5 Moronic Mistakes That Keep PhDs Stuck In Academia

A negative feedback loop exists in academia. Once you’re in the academic system, the system keeps you there by refusing to prepare you for anything else, including an industry job.

You’re told over and over again that nothing else but staying in academia is respected. You’re told over and over again that you can’t do anything else. You’re told that there is nothing else.

The academic system makes you so dependent on it that you get used to being treated poorly by people, like your advisor, committee members, and even other postdocs and graduate students.

You also become helpless. Instead of developing the skills you need to move forward with your careers, you start developing negative traits.

You become self-entitled. You become scared. You become lazy.

This may sound harsh but it’s reality.


The Negative Feedback Loop In Academia

According to a report by the Atlantic, greater than 60% of PhDs and greater than 80% of Life Science PhDs will NOT have a paying job at graduation.

Another report by the Royal Society showed that less than 1% of PhDs will go on to be tenured professors.

There’s a myth in academia, perpetuated by other unhappy academics that says you can only be a successful PhD if you become a tenured professor and continue to publish in academic journals.

This myth survives by encouraging young PhDs to look down on anyone who expresses a desire to leave academia.

This myth is accompanied by other myths, like you should spend all of your time in graduate school doing experiments, not going to networking events. That you should obsess over your thesis. That your publications matter in the real world.

These myths get perpetuated year after year in academia, keeping you and other talented PhDs stuck in the system for years and even decades.

5 Mistakes of PhDs Keeping You Stuck In Academia

The truth hurts, which is why most PhDs avoid it. If you’re waiting for someone to come save you from academia and line up a great industry job for you, you’re going to be waiting a long time.

The only way to get your career back on track is to take matters into your own hands.

You must realize that the biggest obstacle between you and getting the industry job you want and deserve is yourself.

It’s your own bad attitude and bad habits that will keep you as an unemployed PhD after graduation, nothing else. Take responsibility.

Stop blaming other people for your situation and start blaming yourself. Stop making these 5 foolish mistakes of PhDs that are keeping you stuck in academia: 

#1 Treating your thesis like a work of art.

Your thesis is a means to an end, it’s not a work of art. See your thesis for what it really is—a stepping stone to getting your first industry job.

Your goal should be to get your thesis done as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality.

No matter who you are or what your research entails, this document should take no more than 2-4 weeks once you have your data collated at 4-5 hours a day of writing.

The rest of your time should be spent on wrapping up experiments and, most importantly, networking and applying to industry jobs.

#2 Believing publications matter in the real world

Your publications don’t mean anything in the real world. It hurts, but it’s the truth.

Your publications don’t even matter for industry R&D positions.

Yes, there might be one or two hiring managers out there who will claim to care about your publications, but these hiring managers are part of a very outdated minority.

Do you imagine the hiring manager sitting across from you at the table, looking at your resume, and saying, “Wow, I didn’t realize you were published in this journal! You’re hired!”

Keep dreaming.

If you want to have a job when you graduate, stop obsessing over getting that last publication out and start focusing on networking with the right people.

#3 Uploading bloated, self-indulgent resumes online

Most PhD students have no idea how to write a quality resume for recruiters or hiring managers. So, they do what PhDs do best—research. They Google “how to write a resume” online, read dozens of websites written by people with no industry experience, and then start putting their skills down on paper.

These PhDs write and write and write until they’ve squeezed 10 thousand words about everything they’ve ever done in the lab onto 3-5 pages.

Then, they start uploading these pages to job sites.

Not surprisingly, no one responds.

The truth is employers don’t care about your daily duties in the lab, your publications, or the name of the protein you’re characterizing. All they care about is the results you’ve achieved.

Most industry resumes are read in 5-7 seconds. They’re skimmed. This means that you need to write a resume that can be easily skimmed from top to bottom (not left to right) in a very short amount of time.

#4 Being too afraid (or arrogant) to reach out to strangers

PhDs are more capable of dealing with failure than other professionals.

PhD’s are also very skilled at working hard under high amounts of pressure. They have to meet hard deadlines, manage multiple projects at once, and present their findings in front of other intelligent doctors who are trained to find holes in their logic.

Yet, most PhD’s are afraid of stepping outside of their specific domain of knowledge.

They’re afraid of looking stupid to anyone outside of academia.

As a result, most PhDs have never picked up the phone to cold call a recruiter or hiring manager to inquire about an industry position.

Most PhDs are reluctant to reach out to industry professionals on LinkedIn or to follow up with someone who they reached out to in the past.

If you can handle the pressure of having your data and logic ridiculed by reviewers, professors, and your peers, you can certainly introduce yourself to strangers. Especially strangers whose job it is to find candidates for open industry job positions, like hiring managers and recruiters.

If you refuse to reach out to new people, if you refuse to network, then you deserve to be unemployed. You deserve it because you’re refusing to step outside of your comfort zone and improve your interpersonal skills. You deserve it because you’re refusing to try.

#5 Never leaving the lab to go to networking events

One of the biggest mistakes of PhD students and postdocs can make is working overtime in the lab. Or, even worse, working for free when funding runs out (yes, a lot of PhDs are asked to do this in today’s world).

It’s easy to feel like working extra hard will impress your academic advisor or PI, who will then help you move your career forward.It’s also easy to stick to the same old routine of chasing publications and playing politics.

The problem is that none of these things ever pay off.

Every minute you spend in the lab is one less minute you have to spend on transitioning into industry. You’ve been trained to care about nothing but doing experiments.

Your PI has conditioned you to feel guilty for any time you spend not doing experiments. Now, you feel like a bad person whenever you’re not in the lab working. Stop feeling this way. Stop feeling obligated to advance your academic advisor’s career and not

Now, you feel like a bad person whenever you’re not in the lab working. Stop feeling this way. Stop feeling obligated to advance your academic advisor’s career and not your own.

Instead, start going to as many internal and external seminars, conferences, job fairs, and daytime networking events as you can find. If

If your advisor gives you a hard time for it, create a schedule of the career related events you want to attend and hold a meeting with your advisor and your department to explain why going to these events is important for your career.

Realize that your advisor or PI can’t stop you from networking and going to career-related events. Yes, your advisor or PI can threaten you and make your life uncomfortable in the lab, but that’s it. The key is to be open and transparent about the events you want to attend and to

Yes, your advisor or PI can threaten you and make your life uncomfortable in the lab, but that’s it. The key is to be open and transparent about the events you want to attend and to

The key is to be open and transparent about the events you want to attend and to lean on your department and other graduate school’s administrators for support.

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About Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

Isaiah is a Ph.D. in Anatomy & Cell Biology and internationally recognized speaker, bestselling author of Black Hole Focus, and a top Fortune 500 consultant. He is an expert in the biotechnology industry and specializes in helping PhDs transition into cutting-edge alternative career tracks.

Isaiah is the founder of Cheeky Scientist, an industry training platform for PhDs who want to become confident and successful industry professionals. Follow Isaiah Hankel and Cheeky Scientist on Twitter.


  1. […] 5 Moronic Mistakes That Keep PhDs Stuck In Academia […]

  2. […] – 2016.08.11 – 硕博家园 – 原文来自小木虫 – 作者:刘知溪 本文参考了 http://www.nextscientist.com/mistakes-phd-stuck-academia/ […]