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The problem I faced - and still am, to an extent - was that during my PhD I was given no support or really any information at all about the possibility of a life and career outside of academia. I was fortunate enough to be offered a postdoc position in the same group that I did my PhD (particle physics) before I’d actually submitted my thesis. However 6 months later I desperately needed a change and managed to find another postdoc as a research scientist in the Medical Physics department of a cancer hospital.

Medical physics research has felt more fulfilling than particle physics, but I’m now in a position where my current contract expires in around 9 months, and with a mortgage to pay and a family to support I have to decide between: looking for yet another short-term postdoc position (in a hopefully related field of physics) - ending up in exactly the same position in 2-3 years; starting to apply for grants and funding with my current research group - a very stressful process with no guarantees of anything; moving into industry / private sector - assuming that it’d be possible to find a company that had a need for the very specific knowledge base and skills that developed over the past 7 years.

Or all of the above, at the same time, while trying to continue working my current research projects.

As someone that has always had an interest in computing, data analysis and software, but has ended up approaching them from a physics-based direction, I don’t feel qualified to compete with computer science/statistics grads for most of the software development or data science jobs that I see advertised.

I'm sure that there are other fields out there that would suit me, but having never had a non-academic-research job, I'm struggling to know where and what to look for. Does anyone have any practical advice for moving away from an academic career path?

>I don’t feel qualified to compete with computer science/statistics grads for most of the software development or data science jobs that I see advertised.

I suspect you are more qualified than most oracle-developer-turned-data-scientists

Give it ago. review some of open source projects that can leverage your math or data understanding skills. Contribute to those. Use that as your experience/resume

I hate to burst your bubble, but outside of the major metros, there are few data science type jobs that are any good. It's an up-and-coming field, maybe--but as someone with a PhD and a lot of software development experience, making the transition has been tricky (am still working on it). It may be a good track or it may fizzle out, we'll see.

A few superstars will do well, the rest will be an urban myth of potential prosperity and happiness.

Your comment feels like something I could have written a few years ago. I made the transition following a eerily similar same path. I did a PhD in experimental particle physics, then a postdoc offered though a Medical Physics Program (though not actually related to clinical radiation therapy) that I took largely because it allowed me to stay in a familiar location. I was stressed and needed a change. I was reading up on data scientist and data analyst positions but did not feel confident in applying.

I started attending software meetups in my city and chatting with folks. Meeting others in person was key for realizing the given the breadth and pace of the field, there would always be something new to learn so I needed to take the job posting "requirements" with some grains of salt. Someone encouraged me to attend a recruitment night his employer was hosting, and I figured it would at least be good interview practice. I ended up getting an offer and have been a Software Engineer for three years now. While the referral surely helped, the practice of explaining my experience to programmers at these events and learning where my skills were applicable and how to translate that into the jargon of the software boosted my confidence to actually attend the event and interview.

There were some rough patches at first, being thrown into a front-end project with practically zero experience in html and javascript, but in the end analysis code and front-end code are both debugged with breakpoints, test data and when that fails printing to the console. Recently I have been dusting off my analytical skills by playing with machine learning frameworks and hope to take my career in a direction that builds off both my academic and practical experiences.

Given your background, you can easily get a job as a software dev or data scientist in a big name Silicon Valley company. Just prepare for the interview for 2-3 months with books like Crack the Coding Interview.

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