Making the leap out of academia: alternative careers for researchers



You can read a summary of this event below, or scroll to the bottom of this page to watch the full webinar recording.


As part of DMT’s mission, we support the career development of researchers including those who go on to pursue alternative careers outside of academia. Many researchers follow a traditional academic career path, from undergraduate degrees through to postdoctoral positions and beyond. However, for various reasons there are just as many who choose a career outside of academia.

But making the leap out of academia can be daunting. To shed some light and hopefully open the door for others looking for alternative careers, we spoke to past DMT-funded researchers to hear about their journey moving away from academia and what they learned along the way.

Oliver Culley’s story: Tips and tricks for getting into industry-based roles

“If you follow what you’re good at or passionate about, your career will follow.”

After completing my DMT-funded postdoc in cell biology, I decided to move away from academia and now work in the Cell Sciences New Product Development Team at Abcam. It can be tricky to move from academia into industry, so I would advise people to seek out a mentor for guidance, network with others on LinkedIn, join interesting committees and make sure to tailor your job applications. I believe if you follow what you’re good at or passionate about, your career will follow. But if you don’t know what you like, align your career with others you respect.

Evan Campell’s story: Working in public health provides different benefits

“The work-life balance is so much better.”

I originally pursued an academic career in exercise science but then changed course to work in public health. I am now the Lead Health Services Researcher for NHS Healthcare Improvement Scotland. I decided to move away from academia because I wanted my work to have a more direct impact on patients. I also found the short-term fixed contracts and long working hours that came with research stressful because I have a family. What really surprised me about working in public health was that the work-life balance is so much better and allows me to spend more quality time with my family.

Belinda Thompson’s story: Using transferable skills to step into the charity sector

“There are always other careers that you will enjoy.”

After my DMT-funded postdoc in age-related macular degeneration I was unable to get further funding, so I looked for a role with more stability in the charity sector. I am now the Research Manager at the Medical Research Foundation and I love it. What I learned from this move is that you are much more employable if you up-skill through courses and highlight your transferable skills more broadly. For example, sharing a busy lab demonstrates time management and organisational skills. I know academia sometimes feels like the only option, but there are always other careers that you will enjoy and are good at.

Ainslie Johnstone’s story: Upskilling to make the move into science journalism

“It’s important to recognise the skills you already have.”

Doing research became difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, so I thought about what other work options there were outside of academia. I was always interested in science journalism and data science so I decided to upskill myself in relevant areas such as writing, coding and analysing data. I am now a Data Journalist at the Economist and, to my surprise, I already had a lot of the skills required for the role. My journey has made me realise it’s important to recognise the skills you already have and just hone them for your future alternative career.

Tim Shakespeare’s story: Looking for a change of pace in industry-facing roles

“Follow what you’re interested in.”

Following my postdoc in dementia, I decided I wanted a better work-life balance. I worked in the charity sector with the Alzheimer’s Society for a number of years before joining Zinc, where I am now the Research and Innovation Designer. Here, I work with researchers and start-ups to develop products and services to support healthy ageing. What I enjoy most about working in an industry-based commercial role is the fast-paced, agile working environment and the comfort of having more job security.

Aida Suárez-González’s story: A journey into entrepreneurship

“I am the happiest I have ever been at work.”

During my postdoc on a DMT-funded grant, I helped develop a reading aid app for people with Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA), a rare form of dementia that affects vision, but struggled to get further funding to develop a proper product. Thankfully, Tim Shakespeare helped me obtain the UKRI Healthy Ageing Challenge Grant and from this point, I have enjoyed an incredible programme of support from Zinc to launch my app and I am the happiest I have ever been at work. Moving forward I am potentially creating my own company!

Leaving academia can be tricky and doesn’t come without its challenges. Watch our full webinar below to hear more from our researchers on their journeys beyond academia, sharing guidance, inspiration and advice for others considering a change in career path.

Watch the webinar

If you cannot see the embedded video below, then you can watch the recording on YouTube at this link.