Cell Therapy
Gene Therapy
Skills, Talent & Development

“The Hottest Trend in My Field is Leaving Academia for Industry”

Georgi Makin
8 March 2022
If you’re on Twitter, LinkedIn or any other social space with a scientific ecosystem, you may have noticed an apparent, sizeable movement towards leaving academia for industry roles. But what could this mean for closing the talent gap in cell and gene therapies?

Over the past week or so, my Twitter timeline has been full of people from many different scientific fields and with varying levels of experience tweeting announcements about leaving academia behind for roles in industry.

But why is there this apparent trend, and what could this mean for the cell and gene therapy talent pool?

It doesn’t take long to scroll through a few tweets, blog posts and interviews to notice patterns in reasons for leaving academia. Exasperation with grants applications and unstable contracts, financial motivations including salaries and hits to pensions, and accessibility or diversity and inclusion issues are all cited as core motivations for leaving academia across the board.

If this trend is true, (and not just a reflection of an over-enthusiastic algorithm), it opens up an interesting conversation around the cell and gene therapy workforce and the development of talent. As we entertain the notion of an academic exodus, could the talent demand finally be addressed for capacity expansion within cell and gene therapy development?

In reality, no. Frustration with the academic landscape is not new and there are many obstacles that remain to be overcome here, but it does not eliminate or even slow competition for early career positions, tenures, grants or funding. There are also plenty of people with differing levels of experience thriving and thoroughly enjoying life in academia, some even positioned as advocates for improving the journey for others.

The appeal of industry may exist as stability and more generous compensation, but there will always be a desire to progress within academia as a first step before navigating a transition with many who choose to pursue a career in science.

Transition from academia to industry is generally seen as a tricky area to navigate. During a roundtable hosted as part of Phacilitate’s Women in Advanced Therapies program in 2021, the group agreed that moving from academia into industry roles was actually an especially challenging issue, and called for action to bridge the gap between industry and academia in order to make movement more accessible and attainable.

Read more about this roundtable and others with our Women in Advanced Therapies eBook >>

At the risk of sourcing Twitter a little too much, a few tweets reference a cult-like atmosphere in academia, which although sounds like a negative take on the field, is actually used in the context by some as a career or mission of passion – a track no amount of financial compensation or persuasion could encourage them to leave as they view their networks as families.

While commitment to academia certainly isn’t a bad thing for progression of the field, could there be opportunities for engaging people with industry roles earlier in their careers, rather than relying on a potentially turbulent transition later, or even a lack of motivation to transition in the first place?

According to a recent report from the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult:

“Employment in the sector continues to rise, and this report includes for the first-time data on apprentices. Half the companies surveyed employ at least one apprentice, with the majority of apprentices employed by gene-therapy dedicated facilities”

The report, representative of the UK, indicates a rise in employed apprentices in this sector (with many currently under the employ of Oxford Biomedica) and the establishment of working groups to support the development of apprentices who may not have traditional qualifications historically required by manufacturing and development facilities in this space.

Going back even earlier, a discussion within Phacilitate’s Workforce of the Future Specialist Group – hosted within our network – discussed the idea of bringing in certifications for operating within GMP environments at the undergraduate level, perhaps even pushing for the inclusion of cell and gene therapy modules in high school curriculums to increase awareness of the opportunities within the space even earlier.

As Phacilitate’s Vice President of Research, Ryan Leahy, commented:

“A major complaint for PhDs and post-docs in viral development is that they have no connection to biotechs even in their own localities/or those attached or spun-out from the Universities. The lack of industry access or clear career progression/entry is definitely a major barrier to attracting talent!”

All in all, while it may be true that scientists continue to leave academia for roles in industry for many reasons, there is still a lot of work to do within the cell and gene therapy industry to address the talent gap, support the industry’s growth and empower the workforce of the future.

What is your take on the issue, or apparent ‘trend’ in this area? I’ll be starting a thread in our new ‘Workforce of the Future’ Specialist Group in the network – join the conversation by joining the network today >>

The title for this blog post was inspired and adapted from a tweet by Dr. Jaclyn A. Siegel, @jacasiegel, with permission from the author.