Transitioning out from a PhD to “industry” – a continuum of highs and (mainly) lows

It’s been at least 18 months since I last blogged about starting a new contracting role at a young startup medical device company – a long time for me considering that I prefer to blog on a more frequent basis. However, the events that transpired since then have taken my full attention, and left me little headspace to write an update until now.

In  short, things gradually deteriorated at the company I was working for, to the point where I had to make a tough decision to leave. The original reason for my being there was to develop a commercial strategy for the company and its technology, as well as find a way to show the technology would work as a way to attract seed investment. However, there was a drift away from this objective to the point where it wasn’t feasible for me to remain. There were many tough lessons that I learned over the 6-month period about working for a start-up (specifically one that was pre- seed-investment), and how my experiences would affect my career trajectory.

Although I can’t comment on any specifics,

  • A vision is not a plan
  • Changing your plans frequently is disruptive, changing your vision frequently will send you broke
  • Inventors and dreamers that are not grounded in reality are risky to work with
  • Friends, fools and family are terrible investors
  • Success in one business area is not evidence of capability in another business area
  • Medical technology commercialisation sorts out the “adults” from the “children”
  • Having the humility to listen to someone else is a valuable attribute
  • Sticking to one’s ethics and reptutation is all that matters in the end
  • If you’re going to work for a start-up, work for one that has been invested in by someone/a group that has invested in that area before, or led a company in that area previously.

After travelling to and fro for 6 months interstate, I returned home toward the end of 2015 and found myself utterly exhausted – I had very little time to reflect on the very sudden end to this opportunity. However, it also left me in a situation of being unemployed (again).

I started seeking new opportunities using my network early in 2016, and applied for a variety of jobs in parallel. I used JibberJobber as my job hunting customer relationship manager (CRM) as a way to not only keep track of the applications I had made, or conversations that I’d had, but also as a motivational tool to maintain my focus on finding a new job. I had made a promise to myself that I would no longer work for any pre-seed companies on a mid- or long-term basis. What I quickly found was that “I was too qualified in one area, but under qualified in others”, meaning that many applications were unsuccessful. I had a number of interviews, but was unsuccessful.

This was not to say I did not find any opportunities – I was fortunate to perform a short contract with a start-up, as well as complete an internship with a venture capital group. Both of these opportunities were extremely rewarding and gave me further insight to areas I had no previous exposure.

However, there was a period of 9 months in which I was unemployed – an extremely challenging situation where I was very stressed and anxious (as were my family). I had resigned myself to the possibility to returning to my retail job selling cameras, but I would have to swallow a lot of pride. I was getting very depressed, and familial pressure certainly didn’t help. It was only in the week that I decided to bite the bullet and return to retail that my career fortunes changed, and was offered a part-time contract working with an internationally-based medical technology accelerator. Being useful again was uplifting to my spirits, and even though I was returning to retail, I was comforted that I also had an exciting parallel opportunity under my wing that was adding to my career growth.

At this point, I guess it’s a “wait-and-see” situation – 2017 will be busy and I’m hopeful I’ll be engaged on a full-time basis. Though I would not wish the last 18 month’s of challenges on anyone else, I have come away with a much sharper view of how to deal with many commercial situations in a very short amount of time – an advantage in a very competitive job market. That said, there’s still plenty to learn – things to report on in another post…

@ayftan

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