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PhD Academy

February 27th, 2021

Bridging the Gap: a sofa session of PhD students, Early Career Researchers and industry bods

0 comments | 16 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

PhD Academy

February 27th, 2021

Bridging the Gap: a sofa session of PhD students, Early Career Researchers and industry bods

0 comments | 16 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

The impact of the pandemic on all sectors is only beginning to emerge and given the need for greater flexibility, adaptability and innovation within both academia and the private sector, PhD students and Early Career Researchers have much to gain by acquiring the tools and skills that will enable them to navigate both.

Organised by LSE Generate and the PhD Academy, the Accelerating Business Collaboration (ABC) Sofa Sessions bring together PhDs, ECRs and industry bods to discuss key topics relating to the relationship between academia and the commercial sector. The first Sofa Session was held on 2 December 2020 and was chaired by Anthea Kolitsas, entrepreneur and former Executive Director to the Canada-UK Foundation. Invited speakers were:

Facilitated by Anthea Kolitsas, speakers and participants jointly explored the following questions:

How can we overcome the sense of schism between academia and the commercial sector?

Discussants agreed that outreach, both on a personal and an institutional level, is crucial. Researchers shouldn’t wait for businesses to come to them if they are keen on establishing relations but should go out and actively explore. To do so, they should make the most of LinkedIn, networking opportunities and internship opportunities during the PhD. On an institutional level, universities need to go where businesses are. While businesses are open-minded, they often do not know the power of research nor how to access it. There are opportunities funded by the government and research bodies such as Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) which aim to enhance research-business-collaboration and those opportunities should be leveraged. Finally, discussants talked about how they experienced the academic narrative of “failure” surrounding researchers’ decision to leave academia as a cultural hindrance to exploring options beyond the academic career pathway. This narrative, they emphasised, needs to be overcome. The reality of PhD graduates simultaneously applying both for academic and non-academic positions as a response to the high uncertainty of the academic labour market reveals how academia and the private sector constitute in fact a “joint market” rather than two opposed realms.

How can the psychological and emotional demands involved in going “to the other side” be best managed by both sides?

Transitioning from academia to the private sector often entails a cultural change or even shock. The PhD process is determined by flexible work routines, comparative structural and intellectual freedom and long-term goal orientation. In contrast, the private sector comes with a stronger emphasis on concrete and fast-paced delivery, tighter time-frames and a definite need to add value to the organisation while working with a broad range of different actors. However, the speakers discussed various ways in which the challenges of the transition process can be mitigated. Internships can facilitate a step-by-step transition by offering a valuable opportunity to seek small-scale exposure during the PhD. Also, a good team will help with the adaptation process, and a company that is genuinely interested in recruiting a team member with a research background will be devoted to a thorough, supportive onboarding process. Part and parcel of the adaptation process is finding one’s “tribe” within the new environment. As the speakers pointed out, intellectually stimulating work responsibilities and inspiring people are not confined to academia but are equally to be found within the private sector.

Live artist Chris Shipley captured the Sofa Session on canvas (click on the picture to view in full size).
What are the “nuts and bolts” of the private sector?

Unsurprisingly, there is no single answer to this question! The private sector landscape is not only highly diverse and in constant flux; even within a certain sector or organisation, a great variety of tasks and roles can be found. The speakers shared insights from their own work environments and routines which revealed differences between larger corporations and SMEs or start-ups. While corporations come with clearer roles and hierarchies, roles and responsibilities tend to be less clearly defined or may be subject to ongoing change within SMEs. However, all speakers emphasised the attraction that scientific credibility yields within their respective sectors. PhD researchers and graduates are attractive to the private sector because of their range of skills which they have acquired studying a unique research topic deeply over a long period of time. These skills include the ability to work independently on an unstructured problem, the ability to liaise and communicate with a diverse set of actors and the capacity to build and dissect arguments. Most importantly, organisations value a core skill that researchers possess: their ability to bring in a creative, inquisitive and experimental mindset turning them into intra-organisational innovators or “intrapreneurs”. PhD graduates who wish to find a way into the private sector need to be aware of these skills in order to leverage them. Key advice shared by the speakers was to apply widely without getting over-focused on a particular “role”, to seek early exposure and make connections with the people from an organisation prior to applying. In the end, it’s all about finding a good fit and the easiest way to do this is by getting to know the people one wishes to work with!

Keep an eye on future events run by LSE Generate and LSE Careers in cooperation with the PhD Academy. The LSE Generate x LSE ABC: The Other Side event series seeks to facilitate business engagement and create exchange between the LSE PhD community and LSE graduates with commercial experience.
As the School’s home for entrepreneurship, LSE Generate supports students and alumni throughout their entrepreneurial journeys with a year-round, packed programme of funding competitions, events and networking opportunities.
LSE Careers supports the career learning of PhD students. If you wish to discuss any of the above topics, book a one-to-one careers appointment with Catherine Reynolds on CareerHub. Career events and seminars to support the career development of PhDs and research staff are also listed on CareerHub.
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PhD Academy

The LSE PhD Academy offers a dedicated space and services hub for doctoral candidates studying at LSE.

Posted In: LSE Careers | PhD | Research-to-Business

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