Overcome Imposter Syndrome: Jobs Outside Academia


When I decided to apply for jobs outside academia after graduating, I felt a sense of discomfort. I realised I was experiencing what many term imposter syndrome. It’s something a lot of us have when taking a path that we feel fearful of. If we feel we are not fully qualified for a job, or are doing something outside of our comfort zone, imposter syndrome can manifest itself.

Imposter syndrome can be felt in a lot of different ways. For science graduates, it can come up when taking ‘alternative routes’ in our careers. Academia often feels like the natural route to take after your science degree. If you choose to do something different, you can feel like you are betraying the path you set out on. You can also feel like you are taking jobs that are meant for others who studied a directly relevant degree. This can make you feel like a fraud if you think that your science degree means you are not qualified.

Although these feelings are natural, they are not indicative of the path you should take. It just means you are doing something that is out of your comfort zone, or different to your original plan. This can actually be really exciting, and you know if it’s right for you. It’s therefore important to be able to deal with the imposter syndrome mindset when it comes about. Here are some ways to overcome imposter syndrome when you are applying for jobs outside academia:

  1. Remember that your degree doesn’t define you

Your degree doesn’t completely define what you can offer. Yes, it is a big part of your academic training. And you spent a lot of time gaining that degree. But you don’t have to let it completely define what you can offer an employer. Everyone can shape their experience and skills with the other things they do aside from their studies. This includes work placements, extra-curricular positions, what you read, and who you network with.

Your degree also won’t necessarily look the same as others if you have optional modules where you can shape what you are studying. The point is, whatever all your experiences add up to is unique. It is this package that you want to present to an employer, rather than just knowledge from your degree. Once you start thinking of things this way, it will make you more confident in applying to alternative roles.

  1. Recognise the transferable skills you have that make you an asset to a company

Having a science degree means you automatically have many transferable skills that make you suitable for a range of jobs. The knowledge that you have from an undergraduate degree alone can also make you stand out when you are applying to science industries. Even if you are doing a non-scientific role, your science degree makes you credible in understanding the work the company is doing.

You can use this in an interview to show what an asset you will be. You will also have a number of transferable skills from your work experience and other activities you have done in the past. So many employers don’t look at your degree subject, but rather what you have done around it. Make sure you recognise and emphasise your skills both from your degree and outside it to show the value you can bring to an organisation.

  1. Realise that companies benefit from a blend of employees with different backgrounds

If you are applying for an industry that is completely unrelated to your degree, you might feel like your degree is being ‘wasted’ or that you have a disadvantage to those who have relevant degrees. This is not necessarily true. Firstly, your scientific training means you have qualities that can give you an edge amongst others. It is also important to realise that a lot of companies deliberately hire employees with a range of backgrounds. STEM graduates are in high demand for industries like banking and finance because they recognise the skills needed to complete a degree in these subjects.

Employers may also want a range of academic backgrounds to enhance the knowledge base of their teams if they do work in or with science industries. Your degree may also be irrelevant to them if they are looking more at your skills and experience.

  1. Know that you need to be happy to perform well!

The most important thing is to be comfortable with applying for jobs that you are more likely to enjoy, even if they are not the most obvious path for you! If you are motivated to apply for specific jobs, and you are happier than you would be going down the traditional route, you are more likely to perform better. It is better for you to be in this situation than choose a path you are unhappy with, and as a result bring less value to the role and organisation. Follow what you enjoy and don’t be afraid to make changes if you realise the role is not for you.  

You may feel like an imposter at various points in your career, and especially when you initially apply for jobs outside academia where you are not using your science degree directly. Just remember that your academic knowledge combined with your unique experiences and individual qualities all come together to produce a distinctive package you can offer to an employer.

If you are ready to take your career outside the lab and want to know how to start, book a Beyond the Lab Breakthrough Session here.


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