Transitioning from Academia to Biotech — Yes, another one

When our darling global pandemic struck, I had been a Postdoctoral Research Associate at University College London for over 2 years. At that point, I’d already decided Academia wasn’t suited to me, but hadn’t made much effort to figure out exactly what I wanted to do after Academia.

What seemed like an overwhelming number of possibilities, on top of a general dislike for change, had me avoiding the subject like the breath of strangers on the street. However, like a lot of people, the pandemic’s perfect stillness pushed me toward action in other aspects of my life.

And this is how the search for my next job began, in a small London flat, face to face with Google, and with one question: ‘What now?’

The limiting factor in my search was the challenge of figuring out what jobs were out there, and it was no mean feat narrowing down the options based on those factors most important to me. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now say that a good first step for me was to get an idea of the very basic things I wanted from my next job.

So, among other questions, I asked myself:

Do I still want to be involved in scientific research? Do I want to stay in the lab? What am I willing to compromise on to make the switch to industry? What type/size of company do I want to work for?

Ultimately, I knew I didn’t want to abandon Science, had no desire to retrain from scratch, and was definitely keen to build on the computational skills I’d developed during my post-doc. This led me to the Biotech industry.

Now, this all sounds easy, right? The thing is, there’s no such job title as ‘Reformed Cardiovascular Scientist Who’s Keen On R’!

After contacting as many people as I could in roles I thought I’d enjoy, begging those individuals for a chat, I was able to focus my search. And so I sought job descriptions that mentioned a fair amount of computational work within companies carrying out research to improve health care.

As a colleague who’d been through the same process just a few months before shouted, ‘Just do it!’ I started applying for jobs — frantically. By that point, I’d done most of the work, and although it sometimes felt more like a slow-motion tumble through a thorn bush than a jump, it was all worth it in the end.

Again, in hindsight, I truly believe any move out of Academia is a good move (that is, if you’ve firmly decided Academia isn’t for you). Starting a new job has allowed me to gain insights into so many different professions I’d have never encountered by remaining in Academia. Knowing what’s available out there makes the prospect of my next step — however that might look — so much easier.

After a few months of applications, I heard back from one start-up (you guessed it…Ochre Bio) inviting me to interview. And then it happened a week or so after the interview: the clouds opened, a sunbeam illuminated my ecstatic face, and I was lifted off my desk chair to the sound of angels.

What actually happened was: I received a call back from Ochre Bio with a job offer, and then proceeded to dance to the death of my academic career, in the kitchen, with my partner and flatmate.

As everyone says, moving from academia to biotech is a change of pace, and they couldn’t be more right. In the 8 months since I started, some challenges have obviously cropped up. Being part of the earlier stages of a company’s development has taken my OCD for a spin, but it has also been incredibly stimulating and has given me the on-the-ground experience I needed.

The company is using my skills to their full potential, and the leadership is pushing me to build on them and progress as both a professional and human. I’m still doing cool and interesting research, and I’m also surrounded by brilliant people who care about making a difference in healthcare.

Oh, and I actually have a real chance of career progression — STUNNING!

Phenomics-led RNA medicines for chronic liver diseases