Career Moves and Life After PhD

Reflections on my career path and development as a data scientist

I recently switched jobs from Reaktor to Nightingale Health, a young Finnish company dedicated to solving chronic diseases with the help of a novel blood screening technology. Leaving Reaktor’s exceptional working culture wasn’t easy, but the chance to tackle some of the biggest problems in healthcare with data was simply too tempting.

Read more about Nightingale Health.

This is also a good point to reflect my career development so far a bit. Starting from a high-schooler all but hating statistics and knowing nothing about programming, it’s been an interesting journey to develop as a data scientist.

First of all I think I have been extremely lucky, having chosen a path leading to this super-sexy job called data science. I have also been lucky with getting the chance to work with and get support from highly experienced professionals both during my studies and at Reaktor.

Career after PhD studies

In addition to luck, I believe a few things have notably helped my career development and especially the transition from away from academia. This transition was also the topic for a talk was invited to give this week for a bunch of PhD students in life sciences at Helsinki University.

The talk turned out to be really interesting personal learning experience, and judging from great discussions afterwards, I think the audience also enjoyed it. Here’s a short recap of the talk, and the slides are available in SlideShare:

Facing scarce permanent job opportunities in academia, many PhD students will need to reconsider their career plans. This is challenging, as the students are being trained mostly for an academic career, and they are mostly surrounded by people on academic careers, creating a strong survivorship bias.

Facing such an uncertain future after the PhD will definitely feel discomfortable, but I believe the situation can be turned into a positive opportunity. Forced to think what they can and actually want to do, at least some of the students will hopefully create something new, such start companies or adopt job titles that do not yet exist. Here’s a great article on how to embrace uncertainty in such situations.

I also want to emphasise that having experience in research, where they face inherent uncertainty in every new project and experiment, PhD students are well equipped to coping with this uncertainty also in their future careers. They are used to trying things, failing, and trying again. They are also used to continuous learning and being able to tackle big problems systematically. I found these skills and experience very valuable in my consulting work at Reaktor.

In order to find good opportunities, the students have to also reach out to the world outside their own field of study. First step in getting exposed to new opportunities is to make one’s work visible. Anyone can do this by writing or otherwise showing their research results in a blog so that the wider audience can understand it. Showing one’s hobby projects is also a good way to gain visibility, regardless of what they are about. Naturally it’s also very important to meet and exchange ideas with people from diverse backgrounds.

Personally, the activities around open data and open knowledge have for sure helped me when applying for jobs, and in meeting a great deal of awesome new people. For anyone searching for luck in their career, this list provides invaluable advice: