skip to content

About 20% of Cambridge postdocs who use the Careers Service go on to work in industry.

Industry research is increasingly a credible alternative for scientists seeking hands-on research. Some advantages compared to academia are more tangible goals, greater teamwork, and better life-work balance - at least in lab-based work.  The pace and style of the environment can be very different from academia, with less personal ownership of projects and more defined daily working patterns.

Good science happens in industry.  Many cutting edge results stem from research collaborations between academia and industry, particularly with the resources and focus that the industrial research environment can provide.  Despite this, some postdocs are concerned about what colleagues (and your PI) may think of a move to industry.  In fact, most colleagues are realistic about the job market and may welcome an industrial collaborator. 

There are also concerns about whether a move closes the door on academia. This will depend on how long you move for, how in demand your subject is and what value you could bring back to academia.  With the research landscape changing, it is likely that industrial and academic research will draw closer, with even more two-way interaction.

Industry Research - is it for you?

Some questions to ask yourself

How close do you want to stay to your current research expertise?

  • Very close – These roles are highly specialised and use a set of technical skills that are very similar to those you use in your academic projects.  You’ll find these jobs close in your network – you may even already collaborate with companies of interest – and you’ll be highly competitive for the role.
  • Broaden your interests – Roles that move away from your current area of expertise will let you broaden from your specialist area, but as more opportunities will open up, but there will be less demand for ‘you’ to fill the role.
  • Use your knowledge in new areas – A further step away from your specialism is to use your skills and knowledge for in scientific companies beyond the R&D function, in areas such as business development, health & safety, marketing and communications, or commercial management.

What kind of organisation would you enjoy working for?

  • R&D functions in large and medium companies -  These may offer established schemes and explicit career pathways, well-resourced and with good benefits. Compared to smaller companies they may be a less dynamic environment where you are expected to work more closely within your skill set.
  • Start-ups, spin outs and small technical enterprises - The smaller environment may provide opportunities to get broadly involved in the science and beyond, such as leading projects and setting strategic direction. It may be less resilient to economic pressures and therefore less stable.
  • Government and national labs - These offer some of the features of commercial companies, but with an opportunity to work on projects that may have a wider social impact. Although the culture at these facilities may not be as commercially ruthless as big companies, in practice many have private clients as well as those from the public sector, driven by a need to generate income in a tough economic climate.

If you're considering R&D in Biotech and Pharma, see our YouTube training videos:

See our YouTube channel for more resources on Industry R&D

Applications for research in industry

The style of industry applications depends on the type of role

Research roles close to your academic specialism

  • Stress research and technical skills, and highlight outcomes
  • Include a prominent technical skills section in your CV
  • Highlight research-related skills such as project management, research collaboration, supervising others, teamwork and communication skills
  • Include publications but summarise your research output and highlight more significant and relevant papers
  • Shorten sections on teaching, conferences and academic service
  • The “2-page rule” for CVs outside academic is flexible, but the CV should not be as long as an academic CV

Broader roles in R&D

  • Stick to a 2 page CV
  • Tailor your application to the role, focusing on the skills that are relevant
  • Highlight the skills you have developed, providing tangible evidence via examples
  • Show that you understand the nature of the new role, what it involves, and why you would be good at it
  • Don't include a full list of publicaitons or conferences - if relevant, summaries are fine

For applications to Biotech & Pharma, see the videos below; Also see additional resources for academic applications and applications for non-academic roles.

Interviews for industry research

Preparing for an industry research interview requires a similar approach to any interview:

  • Read the job description thoroughly, think about what they are looking for, and review your application material
  • Anticipate questions and prepare your answers
  • Practice with colleagues acting as the interviewers - cover both interview questions and any potential presentation you've been asked to prepare
  • Book an interview practice session with the Postdoc Careers Service, and send us the job descripton in advance

An industry research interview may cover:

  • Questions about your career history
  • Scientific / technical questions
  • Your motivation for moving into industry
  • Your knowledge of the company / industry / sector
  • General HR questions, including competency / behavioural questions

We have collected actual questions from industry research interviews undertaken by previous Cambridge postdocs.  See our Interview Skills for Research in Industry guide for lists of sample questions.

Roles supporting R&D in industry

Here are some example industry roles that postdocs have transitioned to when they leave active research. Also see the Employment areas for science postdocs graphic on our Careers Beyond Research page.

For all researchers

Technology transfer

  • Involves identifying research of commercial value and deciding how to exploit it
  • Based in a university (e.g. Cambridge Enterprise), governmental organisation, or company
  • Needs good scientific understanding, commercial awareness, and people skills including persuasion

Patent law & legal

  • A patent attorney is a specialist qualified to represent clients in obtaining and defending patents
  • Training and nationality requirements vary widely from country to country
  • Needs good scientific understanding, attention to detail, written and verbal communication skills
  • In the UK, It's usual to start training in a firm of patent attorneys; can transfer to industry when at least part-qualified

Technical support & sales

  • Involves demonstrating product or equipment, providing technical support to customers, feeding back customer requirements to developers
  • Needs excellent communication skills, scientific understanding and commercial awareness
  • job titles can include application specialist, product specialist , technical sales representative

Project management & research support

  • Entails ensuring projects keep to time and budget
  • Needs good organisation and communication skills; employers may specify particular software tools
  • Training in specific tools or methodoloies may be required, and can help support applications

Business development & marketing

  • Involves identifying new business opportunities: customers, markets, products, suppliers and exploiting those opportunities to generate revenue
  • Needs communication skills, negotiation skills, data analysis

Technical consultancy

  • Offers an opportunity to use your technical research skills on a variety of projects
  • Can act as an outsourced R&D department for clients
  • Level of technical involvement will depend on the firm, but some have their own lab space
  • Environment which can be similar to R&D in the commercial sector

For life scientists

Consultancy in pharma & biotech

  • Entails providing expert research, analysis and advice for pharma and biotech firms
  • In the life sciences, consultancy firms do desk-based research or offer services such as communications; firms that do experimental work e.g. proof-of-concept or developing assays for others, are usually called contract research organisations
  • Some pharmaceutical companies have in-house consultancy teams
  • If you have expertise to offer organisations as a consultant, Cambridge Enterprise can provide support

Clinical trials

  • Involves developing protocols for studies, organising regulatory approvals, site visits
  • Needs good organisation and communication skills and an understanding of the importance of good clinical practice - online Research Integrity training is available
  • Role within pharma often called Clinical Research Associate

Regulatory affairs