Does anyone know how I could go about finding a career counselor that can help an "ex-academic" in some way to find a job in "real world"? Essentially, I am looking for type of counseling service that is similar to K Kelsky's "Professor Is In," but with expertise in and inside knowledge of biotech/life science. I know this forum cannot recommend individuals directly, but maybe you can tell me where/how to look. I would love to hear other people stories: if anyone used a career coach/help in "Life Sciences", how did you find that person and how did you know that you are getting sensible guidance?

I am a former "life scientist" (molecular biologist). I am aware of "Cheeky Scientist's Association", but I would never-ever approach an company that employs such a predatory marketing strategy.

I would like to provide an excerpt from someone else's blog post to explain my problem:

I was desperate to find jobs in industry and somehow got hold of the CEO of a mid-sized pharmaceutical firm for an interview. I didn’t get the job because he couldn’t see where to fit me in his organization. Take for example, as he ran through the choices:

  • I can’t put you in sales or marketing because you’ve never sold a product
  • I can’t give you a manufacturing or production role since they require different expertise such as GMP, GLP, etc unrelated to yours
  • I can’t assign you a role in quality control/regulatory since you’re not aware of the compliance and regulatory issues related to the pharmaceutical industry
  • We like so many pharma companies are into generics and there is no R&D arm; so I’m not sure where to have you within us”

None of this was done in a condescending way. It’s the reality. And then I understood this: Really world values different set of skills (life skills) over academic smartness.

Unfortunately, this was precisely my experience as well during a really intense job search a few years ago. As far as pharma/biotech is concerned, they look for either people with 10 to 15 years of industry experience, knowledge of industry-specific regulations, credentials etc. Alternatively, they need B.Sc. or, at most, M.Sc. to work as technicians in control or on a production line. I feel that I have exhausted my creativity and completely lost now. I had extremely damaging experience in "academia" (from a bad Ph.D to a horrible postdoc). I do not believe that I have any competitive edge, to be honest. I feel like I do need an external council, but with a professional who knows the field.

P.S. To make it really clear: I have no chances for successful "academic" career and I do not want to waste time and effort chasing it. I desperately need a non-academic career. However, I cannot find anywhere the guidance/career coaching that I need.

P.P.S. I was a "wet-lab" scientist. People refuse to understand that there is a HUGE difference in employ-ability between bio-statisticians, bioinformaticians and people of this ilk and "Wet-lab scientists".

It took me ~ 12 months to find a job of a project manager on "soft money" at a small University. I have applied like crazy all across Canada. Now things start to collapse due to politics and ever-absent/super-busy PI of the project. I simply do not have administrative power to hold people to account and make things work. I am out of ideas now. Seriously. I am sick and tired of academic BS.

I have no imagination left. No ideas. Zero. I do not do drugs. I am out of any ideas. I need a career coach, a creative writer, a fairy-tale writer, I do not know whom to get some fresh ideas. I cannot live like this anymore.

  • You might look at places that support substantial R&D activities or at startups. Local recruiters probably will (eventually) be useful, and keep building your network. Who knows, a startup might need a consultant just like you to help set the foundations? Also, if such skills are yours, the ability to lead a project team with diverse talent types, your ability to communicate up, down, and sideways, -- people skills, -- those can be key differentiators for you, maybe a whole new career path. May 2, 2021 at 15:05
  • If your interest is in nonacademic positions, your instinct to look for a career counselor is on the right track. Some of the worst career advice I’ve seen has been given by well-intentioned advisors, advice based on what Should Be or Could Be rather than What Is. So look for appropriate guidance, which I assume you are. In addition to developing your professional network, look for internships at all levels. They give you a taste of what’s what, the mindsets, and so forth in addition to providing potential further opportunities. May 2, 2021 at 15:55

2 Answers 2


You're focusing on finding a career counselor. Most career counselors I've known are general purpose, trying to help people with the basics of cover letter and resume construction, the typical flow of the hiring process, etc. Never heard of one specializing in the life sciences or, for that matter, any sciences, but I suppose that might have changed over the years.

A recruiter is not a career counselor. A recruiter is a matchmaker. There are lots of recruiters for the IT fields, but don't imagine for a moment they play the role of career counselors for computer science grads. If a recruiter is telling you to leave off the PhD aspect of your training, he or she is doing it for practical reasons. Crappy and unfair and humbling? Yep.

Nearly everyone I know professionally, at the higher levels outside of academia, got his or her job because of his or her network and knew how to present him or herself appropriately at interviews. It's a thing you learn.

Cattle calls through web sites? They're not always what they seem. But you're playing the numbers.

One thing you don't speak of is what other career avenues you've explored outside of the life sciences. Widen the playing field, develop your network. We write our own life stories, but sometimes need ideas on how to start. Rather than a career counselor, step back to assess the situation. A cognitive therapist can help there.

  • Is there a career advisor affiliated with your department from graduate school? At ours, she placed lots and lots of masters students in jobs and was also pretty good at helping the PhD students who did not want to go into academia. She would also take meetings with alumni. Such a person was half counselor, half matchmaker.
    – Dawn
    May 3, 2021 at 4:03

Thanks for your post, it's courageous to put yourself out there. Hope all works out. I came across your post because I was looking for the exact same thing, i.e. a career adviser or coach with experience with life sciences. I am also ex-science trying to find a stable job.

I don't think such specific career counseling exists, and even when it does, it may be focussed locally. I'm in Australia and I've seen some career coaches in Boston, but I know the Biotech sector is much bigger there, so their regional advice might not work in other areas.

From my experience I need to gather up information from lots of different sources to put together a complete scoped picture. I've had some success asking a colleague intros to HR talent agents, these people give their view on the industry, but like the other commenters have mentioned they are biased to their particular industries. After talking to several of these people in different related industries you can build up a picture of what the job scape is with incissent questioning.

Also start rekindling your connection with old colleagues, and just message them and talk over the phone with them, ask them about what other jobs they have thought about doing.

After a dozen or so of these conversations you can build a proper picture of the landscape.

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