E043 How to Adapt to the Corporate World As a PhD? How to Play the Like a Pro?

March 14th 2021

Dr Olga Pougovkina is a scientific leader in the R&D sector of Janssen Biologics where she works within the analytical development for early, late phase and commercial biologics. She obtained her PhD in Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam after which she decided to leave academia. While finishing her PhD she faced the challenges of making career choices and transitioning into the industry firsthand. She also soon saw that career development doesn’t stop after getting your dream job as you’re constantly growing further and moving into new directions

This inspired her to start her company Post PhD Career where she gives career development advice to scientists through lectures, workshops and coaching.

Olga’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/olga-pougovkina-b422a814/

Post PhD Career’s website: https://postphdcareer.com/ 🔥

The episode was recorded on March 13th, 2021. This material represents the speaker’s personal views and not the opinions of their current or former employer(s).

Natalia Bielczyk 00:10 Hello everyone. This is yet another episode of Career Talks by Welcome Solutions. And in these meetings, we talk with professionals who share their career paths with us. And today I have great pleasure to introduce Olga Pougovkina. Dr. Olga Pougovkina is a scientific leader in the R&D sector of Janssen Biologics, where she works within the analytical development for early-late products.


Natalia Bielczyk 00:37 She obtained her PhD in Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, after which she decided to leave academia. While finishing her PhD, she faced the challenges of making career choices and transitioning into industry firsthand. She also noticed that career development doesn’t stop after getting your dream job, as you are constantly growing further and moving into new directions.

Natalia Bielczyk 01:00`This inspired her to start her company Post PhD Career, where she gives career development advice to scientists through lectures, workshops, and coaching. Thank you so much, Olga, for joining us today and for being here. And I’m very happy to see you in person again. I’m very curious about your story. And could you tell us a bit more especially about your first-hand experience with transitioning to industry. I’m very curious about your job today. And about all the background and the story.

Olga Pougovkina 01:40 So Natalia, thank you very much for the introduction and for inviting me to your podcast. I think like many other PhD students, or scientists in academia, at one point, I did face the question of what to do next after my PhD project. The thing is that, when I noticed when I was in my master’s, I thought I’ll know what to do next. I didn’t.

Olga Pougovkina 02:10 But I went for PhD because I really like science and I enjoyed my master’s internship so I thought okay, ‘I’ll go further and I’ll know afterwards what I’ll be doing.’ Fast forward, fourth year PhD, I’m still not sure what to do. And all of the you know, my professional network, they are all in academia. And everybody who surrounds me who I work with, postdocs, PIs, professors; They’re also in academia.

Olga Pougovkina 02:38 And all they can advise me is what I can do next in academia. To go to a high-level lab, do a good postdoc, publish, get grants. And again, I just got myself thinking, ‘Okay, that’s one option. But is this really it?’ And at this point, it was already, not my Master’s, it was already four years later. And I thought, ‘Okay, am I really going to postpone the decision of what to do next by another 2-3-4 years?’

Olga Pougovkina 03:12 Fortunately, one of my colleagues she recommended for me to go do this postdoc career retreat; which is for scientists, PhDs and postdocs in academia who want to know what to do next. It was a great three-day retreat in a conference center; remotes. You really go there … You submerge yourself for three days with around 50 PhDs and postdocs with different workshops. Different guest speakers who would talk about … so from academia and from industry, will talk about the experience about the choices they faced about their careers.

Olga Pougovkina 03:45 And then we also had workshops about grant writing, applying for jobs in industry, really different topics. And also, we had some speed dates with different people from industry or academia, who we could talk to and ask about … We had a couple of minutes to talk to them and ask about their experience and their work, etc. And most importantly, you were there for three days with other PhDs and postdocs who had the same doubts that you had.

Olga Pougovkina 04:13 And I wasn’t any more in this in my usual work setting. After the first day, I already understood like, ‘Okay, I want to leave academia and I want to do something else. I want to work more applied in a company, preferably in a pharmaceutical company where you can make products that will benefit the patients.’ And maybe because I also wasn’t with my supervisor or my colleagues, I really did feel like this kind of pressure.

Olga Pougovkina 04:47 Because you do feel this pressure that you need to continue in academia. And that if you’re leaving it, you’re choosing the easy way out because industry is so much easier. And not having this, it made the choice really. Again, fast forward with finishing PhD and other things that I was doing, I started applying for jobs. I saw a job in Janssen Biologics and I knew about the company, the job description sounded great.

Olga Pougovkina 05:18 I used the CV workshop that I attended during the retreat to write my CV and go for the interview. And yeah, I landed the job in the analytical development department where I work now. I’m really happy about the choice. And then yes, so I work there now 6 years. But my role has been changing. When I entered, I entered a specific role, I had specific responsibilities. And I really grew into a different role in the 6 years that I was there.

Olga Pougovkina 05:55 In a nutshell, this is how my company career looks like. And then at the same time, when I entered Janssen Biologics, I had other friends who were doing PhD asking me, ‘So how did you find the job? How did you apply for it? How is it for work in the industry? Is it really boring and routine and that you don’t have any science at all?’

Olga Pougovkina 06:17 And I was really answering these questions, like either writing up long answers or having calls to talk about it. And I thought, you know, on the other side, it’s much more different than what we learned during our PhDs or being in university. And this inspired me to first start a blog.

Olga Pougovkina 06:36 I had some Q&A sessions with PhD students, I also gave some workshops. And eventually, this grew into a side business that I do. Where I either give workshops or I also do career advice, liker one-on-one counseling or PhD students.

Natalia Bielczyk 06:54 Great. I would say that was also my realization at the end of PhD, that I felt that I live in some form of bubble. In a group of people that have a very specific mindset and outlook of life, there is this one way of like, you know, the ideology around academia that maybe it’s not what suits me best. And there are other people out there who like other environments, and they’ll have completely different view of life pretty much in every aspect.

Natalia Bielczyk 07:31 And then in the industry, I also found that there are more bubbles like this. And that’s also why I’m doing what I’m doing right now. Because I felt working on careers and job market in general is like that one way of avoiding being in a bubble. And that was one of the main factors that contributed to this decision to start a company in this direction. That was exactly the purpose.

Natalia Bielczyk 07:59 That’s what I would be afraid of. If I take like a position in a company that in the end, you know, after spending a lot of time with the same group of people, even if it’s a large group of people, sooner or later you can fall into a certain way of thinking. You know, I’m trying not to avoid that.

Natalia Bielczyk 08:20 And I think that academics, indeed, we are being sold certain view of industry jobs from the very beginning. We can’t really find out before we start, and we try ourselves. And it’s usually that the outcome is much more positive than we would think. How was it for you? Were the beginnings easy, like your adaptation process at Janssen? Was it? You know, you’re like early days at the company, what do you remember the most? What was the most surprising? Or what was the most difficult in the process?

Olga Pougovkina 09:04 Janssen is a very big company. For example, our organization and analytical development we have a group in Leiden, but we also have one in US, in Ireland and Switzerland. You work a lot globally and networking is really important. If you enter a role, very likely, that you will need to work together with other people, either from Leiden and also from Leiden’s side from other departments.

Olga Pougovkina 09:35 And also, globally.

Olga Pougovkina 09:37 It takes a lot of time to build this network and to really build a name. That was one thing that I found challenging. Because in a PhD lab, you work quite closely with a team and maybe you have collaborations externally. But it’s not part of your daily work not as much, or it’s not as extensive. Maybe you have a collaboration with one or two groups externally. But it’s not that you have to constantly be building a very wide network.

Olga Pougovkina 10:07 That was something to get used to. And to get used to having many phone calls, because before that I didn’t have to, it was before Corona time. I didn’t have many virtual meetings. And then it’s a completely different way of thinking, because you still need to use science. I still work in R&D group; it’s not fundamental research as I was doing in my PhD.

Olga Pougovkina 10:30 But you really need to apply your scientific mindset and knowledge. You’re using the same toolbox, but in a different context. Company context is business driven, so it’s not during vocations. And also, the people that you work with, a lot of them don’t have a PhD. That means one thing that in some cases, you also need to be able to share your ideas in a way that people will understand them.

Olga Pougovkina 11:00 It’s just a different kind of dynamic. And even if you’re not coming from academia, to a company like Janssen, and I think it’s the case for many other companies as well. The onboarding process takes quite some time. It takes up to six months, or even a year to really grow into your role, build a network and get the knowledge. It was a learning curve. It was a steep learning curve for me.

Natalia Bielczyk 11:33 I mean, congratulations, you know. From what I understood, this was the first job you applied for. Is that correct?

Olga Pougovkina 11:42 I applied for many jobs. I applied for many jobs in a short period, just also to practice a little bit. Because honestly, I was also not finished with my PhD. I was in process of writing my PhD. The end was already insight. I was also working on my thesis to finalize it, but I didn’t have a date yet. And I really thought, ‘Okay, you have to have your PhD finished before you continue with the new role.’

Olga Pougovkina 12:10 I started applying just to get a feeling of what kind of jobs I can land. You know, practice writing CVs, doing interviews. I applied for a couple of jobs; a couple of them, I never heard anything back. But Janssen was the first interview that I had. It was quite quick indeed. It was a quick entry into the industry.

Natalia Bielczyk 12:37 Cool. That’s a good story to share. Great. Janssen also has a good opinion in the market, I think that’s very strong. What I mean is, Janssen is seen as a leader in the field and from what I hear. I have to say, I didn’t check the Glassdoor opinions this time. But what I know from other people, I know from Janssen is that they are generally really happy with their work.

Natalia Bielczyk 13:10 Congratulations. How difficult was it for you to adapt to this business intelligence type of thinking? When you change the currency from publication-based economy to actual money-based economy, and you have to learn how to produce something that can, you know, at the end of the chain sell. How much time did it take you? And how difficult in your perception, was it to learn this new type of thinking and acting?

Olga Pougovkina 13:56 I wouldn’t say it’s difficult if you’re open to it. This is why you see some people who really grow in industry and some people who stagnate. People who are open to learning, it’s not difficult. It’s just you need to be willing to learn; taking that information and apply it. I say more like a game; in each game, you have different rules. Learn the rules, and learn how to play by the rules. Learn how to play the game basically; sometimes by the rules, sometimes not. But it took time, you know. Again, just like an onboarding process, it takes time for sure.

Natalia Bielczyk 14:44 I talked to recruiters often; people who have or had those positions at some point in their career. They often tell me that what they especially liked to hear at the interviews is if a candidate has that mindset. They really treated it as a game to maximize the company’s income. Instead of despising money, as you know, the “Evil Incorporated”, they treat it as a game to get those scores.

Natalia Bielczyk 15:14 And I think this is what really pays off at the job interviews and in general, to accept the rules of the game. And then people who do that early on, indeed make progress the fastest. It’s good that you embrace the game.

Olga Pougovkina 15:31 For sure. And I got what you mentioned, it’s important to also show that you have this open mindset during the interview. Because this is especially, you know, people sometimes ask, like, ‘Is it difficult to enter the industry after having several postdocs?’ And of course, it’s good not to stay too long in academia if you’re thinking of leaving.

Olga Pougovkina 15:51 But it is. There is this belief that if you do too many postdocs, you sit too long in academia, you have this very fixed mindset. And that mindset usually does not work in the industry. No matter how long you’re in academia, it’s very important that you really show during interview that, you know, ‘I know I’m entering a different setting and I’m really willing to learn.’ And I think that will really improve your chances of getting the job.

Natalia Bielczyk 16:26 Yeah, I agree. But like, I’m smiling now, because I see that this is probably going to be one of these conversations when I don’t really have anything to disagree about. But I will try at least. Okay, great. Is there anything that you missed from academia, or you just left it behind and you are perfectly happy where you are, and you never really have any thoughts of the past?

Olga Pougovkina 17:00 When I decided to go for a PhD, I had a study advisor for my Master’s study in Wageningen in my university. And I told him, ‘Yeah, you know, after my internship, I really like my internship. I really like research; I want to go into PhD.’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s great news, Olga, another four years in the playground.’ And I mean, I learned that PhD is very different than a Master’s thesis. There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of grind a lot of work.

Olga Pougovkina 17:27 But still, it’s really great that you could completely immerse yourself into the scientific topic. I found it such a great experience. I really liked the research. I really liked coming up with new ideas; trying them out. It just seems so limitless and fun; and a bit like a playground. I definitely missed that. I mean, now this kind of work is not feasible in an industry setting in a company setting because you do need to have it more applied.

Olga Pougovkina 18:06 I definitely missed that part. But also, at the same time, I don’t think that this is something you can continuously do, even if you stay in academia. Because after your PhD, one point, you do need to start running grants and you do you need to be more like focused on, like applied research in a way that it will generate something for you.

Olga Pougovkina 18:24 And so, I definitely miss this kind of carefree science that you have maybe in the first two, three years of your PhD. Because then of course, you kind of have to speed up and finish your PhD before the pressure kicks in. But yeah, I miss some other things.

Natalia Bielczyk 18:45 I totally get it. Like in my first or second year, I was also quite careless and I was just trying things. I remember that. But then you know … First, you’re like promoters and everyone around you is telling you, ‘You just try things. Don’t worry, you know, just play around. You know, you have difficult projects. It’s totally fine that you’re failing.’

Natalia Bielczyk 19:09 But then in your fourth year, everyone is like, ‘So, where are your manuscripts? You’re just about to finish, so where are your papers?’ And then all of a sudden, all the fun is gone and everyone is just waiting like this like, ‘Show me your papers?’

Olga Pougovkina 19:24 Yeah, indeed, show me papers. I don’t miss that part. And also, the conferences were fun. Like when you went to conferences, PhD conferences is also really fun.

Natalia Bielczyk 19:35 That I have to agree with, this is something that industry people don’t really have. Because even I have a company right now and before the crisis, I used to go to some business meetups. It doesn’t compare really to scientific conferences. But it’s a type of a conference where you have more of a, you know, … It’s either you’re a speaker or you’re just a participant.

Natalia Bielczyk 20:02 The vibe is a bit different. Because in a business conference, you have to know whom to talk to and what you can and cannot say. And it’s a bit more like playing a game. And then, it’s just an open exchange. And you can’t really show in every single detail, like what you really do, and how you really do it. Like you can maybe show some teasers of what you do to get people intrigued.

Natalia Bielczyk 20:27 But it’s not like in scientific conferences, where you can just go and just show everything, like show your pipeline; you can be proud of it. And now, I’m also doing one interesting project that I find really, maybe even career changing for me. But I know that I can’t really show the backend of the solution I’m building. It’s not the same type of vibe. Even if you go out to a conference and talk to people, you have to keep your cards close. And you can’t really be as open as in the scientific conferences.

Olga Pougovkina 21:04 It depends, though. Because I have been to some industry conferences or meetings that were also quite fun. And I mean, at one point, you can. If you, for example, have some kind of protection, like a patent over what you do. You can share everything, of course, but you can share some things. But at the same time academic conferences, unless you have your paper almost ready or it’s, you know, it’s published, you’re also not going to share what you’re doing.

Olga Pougovkina 21:32 Because I mean, I’ve heard of cases of people being scoped and then, you know, their ideas are stolen. You only share things when you’re quite far ahead. Because when I went to conferences, it was like … You do want to share some things to have collaborations but you don’t want to share too much. It was still quite political.

Olga Pougovkina 21:57 I mean, I remember having this discussion with my supervisor like, how much can we share about a project and you know, what we do. and you know, I find it quite challenging because on one hand, you do want to share just enough to have talked to people and also possibly build collaborations. But if you share it too much, there goes your manuscript.

Natalia Bielczyk 22:19 I have to say that my promoter has a completely different approach. He used to share more than was done. I had some ideas of what I want to do next and he was talking about it in the conference with other people in the field. Because he knew that now I have to really do it, they already know.

Natalia Bielczyk 22:39 And they’re like waiting and tracking what we do, and they were expecting some cool results and I’m like, ‘All right, I didn’t do it yet’. Now you know I have to get down to the gallows and do it. My promoter is kind of using conferences to push me a little harder. Usually, what was shared was three steps ahead from what was done. That was a bit stressful too because then expectations were really like high.

Natalia Bielczyk 23:14 And sometimes the project was not going the way that we expected. And then you know, he was like, ‘Oh, well what do I say now?’ Because like, everyone is already waiting, like my network is waiting for the results and we don’t have anything. There are different strategies I would say.

Olga Pougovkina 23:36 Interesting to hear that we have different experiences. I guess it depends on the supervisor and also on the field maybe on the competitors. I noticed quite early on that there’s a lot of politics also in academia. I mean, depends on which research you’re on but there’s like a small field of like, you know, top labs. There’s quite some political stuff going on there.

Olga Pougovkina 24:07 But yeah, when you enter … You don’t leave politics because when you enter industry, there are different type of politics. Just as what I said, it’s like a different game, different rules and it’s just really important to learn what they are. And not have the illusion that they’re the same as they were when you left. And not also have an illusion that you know, if you leave academia, you leave everything that’s, you know, maybe not that negative. Because there’s always some minus points everywhere you go.

Natalia Bielczyk 24:39 I’m tempted to ask you a bit controversial question, which is, what would you say …? Like how do you react to the statement that, unlike in academia, in industry, you can make your whole career happen without being too competent. Just only on the basis of your political moves and your social skills.

Natalia Bielczyk 25:06 Because in academia, there are lots of politics, of course. But I have a feeling that still to become a full professor, at least to some extent, you have to use your competencies and be an expert. Maybe not, you know, the noblest level, but it’s hard to really get through the whole career only based on other people’s work and concepts and expertise. And without having anything to propose by yourself.

Natalia Bielczyk 25:36 Whereas like what I also often hear is that in industry, technically, it’s quite possible to become really high, you know, get to high management levels without really having any viable expertise. Just by playing Game of Thrones, and being good with people. That’s what I sometimes hear. But I would like to hear your opinion about it.

Olga Pougovkina 26:07 I mean, I have experienced with one company, so I can’t speak the whole industry, like, from what I really seen. First of all, would you say, playing Game of Thrones, so being strategic and good with people, they’re also skills. This is one thing, when you enter in academia, one of your main skills is science.

Olga Pougovkina 26:31 And when you enter industry, it’s science, but it’s also building up on other skills. And people skills, very important, especially if you want to go to management levels or high level; being strategic, also important. If you have these two, it doesn’t mean that you’re incompetent. But then, you mentioned that somebody who doesn’t do anything else. They are just good at talking, you know, making relationships and that they move further ahead.

Olga Pougovkina 27:02 This can work to certain extent. I mean, you can kind of fluff your way up to a certain level. But at a certain point, it just doesn’t work. There’s a lot of competition, and there are really a lot of competent professionals. And at one point, you won’t make it just on being incompetent, and just, you know, strategy and you know, … Would you mention, like being nice to people, or are you good at building relationships.

Olga Pougovkina 27:37 You need to be a really good professional to build a strong high-power career. But people skills are also very important for networking. Because after a certain level, just having, you know, scientific knowledge, or just having a very good knowledge of something. But without the people skills or without, like seeing the big picture of the business, understanding the business, the strategy around it. You also won’t get far.

Natalia Bielczyk 28:05 And I can also see that there are different types of networking. That was also my realization when I came from academia to business. Networking is very different in business. And it’s much more important to have those casual contacts that you might have talked to maybe once in a lifetime, but you remember what these people do and they remember your face, than in academia.

Natalia Bielczyk 28:32 Because in academia, in principle, you can build the whole career by building like a small safety net; after your PhD is finished you enter the postdoc phase. And then if you keep in touch with your colleagues from PhD, or some different professors who are willing to write grants with you. Then you only need like a few people spread across the globe to write these international grants with and it might be the same people for the next 30 years.

Natalia Bielczyk 29:05 And everything else, you know, to get citations, you just have to put your paper out there online. You don’t really have to know people who see you in person. I see many instances when, like world renowned professors, they successfully build careers by working with the same group of five other professors throughout their careers. It’s a bit different model.

Natalia Bielczyk 29:33 I can see that in business, it’s much more spread. It really matters, how many people really recognize you by face and ever spoke to you. Or at least talk to you enough to possibly answer a phone call and give you a contact to someone else. It’s much flatter network. Spread and flat, and maybe a bit superficial but it helps much more. That’s one difference I noticed so far. I would say, probably it’s also good.

Natalia Bielczyk 30:08 When we talk about the game, then probably it’s also good to see and observe what type of networking your environment represents. And how you can fit in this network, also with your preferred type of role in a team, etc. I’d like to ask you now about, what do you find are your biggest strengths so far? Like, when you look at your career so far, and you seem to be really happy about what you do. I’d like to ask you, what do you think was the factor that contributed the most to your career so far, that is your personal trait?

Olga Pougovkina 30:51 I think I like putting myself into discomfort zone. I like the feeling of discomfort, which always pushes me. When I feel too comfortable, when I get too used to something, it always pushes me to take a step out there. And in this way, I forced myself into a new learning curve. Never that I had an opportunity, or I want to go for an opportunity. I think this will be too challenging or too difficult. This never stops me; it makes me want to go for it.

Olga Pougovkina 31:23 And then, I’m flexible and I’m open to learning. I don’t have this, ‘Okay, so I have a PhD and I have scientific knowledge in this. I know it all.’ No. When I put myself in this zone of discomfort, I’m always starting from a blank page using as much as possible, my expertise that I have, of course. But really learning as much being accepting of, ‘Okay, I’m going to be learning here, this is something new,’ and being open to learn.

Natalia Bielczyk 32:02 What’s your weakness then? Tough question.

Olga Pougovkina 32:12 Which one? I’ll help just-

Natalia Bielczyk 32:13 Just pick one.

Olga Pougovkina 32:18 I’m quite self-critical and perfectionistic. And I really have to tell myself, you know, sometimes good enough is good enough. I catch myself really pushing myself for really perfect results. And I have to always remind myself, like, ‘Okay, what will be good enough?’ And I think that’s one of my weaknesses that I really fight.

Natalia Bielczyk 32:47 I’ve just realized that asking a career expert, this question is not a good idea. Because you give all the perfect answers, you know. You give exactly the answer that the recruiters would extremely like to hear on the interview, which is just like bad, you know. Value the bad quality. That is not really bad. You know, that. But I mean, I understand that.

Olga Pougovkina 33:15 Like, honestly, I wouldn’t use it for each interview, this one, it depends on the role. If I would prepare for the interview, and I’ll be like, ‘Okay, a specific role.’ I also said to you right now, ‘Which one?’, because I have several weaknesses that I’m working on, like my development points. But I think just in the context of this interview, it was easier to use this one.

Olga Pougovkina 33:42 This question of your weakness is the one that is used a lot and it’s a really important one. It’s important to prepare for it. But just as you do your CV and interview, for each position or position to apply. You should really prepare for this question with a certain thought, or what you want to communicate with it.

Natalia Bielczyk 34:04 Indeed. Let’s talk a little bit about your side hustle as a career advisor. You told us a little bit about how it all started. I’d like to hear a little bit more about your activities at the moment. Also, for instance, I like to hear a little bit about your coaching. What is your favorite coaching style? What are your plans for the future? Are you planning to develop your blog further? Or are you planning to maybe record some course? I’m curious about what you’re going to do next?

Olga Pougovkina 34:57 In the past years, what I mentioned before Corona especially. I was giving some lectures, workshops, Q&A sessions live. Since the Corona time, I did take a short break from work completely because I was also on maternity leave. While I was working still, I did give a couple of workshops. And so, I do get contacted by PhD students or scientists in academia with specific questions. It would be on the side.

Olga Pougovkina 35:34 And in some cases, I usually just have a phone call with them. And in some cases, I can answer something straight away and it’s enough. You know, I’m really just open to having a talk and without any strings attached. And then sometimes it ends up in a more like of the relationship that we do, either coaching, or that we do a couple of sessions that we talk about the career or the next steps. So it’s quite diverse.

Natalia Bielczyk 36:06 Okay, I was curious.

Olga Pougovkina 36:09 And then, about what I want to do next. I want to do some more of a blog. I will work more on my blog because I also like writing, so I will be publishing more things in the future. But I also want to explore other media like, audio or video. Especially audio, I myself, I’m really into audio format. I got hooked on podcasts and also on audio books.

Olga Pougovkina 36:41 It’s so much easier to consume. Not consume. But to get because to read something, you really need to sit down. You know what I mean? I want to explore more with other formats.

Natalia Bielczyk 37:00 I agree with that. I mean, let’s be real, like today, consuming audio/visual content it’s so much easier. Especially if your day job is all about reading and writing, then you’re just tired. I have a feeling that friends of mine, who are PhDs still in academia, they often spend less time in their free time on reading than friends who are not. And the whole reason is that there is only so much you can squeeze into your brain like text wise.

Olga Pougovkina 37:37 Indeed. And also, for your eyes, like just your eyes. Also, as PhD, maybe you also spend some time doing lab work. But for my case right now, I spend a lot of time behind computer. Then also just reading even paper, but reading like screens, I tried to limit it. And I got hooked up to audiobooks during my PhD. Because it was either while I was doing like very long, monotonous, pipetting experiments that I would have to like …

Olga Pougovkina 38:06 Experiments were fun, but you had to sometimes do hours of cell culturing or pipetting. And I was also driving to Amsterdam, from the Hague, which was like one hour commute there and one hour back; sometimes traffic. And at that point, you didn’t have music streaming, you had to download all your music. I was really out of ideas what to listen to.

Olga Pougovkina 38:25 I started listening to different … Back then I’m not sure there were really podcasts but I started listening to audiobooks and then eventually to podcasts. Also, what you mentioned, there was a point with reading all the articles next to my scientific experimental work. I just didn’t have the mental energy to read a book, an actual book, to sit down and read something. I just wanted to get outside or do something else.

Natalia Bielczyk 38:54 I fully agree with this and I have a plan. At the moment, my first book is out for some time now. But my second book is not finished yet. And in the future, I’m thinking about the third one and I have an ambitious plan that after my third book is out, I will start working with some professional to record the audio books. I feel that-

Olga Pougovkina 39:20 That would be very smart. Yep.

Natalia Bielczyk 39:22 I didn’t want to do it now because I’m busy with a lot of different things. You know, books are not, … This is not the main source of income either way. It’s not my main occupation right now, like my main concern, to increase the sales of a book. But I know that the audience will grow if there is an audio book and it’s just more convenient.

Natalia Bielczyk 39:47 Today, it’s just better suited for the times we have now, for a good reason. That’s definitely a plan. I think in the future, I would like to find someone, preferably a guy with a really deep-like teddy bear type voice. That’s the plan. If you know someone like this, or anyone who’s watching, then please let me know because that would be my perfect speaker for the audiobooks for sure.

Olga Pougovkina 40:25 I’ll pay attention. If I hear anything on podcasts, audible that I think would fit what you’re describing. I’ll let you know.

Natalia Bielczyk 40:35 I think, you know, there are some authors who record audio books themselves. I think it’s a good practice to record at least an introduction, or this one page of texts with your own voice, to make it more personal. But in the end, I think if you don’t have a typical radio voice, then it’s better to leave the job to professionals, I feel. That’s why I don’t want to do it now, I will just wait.

Olga Pougovkina 41:06 Good thought. I listened to really over 100 audiobooks and some of them were read by authors. And in some cases, it’s great, because authors, they read the book. And then they also make some comments about some sections, you wouldn’t read in the actual book. But some were read by authors, and you would think, ‘Okay, better not have done it.’ I also heard bad narrations of books that were outsourced and they just weren’t good.

Olga Pougovkina 41:33 It really ruins the experience. It’s definitely worth to invest in a good narrator. And the audio book industry is really booming, so I think you’ll definitely get returns on it. You’ll have a much higher exposure of people who, you know, listen to books. Your idea with like reading something first, in the beginning, that’s also great. Because again, some authors do it. They have like this pre-word or the personal note, which is great, because it’s amazing.

Olga Pougovkina 42:04 It’s another experience that you don’t get when you read a book, just like a paperback. You start listening. And then you have for example, the author saying, ‘Hey, I thank you for picking up this book. I wrote this book with this …’, it’s something personal like, you know, some foreword. A great idea … and then they’ll also hear your voice; it’s really personal. But then the rest of the book, if you think that you might not do such a great job with it, then you get a good narrator that you’re happy about.

Olga Pougovkina 42:35 Sounds like a great plane. I’m just curious, so you have one book that’s published which I’ve seen. And like, ‘What’s out there for me’, I think. Something like, along those lines. You’re working on a book and you wanting to make a third book. Can you share what they are about?

Natalia Bielczyk 42:57 I’m interested now. Cool. The second one is in the works. Like the working title is “The Longest Journey on Dream Jobs and Where to Find Them?” That’s a kind of paraphrase from JK Rowling’s book. I suppose … It is basically, it’s a general guide book to self-navigating in the job market. Because I feel that some of the concepts that I put into the first book, they are much more universal than just PhD careers. I got feedback from lots of people, mostly my friends who only read the book because they know me and wouldn’t do otherwise.

Natalia Bielczyk 43:46 Because they don’t have a PhD title and the work in the industry ever since they graduated from Master’s. And they told me ‘Hey, this is so useful for me. Why did you only write this for PhDs? I was like, ‘Yeah. Actually, there is some content that is of general interest and I should make it such,’ and just basically scale up this book further.

Natalia Bielczyk 44:11 And there are also lots of aspects about, you know, what are the laws of physics of job market in general? How does the job market evolve? What types of changes have predictable consequences? What types of like events have unpredictable consequences? How can we learn to at least partially predict what will be on top in the job market in 5 years? These kinds of problems.

Natalia Bielczyk 44:40 It’s just a very general book about self-navigating well, and about what the people who self-navigate well, have in common. And what mindset they share to be able to find this sweet spot in the job market where they fit best and where they feel the happiest. And I talked to a lot of people who have quite non-typical professions, quite rare professions, to find out how they found their place.

Natalia Bielczyk 45:17 Because, you know, no one will tell you at school to be, let’s say, a chess player or, you know, wedding planner. These are not the things that your teachers or family will tell you to do. But some people found that, you know, opportunity and they are perfectly happy, and they find they feel that they found their way of living, and this is it.

Natalia Bielczyk 45:42 And I was curious, ‘How did they find out if no one told them to do this?’, and I put together what I learned from all these people. I think there is like one common mindset that regardless of the discipline is quite universally working. Those kinds of topics. That’s the first one. And the next one, I’m planning to write in the future, not now and it’s more about business development. How to build a company without any financial resources whatsoever, by just only using your strengths, like personal strengths, and how to leverage this company,

Natalia Bielczyk 46:28 But I will only write that one … Like I started, but I will only finish after I make sure that all these strategies that I’m working on work. Verified by the market. I still need like, 3 or 5 more years to really be able to tell this works. And that’s how you can do it. But I’d like to write something like this.

Olga Pougovkina 46:55 Sounds like a really valuable thing. It’s great that you’re doing it. I agree that you have such a planning also. Like you don’t have a strict planning, but at least you have some ideas that you want to do along the road.

Natalia Bielczyk 47:05 But that’s the part of this strategy for self-navigating. It’s more like using heuristics than planning in like, precisely day by day, or year by year, which milestones I want to get to. Because it really depends on what happens, and you have to just react to the situation. For instance, now I’m working on a test, like the aptitude test, that will help people better decide which career path to go for.

Natalia Bielczyk 47:34 But I only expanded on this test, because I made a smaller version of the same test. And I use it for my courses, participants really liked that one. And they were … From the whole, like, 16 hours of a workshop, it’s like half an hour when they solved this test; it’s their favorite time, usually. And I’m like, ‘Okay, so this apparently, really makes people feel they get a lot of value and they feel it’s a well spent time.’

Natalia Bielczyk 48:05 And some people come to the course, especially for this test. I’m like, ‘Okay. Apparently, this is something that can be a standalone project or standalone product in the future.’ Let’s just work more on this side and do it better, do it bigger, make it more universal and just launch it as a separate project. In general, like I have general directions, but I have to adjust to whatever happens.

Natalia Bielczyk 48:38 And I don’t really think too much about what my competition is doing, I think about what the clients want. It’s like, I basically communicate … Like I don’t even perceive other people who do similar things to mine, as competition, really. I just listened to whatever like potential client or a person who needs my advice might need. And that’s it.

Olga Pougovkina 49:07 I completely agree with you. Because there’s now so many people who are focusing on career development, career device also for PhD students. But then if you look at everyone as competition, you know, it’s like a zero-sum game, you think there’s a pie which is limited and that you can cut in so many pieces. But if you collaborate, if you work together, you can create so much more.

Olga Pougovkina 49:30 And we have like such a personal kind of approach. Like maybe your approach won’t work for everyone and just the same as my approach won’t work for everyone either. There are also so many young professionals.

Natalia Bielczyk 49:45 Exactly.

Olga Pougovkina 49:47 I completely agree about the competition. It’s much better to build collaborations than, you know, to see people as competition.

Natalia Bielczyk 49:58 Exactly. That’s what we are doing by the way.

Olga Pougovkina 50:00 Indeed, yeah.

Natalia Bielczyk 50:03 Yeah, indeed. It’s kind of funny. Like, last week in my free time, I was watching the Australian edition of the Survivor show. And like, for some reason, it was just, you know, randomly came to my YouTube suggested movies, and I started watching. I could see many parallels to daily life when we talk about games.

Natalia Bielczyk 50:28 Whoever comes to the end, because of the social bonds they built and not because they are the biggest, the strongest. They are the people who have best relations with others, in the end, that’s how you win any game. That’s pretty much a universal advice.

Olga Pougovkina 50:46 We’re human. And that’s how we were evolutionary made to be social and to live in a tribe and a group. That’s why we were surviving.

Natalia Bielczyk 50:57 Okay, so Olga, what type of advice could you give …? I mean, you are a career advisor, we could talk for hours about this. But is there any specific bit of advice that you might give to PhDs who are still hesitating about their future career plans that might be valuable for them?

Olga Pougovkina 51:25 If you see any obstacles, limitations, really ask yourself, How much are they real and is it the assumption that you’re making? When I was finishing my PhD, I thought, okay, go into industry will be, you know, trading down. You know, I was building all those assumptions, I thought, like, ‘I’ll be looked down at people in academia, if I will do it.’ All of my own fears that I was making.

Olga Pougovkina 51:52 And along the line with all the career developments that I was doing. In many cases, we tend to make sure things, you know, that are obstacles or that scares us. At the end of the day, we’re making them. Really ask yourself. I was also thinking, ‘I can’t apply for a job before I finish my PhD’. Not true. ‘I can’t do this, because I’m not able to do this.’ And so always really question yourself Is this real? Or am I making it up?

Natalia Bielczyk 52:28 That’s a very good one. Just one step at a time as well. Because like, we used to worry about the things that are five steps ahead, often without even making the first one.

Olga Pougovkina 52:40 Indeed, yeah, that’s also a good one. When you try to make things too complex. And I always tend to, what I said, make things also really good. If you try to make things too complex, you’re thinking of five steps ahead, which I also sometimes do. And then you want to do everything ideally perfectly. Everything seems impossible.

Natalia Bielczyk 53:03 That’s also true. ever since I started the company, I feel like I find myself in so many situations that I’d never really thought I could do it. Like, if someone asked me three years ago, or two years ago, ‘If I would ever, like shoot YouTube movies and be on this side of the screen’, I would just laugh at them like plain loud.

Natalia Bielczyk 53:29 I’m making steps, like step by step, doing things that I never really thought I would be able to do, if you asked me some time ago. But it’s like, doing this logical next step. Is this good enough? I mean, I’m on the same page with your that.

Olga Pougovkina 53:50 We’re very much aligned.

Natalia Bielczyk 53:54 But most people, when I asked them what they regret in their careers so far, and in their education process and interviews. They say they worried too much. Like this is the most common answer.

Olga Pougovkina 54:14 You worry. You’re stressed about things which sometimes are not that important, or not that big.

Natalia Bielczyk 54:23 Is there anything like extra bit of information that we can share about your project or general advice, anything else that we might add to this conversation before we wrap up?

Olga Pougovkina 54:37 Not that I can think of, I think we had a really great conversation. So, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity and I really enjoyed talking to you. Great to see that we also have so much shared ideas.

Natalia Bielczyk 54:50 Thank you so much for all your your advice and for being here, and for building bonds instead of competing. That’s exactly what we’re doing here. And I wish you all the best with your company and with the blog. If you need me you know where to find me.

Olga Pougovkina 55:14 Thank you.

Natalia Bielczyk 55:15 To everyone who is watching. If you guys came to the end of this episode successfully then you might consider subscribing to this channel and we are open to your questions and comments so if you have any, please post them below. And thank you so much for watching and see you next time.

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Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2021, March 14th). E043 How to Adapt to the Corporate World As a PhD? How to Play the Like a Pro? Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/career-development-strategies-e043-how-to-adapt-to-the-corporate-world-as-a-phd-how-to-play-the-like-a-pro/

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