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Diverse Career Paths: Advice for Changing Career

We recently interviewed two University of Edinburgh research alumni who recruit staff and asked them to share their insights and advice for making a career change from academia to industry.  Even if you find yourself in a different field, aiming for a different sector, their advice will still be a useful starting point for your thinking. We’ve also included links to relevant support from the IAD Careers Team.

On February 27th, we’ll be hosting an online panel event, for UoE research staff, specifically aimed at changing to industry careers in Data Science and IT Consultancy.


A warm thank you to both Paula and Alexis for sharing their wisdom and advice:

Paula Nieto Quintano, is Head of Mapping and Carbon Science (PhD Forest Carbon, University of Edinburgh) and Alexis Moyer, is Head of Business Development (PhD Glaciology, University of Edinburgh) for Space Intelligence, which provides science-based data for nature-based project identification, screening, and monitoring.

Darcey Gillie, Research Staff Careers Consultant: What are the transferable skills/qualities that attract you to research staff compared with job candidates with a different employment or educational background? Why?


  • Critical thinking skills – brings a higher likelihood an employee will be comfortable / excel at independent thinking and problem solving
  • Effective communication & presentation skills – research staff often have good communication and presentation skills (e.g., from presenting at academic conferences); this is valuable when communicating both internally and externally with clients and stakeholders
  • Time management skills – research staff often have excellent time management skills, as they have needed to manage their own research time alongside any administrative and teaching duties; this is often also a self-managed / self-directed skill – which is a plus!
  • Data analysis skills – this is super relevant for a data company like Space Intelligence, and many research staff will have some knowledge or experience of data analysis programmes.


  • Quality / Science-based decision-making – research staff like to make decisions based on sound evidence and on the best scientific grounding
  • Independentresearch staff tend to be more independent, seeking advice when needed but also trying to solve problems independently

Next steps: Support for identifying and articulating your transferable skills: Audit your skills | The University of Edinburgh

Darcey: What are transferable skills/qualities gaps you’ve observed in research staff job candidates? What’s your advice for tackling these?


  • Writing / communicating for a general audience – while research staff usually have good communication and writing skills, this is typically for a non-general audience (e.g., usual experience is presenting and writing for experts in their field of research); my only advice for this is to practise explaining technical aspects of their research to non-experts


  • Short deadlinesresearch staff tend to be not very used to short and tight deadlines that normally occur in industry. However, they can adjust by applying their good time management skills.
  • Balance between deadlines and qualitypeople from academia focus on quality, which is great, but in industry it needs a balance with strict client deadlines.

Next steps: Read this article on talking about your impact The skill of talking about impact (

Darcey: Research staff sometimes report feeling under-qualified to apply for a role in industry if they don’t have absolutely everything on the person specification.  As industry recruiters, what are your thoughts/advice on this?


  • Don’t be afraid to apply for an industry position you don’t think you’re 100% qualified for – no one will ever be 100% qualified for a position, and some of the requirements on job specifications are “nice to haves” not “must haves” for the employer.
  • I’d also encourage women to apply for roles they think they might not be fully qualified for, as often they are qualified and others wouldn’t hesitate to apply for the same position with equal or less experience.


  • Think about all the transferable skills acquired that might be useful for a role in industry. Many of those skills can be used in other areas, not only technical skills but also personal skills.
  • Work on job interviews and learn to “sell” yourself.

Next steps: See our advice on interviews and other career management support  Careers resources | The University of Edinburgh

Darcey: Other research staff also report feeling overqualified for roles in industry, and select themselves out of opportunities because they may feel they are ‘starting over’, or that recruiters will also see them as over-qualified. As recruiter what are your thoughts/advice on this?


  • It might feel like you’re “starting over” or “demoting” yourself when transitioning from academia to industry, but I like to think about it as moving from one ladder to another ladder – which are not directly comparable. Those entering industry careers post-academia at “entry level” can advance quickly up the industry ladder, due to the transferable skills highlighted earlier.

Darcey: What are 2 or 3 actions you would recommend a researcher take right now to manage their career if they are thinking of transitioning from academia to another industry?


  • Research a few different industry positions available, and make a list of all the transferable skills which you have that can be applied to the position – there are likely more than you might think! Provide examples of each skill in action, and think about how it could be related to different scenarios in industry.


  • Look for internships/placements in companies, that will make a good transition.
  • Prepare your CV so that you learn on your skills and identify gaps so you can learn new skills. The University offers great careers advice and can help work on your CV.
  • Reach out to your network!

Next steps: Advice for gaining relevant work experience: Gaining relevant work experience | The University of Edinburgh

Find out more about all the career management support IAD offers for research staff Career management | The University of Edinburgh

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