Professionals in academia have certainly not been immune to the current Great Resignation movement. An assistant professor of economics turned data science practice leader gives a candid glimpse into the world of academia and reveals his motivations behind pivoting from a university into the private sector.

On Career Relaunch® podcast episode 87, we’ll discuss the unique challenges of academic careers, the importance of being open to new sectors, and why confidence is one of the most important assets to have during career transitions. During the Mental Fuel® segment, I also share my thoughts on why so employees are choosing to change career paths right now.

Key Career Takeaways

  1. Studying one subject then going into a completely different field professionally is not uncommon and can actually provide you with a more unique perspective compared to others who follow more traditional career paths.
  2. When the people you’re surrounded by in your current industry have spent the majority of their careers in that same industry, the natural tendency is for them to promote career paths similar to their own because it’s the world they know.
  3. You may inevitably have to jump through some hoops to ascend the professional ladder you’re climbing, but at some point, the payoff may no longer be worth the effort.
  4. When you’re on an exhausting, depleting career path, you sometimes don’t realize just how much of a toll it’s been taking on you until you completely step away.
  5. You know more than you may be giving yourself credit for. Especially during career pivots, you must find a way to garner the confidence to unabashedly convey your unique value to others. The first person you have to convince is yourself though😉.

Related Resources

Listener Challenge

During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I talked about the importance of deciding what sort of organizational ways of working are acceptable to you with the latest advent of remote and hybrid working.

My challenge you is to just consider if you’re facing a bit of a turning point with your own employer where you’re getting mandated to do things for the sake of returning to the way things were that just don’t sit so well with you anymore.

You don’t need to pick up and leave right away. But you may want to put some stakes in the ground for yourself about what ways of work are acceptable to you in the months and years ahead.

About Andrew Graczyk

Andrew GraczykAndrew Graczyk is a trained data scientist with a PhD in Economics. He’s worked in academic and instructional positions for University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University, and the Duke University Talent Identification Program. Now he’s Practice Director for Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning at KForce, where he uses his mathematical, statistical, and game theoretic knowledge to architect and implement data driven improvements to business practices. Learn more about The Data Incubator that helped Andrew transition from academia into the private sector.

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Interview Segment Music Credits

Episode Interview Transcript

Joseph: Let’s start by talking about what’s been keeping you busy in your life and career. I understand you just started a new role just earlier this month, is that right?

Andrew: [02:43] That’s correct. I just started as a practice director for artificial intelligence and machine learning at Kforce. That’s been keeping me busy, the transition has been keeping me busy, but it’s a lot going on.

Joseph: What exactly are you responsible for there at Kforce, and what does Kforce focus on?

Andrew: [03:00] Kforce is generically a staffing company. They’re the largest staffing company for infrastructure technology and other intelligence-driven services in the United States. They help companies solve problems for projects with people. What I’m responsible for is kind of kick-starting a practice in that vein for data science. Instead of having say IT people to institute some security protocol, or cyber security people instituting some protocol and working with a company’s full-time staff and permanent staff do that on a project, I would help to architect that and choose other consultants to help implement that as well as help implement myself.

Joseph: You are based in Toronto. Can you just tell me a little bit about your personal setup? What’s been keeping you busy right now in your personal life?

Andrew: [03:54] I guess what’s been keeping me busy lately is cats. We just got a new cat. I’m a very cat-oriented person.

Joseph: How many cats do you have?

Andrew: [04:02] Right now, we have three.

Joseph: Okay.

Andrew: [04:05] We just adopted one from a rescue here. Cooking and running; my wife and I like to run 10Ks and half marathons. I like to cook. I like to eat. I mostly like to run so I can eat. I don’t need to run, I run so I can eat and not become a giant person.

Joseph: We have some things in common for. I love cats, Andrew. We don’t own one. I would love to own one, but I don’t know if I could keep up with it, and a little worried about the furniture. I also love running and I also love eating. Like you, probably run to eat, not the other way around. But before we go back in time and talk about your former professional life, you are in Canada but you are American. How did you end up in Toronto?

Andrew: [04:52] I ended up in Toronto because my wife was working at the University of Toronto. My wife is also in academia and has a Ph.D. She came up in 2019, right after she got a Ph.D. into postdoctoral fellowship. I came up to visit her over spring break in 2020, and that is when the pandemic broke out. I was at the time a visiting assistant professor at Wake Forest University. They closed everything down, and all the travel shut down, and I was just in Toronto. For several years, I didn’t really go back to the States because it wasn’t really feasible to. I just kind of started being here. It was actually in Toronto that I began my transition. I like the joke that I came up for spring break and never left. And now, we’re both residents. The tax is a little complicated, my residence is actually in North Carolina for those purposes. I’m there sometimes, but still, in Canada frequently.

Joseph: You mentioned academia there, and I would love to just go back in time. You haven’t always been working in data science at Kforce. You haven’t always been in the private sector. Can we go back in time and talk about your time in the academic world? We can move forward from there. What were you focused on as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina, and how did you end up going down the Ph.D. route?

Andrew: [06:20] Back the primordial days of 2010 and 2011, I was finishing my undergraduate degree at University of South Carolina. How I got into my head to do a Ph.D. is actually to this day kind of a mystery. It doesn’t really make sense why I did it because I got my bachelor’s in Physics and Math. I realized, towards the end doing lab work, that I kind of hated physics lab work. I was like, “That’s a problem.” I was like, “Okay, I could go into the high-energy pure math theoretical stuff. I could go and work for some oil company doing some basic physics, fluid dynamics stuff,” but I didn’t really like any of those options.

For some reason, the end of my under career, I took a philosophy course which ended up teaching a bit about economics. It’s one of those weird interdisciplinary electives that colleges do sometimes, I can’t even remember what the name of it was, I was like, “This is very interesting. I think there’s something to this.” Somehow, I got into my mind to get a Ph.D. in Economics which I’ve literally never taken a course in. But I knew Math, and that helped a lot. I applied to a few different schools for their Ph.D. programs. But I applied kind of late because I was late to the game and figure out that’s what I wanted to do. And then, I got rejected. But then I went to North Carolina and said, “What can I do to make myself a more attractive candidate?” I talked to a few of the professors, and then they decided to let me in for the fall semester.

Joseph: They just let you in just like that. Just from you having a chat with them.

Andrew: [07:56] Yeah. I think maybe they just have a slot open up and they let me in.

Joseph: Right place, right time. Okay.

Andrew: [08:03] Then I went in there and it turns out that it was not so bad because most of graduate economics is just math, and I could do math. That’s how I got into the Ph.D. It seemed like it might give me an understanding for how society works. You think of it in some progression, I wanted to learn how the physical reality worked, and I wanted to understand how social reality worked. I’m not going to say that I did that in the totality, “I understand everything now.” I’m not going to say that I can do that, but it did provide me some insights into why society is the way it is in certain ways that for better or for worse I now have. I’m very grateful to that.

As I was a Ph.D. candidate, I was focusing on game theory, labor economics, and financial asset bubbles, which seems like a weird combination. But really what my focus was on was understanding and providing some theory on how housing bubbles were the result of income and wealth inequality. At least, partially, that was a plausible thing in creating a model to show how that could be the case and how it explains phenomena that we see. Basically, how inequality was not just an effect of economic policy, but a cause of economic reality.

Joseph: I see. Kind of generating distortion in asset markets as you had mentioned before.

Andrew: [09:25] Exactly. I was really big into understanding how inequality happened why. In my mind, more importantly, what that does to society and economic just markets, in general.

Joseph: You’re actually one of the first academics that we’ve had, just to kind of use the term broadly, that we’ve had on the show. I’m just going to take a big-picture view of this. This is what your dissertation was focused on. For those people who are listening to this and they’re just not familiar with what’s involved with doing a Ph.D., what exactly is a dissertation? Could you just explain at a very high level what that involves?

Andrew: [10:00] A dissertation is where you put your ideas to realize that they’re wrong. Dissertation is a process by which you compile research. I’ve never met a person, and I don’t think I ever will, who’s got a Ph.D. who is absolutely sure of themselves. It’s not because there’s a well-known imposter syndrome. That is a real problem on academics. Part of it’s about understanding and embracing that humility of realizing so many people thought about so many things, every minute detail of every idea you have has been thought about studied and analyzed, and you have to defend every single statement you make about everything. Parts of it leads to academic speaking so strangely and insisting on such precision in their language. Because if they say something inaccurate, somebody’s going to jump out and say, “Aha! You misattribute this thing.”

Joseph: We’ve spoken before, Andrew. My wife also did a Ph.D., and she works in academics right now and I have had the privilege of joining her at some of her conferences. Mostly, just because I wanted to kind of travel alongside because she gets to go to cool places. The discussions around the lunch table are very detailed, and very much in the weeds. To the point where I just really lose track of the conversation sometimes. That’s interesting that you describe that.

How did you enjoy doing a dissertation? What was that experience like for you? Focusing on one very specific topic here in inequality generating distortion and asset markets, what was that experience like for you on a day-to-day level?

Andrew: [11:32] I will not sugarcoat it. It was harrowing. It was psychologically quite taxing, and I would never do it again. I’m being completely serious there. It was a very stressful time. Part of it is just the volume of work. I mean most Ph.D. dissertations are between three and five academic papers, which really depends on the discipline you’re in. But usually, an academic paper is you said a research paper where you have to basically have a citation for everything or a mathematical equation justifying everything, and a graph justifying your interpretation of the mathematical equation.

Joseph: How many pages are we talking about here per paper?

Andrew: [12:08] Mine was only I think on the order of 250 maybe. And mine was pretty condensed because I didn’t really have any graphs. Mine was all pure math, theory, and proofs. It was on the shorter side, but there are some who swell must be on that. Some of it’s because they have like a bunch of figures and graphs and things that swell their space and everything. It’s really all about people telling you your ideas are wrong for six years until eventually, you find something they can’t find a fault with, and they can’t definitively prove is wrong.

I made it harder on myself by kind of tackling this weird nebulous problem that people weren’t really familiar with of income inequality as a cause of things and asset levels. Both of which are pretty on their own pretty niche topics in the academic economic world, which they absolutely shouldn’t be. I think it’s a problem that they are niche topics, but they are. I put them together which is even more niche, which made people even more skeptical and drew even more scrutiny. I certainly don’t regret my choice of topics, and I don’t regret getting a Ph.D. but it was a harrowing process. Anybody getting a Ph.D., it’s really about deconstructing your worldview and building it back up in a way that is completely in line with available data and say that much.

Joseph: You’re doing this dissertation. You’re doing your Ph.D. You finish your Ph.D. How did you then think about your career moving forward? I understand you then ended up moving into the realm of working with undergraduates as a visiting professor. Is that correct?

Andrew: [13:42] The career trajectory that’s usually given to every academic person I’ve talked to at least, I’m sure there’s some places, they’re different. But most programs from what I can gather in most disciplines kind of point students at more academic jobs. I think the reason for that is a pretty simple selection bias. I mean the people who are instructing these people are professors who got academic jobs. I will say it’s almost impossible to cross the threshold from non-academic to academic jobs. It is very difficult. Unless you like you have some connection to. There’s very, very rare exceptions to that. But people who are in academia and have tenure jobs, or who are advising students, or almost certainly people who have done nothing but academia ever.

It’s the world they know, it’s the world they advise in because it’s the world they lived in. It’s also a factor of most of the professors that I talked to and had work, let’s say it could have been a minimum of 15, 20 years since they had you know gotten their Ph.Ds., and the job market that they went into was very different from the job market that current graduates were entering into, which may have also shaped their understanding and their advice.

So, the path laid out for me was, “Oh! Go get an academic job. Go get a professor job. Go join the Federal Reserve Bank. Go do something academia-ish.” And it quickly became apparent that that was not going to happen for a lot of people who I was graduating with just because of the degree of competition. Economics is not the most stingy with jobs. There are actually plenty of economics jobs there. Just still weren’t enough though, to say that much for. I know a lot of people who’ve had to go to private sector because of that. Or not had to, but they decided to.

Joseph: You mentioned becoming a tenured professor. Can you just explain what is a tenured professor? What are the different versions of professor that are out there? My father was a professor actually. He was an assistant professor for a while, and then he was a tenured professor. But can you just explain the difference between like visiting professor, adjunct faculty/lecturer professor, tenure professor?

Andrew: [15:52] I’ll start at the sort of the bottom of the totem pole as it were, with adjuncts. Adjuncts, they shouldn’t exist. Not that the people shouldn’t exist, but the position shouldn’t exist because the university should pay people to be actual professors. It’s kind of the minimum wage of academia. You have these people who know their subjects very well, have done research, done their Ph.Ds. But universities realize they can pay them on a per-class basis rather than hire them as a full-time faculty member. And so, often you’ll have people teaching on the order of or actually sometimes far beyond what a tenured professor would be teaching rather, and being paid very little. This is especially a problem among Humanities where there are have been fewer jobs opening up in the recent years for many reasons.

To go up the totem pole a little bit, a lecturer is somebody who is just there to teach classes but they have contracted on a yearly basis and they have some benefits. But their job is only to teach classes. It’s a very important job to teach classes but they’re usually teaching undergraduates. Usually, have Ph.Ds. in the field. In fact, almost always. I’ve never met a lecturer who didn’t, but their job is to teach classes. Now then, you get into like professor level. Visiting assistant professors are weird.

Joseph: That is what you were at Wake Forest, right?

Andrew: [17:02] Yes. Technically, you’re only paid to teach. But the idea is that this is a temporary position where you are going to be doing some teaching/mentorship, research, but this is not a position that they want to be permanent and they are explicit about that from the get-go. You’re there you get benefits, but you’re not permanent. The idea is that you’re there to work with students and faculty, produce research and teach classes just like a normal faculty member would, but you’re not a permanent faculty member. There’s no pretense of you becoming permanent.

And so then, you get into the actual like “permanent faculty members,” the one that can become tenured. Tenure is essentially a process by which you have a permanent job at the university. They can’t get rid of you except for very bad things to people, frankly. The reason behind it is, historically, it’s been to preserve academic integrity, and to make sure that professors aren’t fearing for their jobs anytime they publish a controversial paper, or anytime a student says, “Oh, this professor isn’t a good teacher because he gave me a bad grade,” that kind of thing. The tenure process is usually a few years. And so, that’s where we get into the assistant professors, like non-visiting assistant professors are people who could get tenure if they do well.

What the process is will depend on the school, in the department, really. Some departments don’t care about student reviews. You can be an awful teacher and as long as you publish well, you’ll get a tenure. In fact, that’s how a lot of departments are. I shouldn’t say some departments, that’s how sadly many departments are. Most the time, it’s focused on what you publish and where, what kind of topics are you publishing in, how good are the journals, what’s the citation rate. Basically, are you spreading the name of yourself and the university by extension out into the world with your research showing that we’re doing really impressive things.

Joseph: Okay, but you’re saying that most people who are permanent assistant professors, they are on the way eventually, assuming nothing goes horrendously wrong, to becoming a tenured professor. More often than not.

Andrew: [19:04] More often than not, they’re going to get. I mean the thing is universities are pretty careful or departments really. Because it’s departments who are doing this job search. It’s not like you have an HR person who hires people. It’s usually the professors in the department have to go and search for people because they are the only people who are qualified to know what they need and what’s good, and what a good professor is going to be. For an HR person, it would be a nightmare because they wouldn’t know the difference between a good say Ph.D. physicist and a bad Ph.D. physicist.

Joseph: Or like the different publications . . .

Andrew: [19:28] Exactly. Or if it’s what the department needs right now. Because you could be a perfectly good physicist, economist, whatever, and they just don’t need that person right now. Like, “We really need somebody to teach this kind of course,” or when you really want someone to do this kind of research, and this person does a different kind of research. That was a problem I ran into a lot. I’m very familiar with that. The other reason is you’re very selective because they don’t want to do this again.

If you’re the kind of person who gets selected, they probably are pretty confident you’re going to do enough work to get tenure. You’ve already shown a tracker. And so, it’s really just if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to get tenure. The other reason is even if you falter and misstep a little bit, the department decides if you get tenure. The professors don’t really want to do another job search because it’s a lot of time. They have their own publications they have to do. They’ve got their own classes they got to teach. It’s a huge amount of work, on top of that. I’ve seen the job market from both sides and it’s a lot of work for everybody. So, as long as you’re doing the kind of stuff they expect you to do, they’re going to keep you around because that’s another 100, 200, 300 hours they don’t have to spend looking for another candidate and sifting through resumes and everything.

Once you pass that threshold, you become an associate professor. He goes from assistant. If you do other specific things, which again is dependent on the university department, et cetera. Usually, it’s have students graduate, publish more papers, do service for the department, like be a chair of some committee, teach classes, do stuff, you become a full professor.

Joseph: I guess we should also mention that this system you’re describing is kind of more of a North American System. It does not necessarily exist everywhere in the world. Certain countries follow this convention, but other countries for example, where I am in the UK, there’s no such thing as tenure, and it’s like a totally different system. But this is the system that you were in and that you were dealing with there in the United States.

Andrew: [21:26] Yes. This is specific to the United States and Canada.

Joseph: Just to kind of shift gears here then, thank you for giving us a lay of the land of how this trajectory could work out for somebody who’s in academia. What happened with your experience as a visiting professor? What was running through your head as you were thinking about your own career path? Were you thinking that you wanted to go down the tenure track where you gained for that? What was running through your head as you were teaching your undergraduate economics course at Wake Forest?

Andrew: [21:53] I was torn, initially, because I really enjoyed the work I did. I enjoyed coming with research. I enjoyed teaching my students. I enjoyed coming up with courses. I gotten to teach a lot of different courses at Wake Forest University. I got to come up with my own course on inequality and history. It was a great time and it was really great working with students. But the caveat is I was a visiting assistant professor. I had this sort of Damocles hanging over me every year. Technically, I worked there for four years, but it was four one-year contracts.

Every year I was going to job market, which as I mentioned is a stressful experience existentially, but also, it’s a lot of work. Because you got to apply to bunch of places you got to make, all these packets. It’s also worth mentioning that academic job applications are a bit of a different beast themselves. Usually, I have to come up with research plans specific to the needs of the university you’re working on. It’s a lot of writing just to make an application. You make dozens of these things.

Joseph: You got to include like research samples, and the conferences you’ve attended, the grants. All that kind.

Andrew: [22:54] You got to include all this material and often make new material and for every single thing you do. Because every university wants to see something a little bit different, everybody wants is feeling a little bit different. It’s a lot of work there. You have to make sure you have a new flashy paper ready to go in the job market with, that you can say the paper I’m going to use to showcase myself here. You make sure that you get that ready. You’re teaching in the fall, you’re doing this in the fall, which means you’re not doing any research because it’s not feasible. It’s really not possible. I like to say, I usually tell people that being a professor is three jobs. It’s teaching, research, and grant writing. For me, it was just research and teaching. I only had two full-time jobs, and I was already feeling the push. I don’t know how people do have to also write grants.

Joseph: It’s almost like a vicious cycle I guess. Because you’re a visiting professor, you have to do these annual job hunts. And then, that detracts from your ability to do the research that would then otherwise help support your journey to becoming a tenured professor. It’s like this vicious cycle that you’re in.

Andrew: [23:52] Ultimately, what I realized was that it was treading water and that treading was getting harder and harder. It was getting like bigger and bigger weights tied to my legs. The more years I was in it, the more exhausted I got. The worse it looked for me to be a visitor for that long. That vicious cycle was starting to create a whirlpool around me. I just realized that it wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t worth it.

Joseph: Let’s talk about the transition then. How did you get into the private sector? How did you make that pivot? Because I know this is a question that does come up and has been coming up more recently. I’ve seen news articles about more academics wanting to leave academia, moving into the private sector. How did you go about doing it?

Andrew: [24:36] The first times I tried were very unsuccessful. My first attempts to pivot in the private sector were actually back in 2019. What I realized was I didn’t know how to sell myself and I didn’t have any credentials that anyone in outside of academia understood anything about. That was itself very disheartening. I really didn’t get any traction in any meaningful way in the private sector.

But then, when I got more serious about it in 2020, which came after that you know spring break, I mentioned that never really ended, I knew some stuff and I knew how to do some things but I didn’t know how to communicate in a way that the people on the other side hiring would understand. Luckily, I found some resources and I learned how to do coding in Python rather than some of the other software packages I was using.

Joseph: How did you learn how to do that?

Andrew: [25:25] I started just by downloading it and doing stuff, and googling things. Also working with like some other open source software, and just making some stuff. I did have some help from my wife who was very supportive. She had been doing Python for a while because some of her departments had pushed Python. They don’t want to pay for Math lab anymore. I found this program called The Data Incubator. I definitely got into the data science Python world more expediently than I probably would have otherwise. What I really learned from them was how to talk about things in a way that made sense to non-academics, and how to comport myself for interviews and job market practices in the private sector, which is substantially different from the public sector in academia.

Joseph: Where did you ultimately land as your first private sector job?

Andrew: [26:12] I ended up getting a job at NNDATA, which is a contract company that mostly works with the Department of Defense and other public sector entities, solving data problems. It was really great that I got to go there because they threw me at a lot of different projects really fast. In a year and a half that I was there, I got to work on probably got a half dozen different projects on very different topics. Doing stuff from your natural language processing to big data, to small data, to anomaly detection, to everything in between. I got to do a lot of fun stuff. That really helped me not only broaden my horizons in terms of data science but talk about things and know what technologies are out there. It gave me a crash course and basically all of data science, plus data engineering, plus some other things. A really great opportunity.

Joseph: When you were there, can you just describe the major differences that you found working in the private sector for a company versus working for a university?

Andrew: [27:14] I was technically in my contract with the universities protected against all kinds of things. But I was still a one-year contract. I weirdly felt more protected in this at-will employment contract because it didn’t have a definite end date. Knowing that I wasn’t under the gun to either find a new job or get my contract renewed every year was probably the biggest most positive change that I didn’t even know I needed. I didn’t realize how exhausting it was until it wasn’t there anymore. I was just like I feel so much better. I can enjoy things.

The other thing was it was actually weirdly a lot more collaborative. Now, maybe it’s because economics is kind of a field in academia where people tend to work in either singular or small groups. Even the ones who are very collaborative don’t work that closely with each other. There’s often usually just a bunch of stuff they’re doing on their own. In this case, it was really interesting to have a team to collaborate with and have ideas with, talk about things, help each other. If I got stuck on a problem, ask somebody. I could help people if they got stuck on problems. It was quite nice to have that atmosphere.

Joseph: It sounds like things are going quite well for you at NNDATA, how did you then end up shifting from there to Kforce?

Andrew: [28:27] I was kind of sad to leave. The reason I left though was that I got essentially a better offer. I had met some people who put me in touch with other people and in conversations about data science and solutions in general. I ended up also meeting one of the practice leaders at Kforce who decided for some reason that he wanted to have me on his team. He was a guy who was more of a data engineer and he wanted to bring data science to Kforce.

For some reason, he figured that I was the person he wanted to do this. I don’t know how. The conversation I had with this guy started back in like October of 2021. What we were just talking about data science in general, and what the future of it was as we saw it. It wasn’t until June of this year, eight months later, they ended up contacting me and said, “Hey! Are you still interested in doing this?” From there, went really fast and we had interviews, and I ended up getting chosen for this position. I think what it was about was just that the breadth of things I could talk about in very academia detail, what convinced this guy to push for me and to push to start this thing now.

Joseph: So you weren’t actively looking for a role. This was an example that we talk about on the show quite a bit of just staying in touch with people, keeping the communication lines open, and sometimes over the long run, opportunities pop up. The last thing, before we talk about some of the lessons that you’ve learned along the way of your career change journey, moving from academia into the private sector, could I just also ask you what if anything do you miss about the world of academia?

Andrew: [30:11] It’s hard to say now because I’m aware on both experiential level, a statistical level, and also I guess to add into that a sort of game theoretical level. Understanding why the academic job markets are so problematic. Extricating the job from the job market is difficult in my mind. But I suppose if I do miss anything, it’s probably working with the students, and helping them to develop their own understanding of say economics because that’s what I did. I thought I would miss the research, but really as a data scientist, I kind of get to still do it just without all the having to pay thousands of dollars to a paper to publish your work. I can just put stuff on papers with code or on archive, and do so if I want to share things. But really, it’s the same spirit of pushing the boundaries, testing the possible, and experimenting. Academics would probably say it lacks rigor. It probably does, but it’s also way more results-oriented and doesn’t take nearly as long to implement things. But I say it’s the same spirit, so I don’t have to miss the research.

Joseph: If there is an academic out there who’s listening to this, do you have any thoughts on how they can think about whether or not they should consider moving into the private sector, or an industry role, or the corporate world? Any thoughts on who it is for and who it’s not for coming out of academics?

Andrew: [31:39] I would say that it’s always worth considering the private sector. You should never not consider it. But if you’ve considered and you’re not sure what to do in the future, what I think helped me was that I realized that the process of research, the process of the job market, didn’t make the potential of a tenure training job worth it. I think what is important to think about from an academic’s perspective, if you value more the results of research and the implementation of your results, then the research itself in an ivory tower, it’s definitely worth getting into the private sector. Because you can find places to do the same things just as much in the private sector as you did in public sector or in academia, and you won’t have what I’d say the stifling rigmarole of the journal system holding you back.

Joseph: The last thing I want to talk about before we wrap up with maybe having a quick chat about The Data Incubator because I know we kind of skimmed over that. I do want to come back to that. I just wanted to hear a little bit about the lessons that you’ve learned along the way of your journey. The first question is just it sounds like you’re quite happy in the transition that you’ve made. If you had to give advice to your younger self as it relates to changing career paths, what might that be?

Andrew: [33:02] You know more than you give yourself credit for. I mentioned the beginning of this conversation how good the dissertation is at breaking you down and building you back up and making you be precise about everything. What you have to remember is that while you’ve gone through that and you’re still probably in the aftershocks of it, and you know those aftershocks might last your whole life of you thinking that you don’t know definitively things. You know more than yourself credit for, and you need to be able to have the confidence and self-awareness to build yourself as such. Put on the hypothetical billboards of what you know and never be afraid to assert yourself in that way.

Joseph: When you look back on your career transition, what’s something that you wished you had known that you now know?

Andrew: [33:51] There’s no real reason to be nostalgic about academia. It can be scary and unfamiliar leaving, but it really doesn’t stay that way for very long. There’s so many people who need so many things that you will find something. Especially if you have you know a Ph.D., you know something very well. Somebody needs that to do something else.

Joseph: And having been through this career change where you have now successfully crossed the chasm from academia into the private sector, what’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself along the way?

Andrew: [34:29] I am very good at adapting. I’m very good at being thrown into a situation where I don’t know I’m supposed to lead the meeting, but I get put to lead the meeting so I have to go based on what I know about the client to have an intelligent conversation about the thing we’re supposed to be doing. I’m good at being the guy who they need something to show somebody. They say, “Please come up with something in the next day.” We don’t know what they want but do something that’s impressive. And I’ll come up with something.

I’m very good at thinking off my feet and at adapting to situations that they come. I know some people don’t like that. I realized more than academia had been giving me the chance to show that I was able to do that, and that’s actually kind of what I like. It keeps things fresh. I don’t mind having projects that are ambiguous where suddenly the client reveals what they really want, and we have to change our perspectives and reorient ourselves quickly.

Joseph: I want to wrap up with something I know has been important to your own career trajectory. I know you mentioned that The Data Incubator was one of the reasons why you were able to make this leap. Can you just tell me a little bit more about The Data Incubator and how it helps people move out of academia and into the private sector?

Andrew: [35:48] The Data Incubator is a program that’s designed to give people certifications in data science work, or also data engineering now. When I did it, it was just data science but now they also do data engineering. The point is they are acutely aware of the problems I was talking about where people know stuff, they know how to do technical things, they’re very talented people, but they don’t know how to get their foot in the door in the corporate world or in the private sector for whatever reason.

What The Data Incubator is about is two things really. I would say it’s two things. It’s about teaching skills. They take people who are otherwise good at math, stats, whatever but don’t necessarily know how to program or code because they might have been taught in programs that don’t do those things as much as they maybe should in the modern era. They teach them how to code in Python, how to use these packages, how to do data science, how to train models, how to use their expertise in other areas in Mathematics, and translate that into the programmable results from a computer in computation.

The other thing they do that I think is very important is they explicitly teach you how to do a job search, which is something I never really got taught even in academia. They just kind of said, “Oh, go and apply for jobs!” And no one ever really told me like what you should be doing and how you actually get a job.
These people do that they sit down with people say, “Here’s how you write a good resume.” They have people help you structure your resume to emphasize your best traits, to help you structure cover letters. Like, “Here’s how you should write a cover letter for this kind of job.” “Here’s how you should approach an interview.” It was really about translating the fonts you have from academia, putting it into a funnel and out into a way that people outside of academia can understand so they can know how valuable you are.

Joseph: Very interesting. It sounds like they played a huge role in your own career, and it’s playing a huge role in other people’s careers. Thanks for walking us through that. I’ll definitely include a link in the show notes so people can learn more about The Data Incubator.

Well, thank you so much, Andrew, for taking the time to tell us more about the world of academia that you left behind, how you manage the transition into the private sector, and also the importance of moving on when the time feels right for you. Best of luck with your new role there at Kforce, and I hope everything continues to go well for you as you head down this new career path.

Andrew: [37:59] Thank you very much, Joseph. Once again, thank you for having me on the show. It’s been a pleasure.

About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu is dedicated to helping people relaunch their careers and do more meaningful work. As a public speaker, career consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch® podcast, he shares insights from his decade of experience relaunching global consumer brands to help professionals to more effectively market their personal brands.

About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu helps aspiring professionals relaunch their careers to do work that matters. As a keynote speaker, career & personal branding consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast, his passion is helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands.