Switching Scientific Fields: How Realistic Is It?
By Harvey Yau
As a scientific professional, you might reach a point in your career where you are interested in switching fields. Maybe external pressures start to impact the availability and nature of your work. Perhaps, after working in one sector for some years, you feel you are not developing your skills any further. Or maybe you are attracted to an emerging industry because it offers new challenges. Before taking any action to overhaul your career, however, it is crucial to first assess realistically what your options are.
Three ways to switch fields
In general, there are three ways to switch fields. If you work at a large enterprise, there may be opportunities to move from one division to another. For example, in the oil and gas industry, scientists with upstream experience are good candidates for downstream positions due to their understanding of the industry and their knowledge of the company.
The second possibility is to make a cross-company switch within your current industry vertical. For instance, if you presently work as a functional leaderat a biotech company, you may use many of your technical and soft skills in a different role in a product lifecycle at a different organization.
The third option is to move to the same scientific role within a completely different industry. If you are an analytical chemist working in drug development, you may be able to transfer your skills to the natural resources industry. Similarly, if you are a toxicologist working in food safety, you may be able to apply some of your experience and skills to a drug safety role in the pharmaceutical industry.
Transferring your skills and experience
To be considered for a role in a different field, you need to communicate your abilities and experience in a way that is relevant to the position. This requires taking a more holistic and general approach to your previous work and presenting it in a manner that shows how it corresponds to the requirements of the new field. Moreover, while many of your skills are likely transferable, switching fields almost always involves a learning curve, so it is advisable to look into professional training to quickly acquire hands-on experience. Additionally, working with a mentor can help you build your industry knowledge and frame of reference.
How to find job opportunities
Reach out to your contacts—especially people you have collaborated with in the past—to enquire about job openings that could be a good fit for your skills. Online talent communities can also be useful sources of information, and in-person events such as conferences, conventions, panel discussions and alumni gatherings are frequently an effective way to meet new people who may be helpful to your job search.
Another option is to work with a staffing company that specializes in placing scientific talent. An experienced recruiter can help you “translate” your résumé so hiring managers in your new field will understand the value you can bring to a role.
In conclusion, switching fields is a realistic option for scientific professionals. And as long as you have the drive, planning, flexibility to adapt to change and a willingness to learn, you can greatly enhance your chances of making this career move a successful one.