“I still feed my itch of learning the latest research”, Lindsey Vedder

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“I still feed my itch of learning the latest research”, Lindsey Vedder

Dr Lindsey Vedder is a Senior Product Specialist at Scientifica for Mid-West United States and Canada. Here, in the third case study of our academia to industry series, she explains what made her decide to make the move to industry. 

My research background

Excluding my first research experience as an undergraduate student, when I studied evolutionary genetics in butterflies, my research career focused on learning and memory in rodents. In my second undergraduate laboratory experience, I investigated social memory in vasopressin receptor knockout mice. It was this that pulled my interests in the direction of neuroscience as a career option. In graduate school, I studied the effects of ovarian hormones, primarily oestrogen, on learning and memory in rats. After my graduate work, I wanted to increase my technical skills by learning how to measure activity during learning in vivo.  

During my first postdoc position, my focus switched to an understudied cortical area called the retrosplenial cortex. I built hyperdrives to record single units in the retrosplenial cortex to study the interactions between cue and spatial responses during and after learning.  In my second postdoc position, my focus switched to a clinical research model of learning and memory decline associated with alcohol use. In addition to using behavioural assays, I also measured the levels of various proteins and mRNAs known to play roles in learning and memory processes. It was during this position that I became more familiar with Scientifica. I started using the SliceMaster, a 4-chamber field electrophysiology rig that we had in our department to study the sex differences in thiamine deficiency.    

Why I left academia

The main reason I decided to leave academia was because I did not want to move away. I had exhausted the two major universities in driving distance from my home and I have a young family. Moving would have been a huge stress on us as I live close to family who help me with childcare. 

I was sad to leave academia as I loved doing research, and I do still miss it. I loved being a part of progressing knowledge of how learning and memory works, and that was hard to leave behind. However, as a Product Specialist I am still involved in neuroscience, so I still feed my itch of learning the latest research and meeting top scientists in the field.

An advantage of leaving academia was leaving the stress behind. There was lots of uncertainty about receiving funding and your work is looked at very critically. Leaving academia felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I always enjoyed doing the actual research, however, I never enjoyed writing, especially grant writing, and that is the end goal of academia as a PI. I prefer to do the experiments and work with people directly. Unfortunately, jobs that allow this tend to be less recognised in the field.

My role at Scientifica

When I decided I wanted to apply for industry positions, I searched publicised ads on job websites. I heard about the vacancy at Scientifica through their email news bulletin, which said that the US office was now open and they were looking for people to fill various positions. I applied and am now representing Scientifica as a Product Specialist for Mid-West United States and Canada. 

I enjoy my job and having a PhD brings a lot of benefits to my day to day responsibilities. Having used much of the equipment I sell, performed my own experiments, written my own grants, etc. it is easy to empathise with our customers. Although I don’t like to be away from my family, I enjoy the travel that the job brings. The networking is phenomenal and is the biggest perk of the job. I also love having the flexibility to plan my own schedule. When I am not travelling, I mostly work from home which means I get to see my kids off to school and see them when they are home. I see my family more now than when I was in academia because I used to have a long commute and work long hours. 

What I found difficult about moving from academia

I struggled with the feelings that I had somehow failed and let all my previous mentors down. Also, some peers would feel sorry for me for not being able to succeed in academia. People who feel this way are still in the professor game and I’m rooting for them because I know they want it so badly. I just didn’t want it anymore and it was a decision that I made. It is critical that graduate programs across the world start training and encouraging PhD students for alternative career paths to reduce the stigma around finding a job that is outside of the tenure track position. I am seeing alternative career path seminars happen in graduate programs throughout the US and Canada, but we need a lot more of it.  

My advice for those considering moving out of research

In academia, it can be hard to network with people working in industry. One of the best ways to do this is at research conferences.  There are usually many companies there exhibiting their equipment and services. I have had a lot of people ask me questions at conferences; I am always open to answering questions about my day-to-day activities and I’m sure others would be willing too. Bring business cards and let companies know you are interested in their available positions.  

It is hard to get industry job application advice in academia.  If you know people in industry, don’t be afraid to ask them about their experience and interview process.  Collect as much information as you can and network as much as you can to increase your chances of being hired. 

If you move into industry, you can move back to an academic position. When I decided to start with Scientifica, a faculty member at my postdoc institution told me that he worked in industry for a while. He is now a professor and he told me he found his experience in industry valuable. People are moving back and forth between academia and industry more often now.

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