This blog post is a Q&A with our Full Stack Engineer Eleonore, who began her career as a research scientist working in academia and decided to make a career switch to tech after completing her PhD. Eleonore shares information about her background, excerpts from her journey and her main advice for people thinking of making a similar career change.
Q1. How would you describe your academic background?
My initial plan was to become a researcher and I was particularly interested in Human Genetics. After high school, I went to university and studied for an undergraduate degree in Life Sciences and aimed to join a Genetics programme afterwards. This programme was quite unique (even within the French system) - it covered the third (and final) year of undergraduate study and a two-years Masters degree, and also included three different research internships. After completing my Masters degree in Genetics, I pursued a PhD in Cellular Biology and Oncology. My work consisted of inducing cell death in human melanoma cell lines (melanoma being known for its aggressiveness and resistance to therapies) and describing the mechanisms involved.
Q2. What made you want to transition from being a scientist to working in web development?
I have no clear answer for that, it was a progressive process. I realise now that my main driver was a passion for problem-solving with a positive impact on society.
After my PhD, I completed a short post-graduate diploma on biomedical innovation while working in a pharma company. As I documented myself online about innovation, I came across and got interested in tech innovation, and website and app development. The actual transition was a case of switching my mindset from “if only I had those skills” to “how can I learn those skills”.
Q3. What has been the most challenging part of this career transition?
I guess the hardest part wasn’t actually changing my path, but first allowing myself to think outside of the norms of the society we live in. Back in 2012/2013 in France, it was still the case that if you studied something, then you work in that field your whole career.
Mentalities are changing, but I did and still chat with or hear about people who don’t dare look for opportunities outside of their set career path.
Q4. What does your work at Repositive involve?
As a developer at Repositive, I’m responsible for the maintenance and development of the website and Cancer Models Platform, which covers full-stack web development, bug fixing and infrastructure updates. Since we are a small team, I also do my best to provide help or input in other areas of the business.
Q5. What advice would you give to someone working in science who is looking to make the transition to tech?
I often get this question in person (before the pandemic) or on social media, and my advice would differ depending on where the person asking is at in terms of their personal reflection. The questions I get tend to be quite precise like “what skills/tools should I learn?”. Those people are typically already further along in their career transition (at least in their mind) and depending on their interest, I can typically point them to resources (such as Python/JS/R languages or specific libraries or frameworks), and/or a community (such as groups like PyLadies/R-Ladies or Data Visualization Society Slack groups) that best suit their needs.
There are so many resources available (often for free) for anyone with internet access, but joining technology communities (via meetups, Slack groups, conferences) is also crucial, especially for beginners. You will not only learn new skills but also hear about many experiences in specific fields or locations, and you will create a network, find support and sometimes even new work opportunities.
Some other good examples of free resources for beginners are:
For people looking at the possibility of transitioning from science to technology, I would also encourage them to investigate their motivations. It is worth noting that it can be difficult to go back to a research career after leaving academia, especially for a lack of publications. However, it's worth noting there are some options available to work across different roles in a research project, should you want to return in some capacity.
As a final note, I wanted to highlight that whilst the transition from science to tech is definitely a challenging one, it is also hugely rewarding, especially when you get to use your skills to work on solving exciting problems and creating a difference in the world. I think as long as you feel confident in your decision to make a career switch and you’re willing to put in the time to learn the necessary skills, you should find it a fun, insightful and gratifying experience.
Images sourced from Unsplash
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