.

During the time of these high-profile articles between September to December 2023, PhDs on LinkedIn and Twitter had a lot to say about the Science article. Many expressed their feelings about Cheeky Scientist’s less expensive career services. Cheeky Scientist did respond on their LinkedIn, however, they were also deleting negative comments. Dr. Isaiah Hankel also responded, but he deleted his LinkedIn not long after the scandal, therefore, it is difficult to find his public response.

Experiences from PhDs about Cheeky Scientist

Overall, the public reviews I could find were a mixed. There are positive experiences. However, negative feedback and reviews are quite common looking at Better Business Bureau and Google Reviews. Many write in places like the Better Business Bureau about high-pressure sales tactics and loans. As one review notes in the Better Business Bureau, “They use high-pressure sales tactics, which when you are already nervous about your impending job prospects, place you in a vulnerable position to agree to their terms.”

When I asked the question, “Is Cheeky Scientist a Scam?” on the After Your PhD LinkedIn page, the results were not very positive.

Note: The interview below is word for word from a past client of Cheeky Scientist. Out of respect for their privacy and anonymity, the name is not shared in this article.

In an interview with a former client of Cheeky Scientist, I asked three questions:

Can you just briefly explain the process [Cheeky Scientist]? How many people did you talk to during the process? What resources do they provide?

“I scheduled a video chat.  It was with Isaiah, the founder.  He touted the niche, publications, and success stories.  Then it turned to the hard sell…the waiting list, the need to act quickly, etc..  He explained that I would be given access to the website, an app to communicate, and a trove of Google documents.  He then asked me if I was the “only decision maker” about this (i.e. did I need to talk to a spouse, etc.).

[Isaiah] then steered it towards using Affirm to finance it.  He was very engaged and helped guide me through signing up.  I foolishly did.  He then scheduled a video call with the team.  That’s when I really knew it was bad news.  There were several people on the call, but not really.  The person speaking was recorded.  The other people were just recordings of them listening.  I tried asking questions when I suspected this, and I wasn’t talking to live people.  I used their message boards numerous times for resume and cover letter advice, which was not terrible, but it was generic resume advice. 

Sometimes it would take a few days and a few reminder posts to get a response…It is predatory.  I understand that there should be some “buyer beware”, but this was over the top.  The advice on the platform is not terrible, but it could be had for free or much less money elsewhere.  I had been persuaded that the connections and the community would help transition me out of academia. “

Should PhDs Hire Career Coaches and Career Services For Private Sector Jobs?

It depends.

Academics should evaluate their budget, goals, and the level of guidance someone needs. I recommend reaching out to people to request an informational interview (it’s free) and ask people what they do.

Informational interviews are one of the central reasons how I navigated into a career as a SEO professional. I simply asked people with careers that interested me, “what do you do, what do I need to do to get there?” Furthermore, there are countless free articles about how to network, write a resume or cover letter for private sector jobs, and salary negotiations.

If you need a human touch and someone who can ask the right questions to move you in the right direction, then career coaches and career services may be a worthy option. Career coaches can be the emotional support that helps people have the confidence to pivot.

As I mentioned on my LinkedIn before:

“You can have all the career transition resources possible, but if you don’t ask the right questions and have self-awareness about what you know (and what you don’t know), you will be stuck in your career transition.”

– Ryan Collins PhD, Founder of After Your PhD

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