houston voices

University of Houston research: Making the shift from academia to industry

To tenure or not to tenure. That is the question. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Is academia the only option for postdoctoral work?

Let’s be honest, it’s always been difficult and now it seems even trickier to get a job in academia with a postdoc. Ending up as a tenured professor is just not in the cards for the majority of Ph.D.s.

“In 2020, only 10 percent of engineering Ph.D. graduates and 16 percent of those in physical and earth sciences ended up in academic positions in the United States” according to an article published in Nature by Nikki Forrester. While another article notes that only 26 percent of the graduate students polled said their program had prepared them “very well” for a “satisfying career.”

Be an encourager

But as a lab advisor, you have the ability to steer your junior lab staff to make the transition to non-academic careers in industry – where “real science” is done just as frequently as it is in academia. This is simply to be realistic.

According to Forrester, one researcher said: “Some of my students were hesitant about pursuing academic careers, so I made sure that they knew what they were getting into. I told them how few academic jobs are available, instead of just focusing on the romantic aspects of doing research.”

Another went on to say that a PI should say out loud that non-academic Ph.D. careers are okay to pursue. “PIs can tell everyone in their lab, ‘I know many of you are not going to get another job in academia, and that’s OK. I want you to know that I support you in your search for that job, and I will do everything I can to help you.’” A junior researcher should not be made to feel like a “scientific sell-out” just because they decide to shift away from a position as a professor.

Be an informer

According to Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D. in an article entitled, The Top Ten List of Alternative Careers for Ph.D. Science Graduates: “The reason most Ph.D.s do not get Ph.D. jobs in industry is because they lack the information they need to get these jobs.” He goes on to encourage postdocs to understand the many options they really do have as a non-academic Ph.D. ”You need to gain in-depth knowledge of all the career tracks available to you, not just one or two. You should also pay close attention to changing trends, making sure to note which job sectors are rising and which are falling.”

Be a researcher

Sur went on to construct a list a of the top 10 industry careers for folks with a Ph.D. in the sciences. One such job was a Market Research Analyst: “your responsibilities include gaining information about commercialization opportunities as well as evaluating the key advantages and disadvantages of your products versus competitor products.”

Other jobs of this nature include Business Development Manager and Competitive Intelligence (CI) Analysts (whose main role is “to gather information about products that are in a competing company’s pipeline and analyzing these products to determine how they will affect the market.) Medical Communications Specialists or technical writing for healthcare is another job that is seeing a huge boom lately. Do your research to see which career might be a natural transition from your current research endeavors – to an industry that would value your experience.

Be an explorer

Inga Conti-Jerpe told Forrester: “Give students time to explore.” She maintains that the most important thing universities can do is to encourage connections between early-career researchers and those who work in industry as non-academic Ph.D.s. “Graduate students already have transferable skills, but the way to get a job is often by knowing somebody who knows somebody,” she stated.

The big idea

Sur closed his article by saying, in essence, that in order to secure an industry position, you need to prepare yourself by researching all careers that might be a natural progression from the research you worked on in the lab. He also emphasized that expanding your network beyond academia is incredibly important. You can grow your network by working with career-services teams at your institution, going to a CV-writing workshop and by attending recruiting events.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

The latest cohort from gBETA Houston has been announced and is currently underway at the Downtown Launchpad. Photo courtesy

A national startup accelerator has announced its fifth local cohort, which includes five Houston companies participating in the spring 2022 class.

Madison, Wisconsin-based gener8tor has announced today the five participating startups in gBETA Houston. The program will be led by Muriel Foster, the newly named director of gBETA Houston, which originally launched in Houston in 2020 thanks to a grant from from the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

The program, which is designed to help guide early-stage startups find early customer traction, connect with mentors, and more, is based in the Downtown Launchpad, and is free and does not take equity in the participating companies. The cohort kicked off on April 21 and concludes on June 10.

The new cohort includes:

  • Founded by CEO Steffie Thomson a year ago, Getaway Sticks has designed a shoe that gives women the painless support they need using athletic foam to create a shoe that gives women the painless support they need. Getaway Sticks provides the solutions to women’s #1 wardrobe complaint of high heel pain. Since launch, the company has earned over $35,000 in revenue from over 150 customers.
  • Through a combination of software and hardware technology, LocBox is rethinking the shopping experience for online and local purchases. If you shop, ship, or have food delivered to your house, LocBox will make your life easier. Led by CEO Sterling Sansing, LocBox has previously participated in the Texas A&M MBA Venture Challenge.
  • SpeakHaus is focused on equipping young professionals and entrepreneurs with public speaking skills through its on-demand training platform and group coaching program. Since launching in October 2021, SpeakHaus has facilitated 6 corporate trainings and coached 61 business leaders generating over $49,000 in revenue. The company is led by CEO Christa Clarke.
  • Led by CEO LaGina Harris, The Us Space is creating spaces intentionally for women of color, women-led businesses, and women-centric organizations. Since launching in June 2021, The Us Space has created partnerships with more than a dozen community organizations, sustainable businesses, and organizations creating positive economic impact in the City of Houston.
  • Founded in August 2021, Urban Eatz Delivery is a food delivery service app that caters to the overlooked and underrepresented restaurants, food trucks, and home-based food vendors. Urban Eatz Delivery has earned over $88,000 in revenue, delivered to over 2,000 users, and worked with 36 restaurant and food vendors on the app. The company is led by CEO D’Andre Good.

“The five companies selected for the Spring 2022 cohort tackle unique problems that have propelled them to create a business that solves the issues they once faced," Foster says in a news release. "From public speaking, apparel comfort, and food delivery from underrepresented restaurant owners, these founders have found their niche and are ready to continue to make an enormous impact on the Houston ecosystem."

it's Foster's first cohort at the helm of the program. A Houston native, she has her master’s in public administration from Texas Southern University and a bachelor’s in marketing from Oklahoma State University. Her background includes work in the nonprofit sector and international business consulting in Cape Town, South Africa, and she's worked within programming at organizations such as MassChallenge, BLCK VC, and now gener8tor.

The program is housed at the Downtown Launchpad. The five startups will have access to the space to meet with mentors, attend events, and run their companies.

"Creating (the hub) was a little like a moonshot, but it’s paying off and contributing enormous impact to the city’s economy. The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Spring cohort will continue that legacy,” says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. “As these entrepreneurs chase their dreams and create something epic, they will know Downtown Houston is standing behind them. I am so proud of what Downtown Launchpad is already, and what it will become.”

Muriel Foster, a native Houstonian, is the new director of gBETA Houston. Image via LinkedIn

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