From academia to industry: A postgraduate story

Like Terence, can totally use a postgraduate qualification to change your focus and level up your employability. Image: Shutterstock

In his own words, Terence Tieu talks us through his career journey from the world of academia to the fast-paced pharmaceutical sector

“I was halfway across the world at a conference in Spain, the first time I reflected on what I wanted to pursue after my PhD. It was the middle of 2019 and I now had two years of my PhD under my belt. It was at this international conference, surrounded by amazing scientists that I asked myself, “What’s next?”.

“This was a hard question – I was not completely sure about whether I wanted to work in academia or industry. 

“Having trained as a scientist in an academic setting, the blanket advice I’d received was to undergo postdoctoral training overseas to best set myself up for a successful career in Australia. This was the path most of people around me have taken. An international post doctorate made sense at the time, regardless of whether I wanted to work in academia or in industry longer term. The anticipation of living overseas, immersing myself in a new culture and tackling a new set of challenges excited me. 

Pandemic pathway shake-up

“I was excited about closing my ‘PhD chapter’ and opening a new one. However, the rough career plan in the back of my head was not prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic caused a myriad of uncertainties. I found myself completing my thesis through numerous lockdowns in Melbourne and there was a halt in international travel, a major obstacle in securing a position overseas. I have always been a firm believer in the saying, when one door closes, another will open. I remained vigilant in researching and understanding the various career pathways that I could take after completing my PhD. 

Terence was halfway across the world at a conference in Spain, the first time he reflected on what he wanted to pursue after his PhD.

“I knew that a job in industry was something I was interested in, I just wasn’t sure how to get my foot in the door. I was lucky enough to participate in the Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS) program throughout 2020, an industry-led initiative providing mentoring to PhD students. I was paired with Dr Cathy Drinkwater, a brilliant mentor and experienced scientist. She provided both empathetic support and sage advice as we discussed my career goals and different career progression scenarios during our monthly Zoom calls in lockdown. I was relieved to learn that the soft skills I developed during my studies were valuable in industry. 

“Over the last two months of my PhD studies, I started applying for positions in academia, industry and government, in the moments between finalising my thesis. Despite international border closures, I continued to apply for overseas postdoctoral and R&D positions, in addition to local roles advertised across the government sector, and clinical/medical/regulatory affair positions at pharmaceutical and small biotech companies.”

Terence has summarised his two-month search in a Sankey diagram, which captures an overall success rate of 16% in progressing to the second stage of the application process.

“I remember when GSK Australia and MTPConnect announced the launch of the GSK Australia Graduate Researcher Program, part of MTPConnect’s Research Exchange and Development within Industry (REDI) initiative. The program was a clear opportunity to explore the pharmaceutical sector, as well as develop strategic skills in the development and commercialisation of medicines and vaccines. This was particularly appealing to me as an opportunity to reignite my original motivator for working in research, which was helping people. This was the perfect opportunity for me to make a difference to people’s lives and one that I could not pass up. 

“During my time in the program, I have had the privilege of working between the Speciality Care and Oncology portfolios at GSK as a Medical Affairs Associate. I work cross-functionally liaising with different departments to provide full commercial assessments on exciting GSK assets. My work and contributions are exciting and fulfilling, but most importantly, I feel that I can make a real difference to patient lives. 

“I guess I was right all along. When one door closes, another opens.” – Terence Tieu


STEM Contributor

Author: STEM Contributor

This article was written by a STEM Contributor for Careers with STEM. To learn more, please visit our contact page.


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