I realized during my bachelor’s that I was really interested in the interphase of engineering and natural sciences. Material Science is right there, studying the structures and properties of man-made or natural occurring materials. I love working in a highly technical context and I find just that in the nuclear energy industry. Since my Bachelor’s study in mechanical engineering, I knew I wanted to optimize materials for their application. I’m now doing just that. Besides technical challenges I also wanted to develop myself in a business context.
The biggest uncertainties were actually the ones that I created for myself. Being insecure or not giving all that I have. Other than that, I have received almost every chance that I have asked for. But getting to the point where you actually know what you want to ask and who you should approach took me some time. Convincing other people has never been that big of an issue.
When I first applied for this position, I didn’t get it but I was offered a traineeship position. During the traineeship I was able to prove my motivation and commitment and I got the position straight after my traineeship. I think showing that you are willing to put in some work to get where you want to be is the best way to achieve your goals.
Within this position I have a lot of freedom, but very interesting projects are taken on by the department. E.g. materials study for the lifetime extension of reactors or for the development of advanced nuclear reactors. Although I am very specialized, I like to understand the organization I am in and how processes are functioning, or not functioning. Therefore, I am also involved in some more general business activities which help me develop myself in a broader sense. This position fits me because I am given the freedom to explore different activities, as long as I stay on top of my work duties of course.
My advice is to be persistent and confident. Keep asking for the things you want and keep working towards your goal. Tell other people about your activities and don’t forget to enjoy the process of learning.
During my PhD I found out that the academic career path was not appealing to me. Partly because of the pressure to publish, but also because of the sacrifices it would demand from family life and the negative impact it would have on my wife’s career perspectives (due to moving abroad for a postdoc at another institute).
Another important reason for pursuing a career outside of academia was that I could have a more direct impact on ruminant nutrition and physiology when working closer to actual practice. So I started to look more into career opportunities in industry.
During my PhD trajectory I was unsure about what I wanted to do afterwards. Continuing as a postdoc seemed the most logical, but as mentioned earlier, from the start I had my reservations. I connected with my future manager (also PhD) during the final year of my PhD. I had very good discussions with him about other job types (company RnD, technical specialist, etc.), and luckily a position opened which suited me really well.
The research group that I participated in during my PhD has a well-developed network with a wide range of commercial partners and other academic institutions. As a PhD student you get every opportunity to meet them and build your network.
Once I decided that my future would not be in academia, I started connecting with these companies more actively, and inviting myself / getting invited to talk about my research. Along with such meetings you can inform yourself about the company, type of functions, and how you could fit as a PhD graduate.
My current role really fits me well. It combines Research & Development (RnD), commercial and marketing activities, and training and teaching tasks. My job is only partially concerned with research itself (as in designing, running, analyzing and reporting trials). Most of the time I am translating and implementing science into practice. From an academic point of view this gives me all the opportunities to really dive into scientific literature and initiate research. It also means developing training for my colleagues and our customers, and striving to be an effective teacher.
My main advice: be proactive and find out what you really want. If you want to pursue a career outside of academia (or in), don’t wait for vacancies. Meet up with the main partners you are interested in. Most companies with an innovation/RnD structure are open to hear the latest science from someone who is pushing the boundaries.
Also realize that the academic skills you develop during a PhD are valuable for much more than doing research. So, explore functions which on first sight might be a less obvious fit. Translating science into easy to understand concepts and solutions is a great challenge, especially if you are also into teaching. And with the ever expanding body of knowledge and increasing levels of detail, there is plenty of need for people who can do this effectively!