PhD; Philosophy, University of Cambridge (Pembroke College)
|CEO of Lex Academic
Year entered into a non-academic position: 2022 (so, during my PhD!)
Job highlight: Being my own boss!
My research training set me up to: Help other researchers publish in high-impact outlets.
It’s deeply satisfying to work in an academic-adjacent sector where the mood is far more constructive and maieutic.
Left academia after: PhD
What’s your background?
My background is in academic philosophy. I did my undergraduate in London and my master’s and PhD at Oxford and Cambridge respectively.
Why did you move away from academia?
Despite really enjoying my research (the history of moral psychology), I was not built for a life of lecturing and conferencing. Being extremely introverted and high in conscientiousness, the traditional academic route was never going to be a physiological fit for me. I found giving talks unsustainably stressful. Nevertheless, I wanted to build on skills I’ve honed during my education and find a way to put those to good use.
Is there anything you miss about academia?
I miss cogitating for its own sake (although, as paid-up academics will tell you, it comes with a lot of other responsibilities and distractions).
How did you get this job? Did you face any challenges when considering a move away from academia or applying for the role?
I started my company in very unusual, and indeed miserable, circumstances. I established the business during my first year as a PhD student at Cambridge. My husband of one year had been diagnosed with advanced cancer and we did not have much hope for his prognosis. It was very scary as we both lived on his income and I decided I didn’t have the psychological luxury of waiting to graduate to find paid work. So, I created my own company based on around a decade of freelance academic proofreading, translating, and indexing experience. When the pandemic came around, all normal research activities relating to my PhD slowed down enormously, which gave me a chance to work much more on getting the business off the ground. So, for me, the real challenges of moving into business were personal and circumstantial.
What motivated you to/why did you choose the sector you transitioned into?
I had been doing academic proofreading work for a long time before I considered professionalizing the business, investing in a company website, etc. I had ideations of starting something of the kind for a long while, but the right opportunity never presented itself before I found myself panicking after my husband’s diagnosis.
Did you think you had the skills required for your current position before you started? Were you right?
While I didn’t realize I had the business nous to start a company, I was sure I had the editorial skills to make a huge impression in the industry.
I already had around 100 clients before launching the business proper, so I had reason for optimism, but I could not have known that I would relish CEO life. I actually thought I would hate it, but the truth is that running and spearheading a business is not some outlandish, unimaginable feat—doing it well is really just a function of understanding your market, your product/service, and having a sound grasp of your numbers.
How did your PhD prepare you for your current job? For example, what were the transferable skills that you developed during your PhD that are most relevant to your current job?
My company, Lex Academic, is an academic proofreading, indexing, and translation company. Everything I’d learned from academia fed into my understanding of academics’ pain points. I had myself already published two papers by the start of my PhD and I knew that was the main ambition of my peers and colleagues. In my freelance work, I had always deeply relished being able to help other publish their work by improving their English. Being at Oxford and Cambridge gave me an especially strong insight into how competitive academia could be, and I enjoyed the prospect of positioning myself outside of academia and helping those within it. I saw that as a strategic benefit of having gone from BA to PhD myself.
If you’ve not yourself been on the inside of academia, you won’t be best placed to understand the nature of academic competition and what is required to progress in an academic career.
Did you have any preconceptions about your sector that proved to be wrong?
I didn’t really have any preconceptions.
Can you describe a typical week in your job?
As a CEO, I work pretty much all the time. It sounds a bit dire, but I have never been as motivated by anything than running this business and delighting my clients. My time is spent doing sales, marketing, copywriting, managing my employees, quality-controlling work, project management, accounting, forecasting, managing cashflow, finding PR opportunities…
What is the workplace culture like? Please include comments on work-life balance, flexibility, remote working?
Our team is remote so there is no static workplace. Our employees are based in St Andrews and Oxford at present, while my husband (who is now the company’s COO) and I are based in Dorset, having relocated from London this summer. I’m a workaholic, and so is my husband, but we try not to enforce that culture onto our employees. We work very hard on the business because we love it and the rewards are very high. Our culture is about doing what we love at an extremely high standard. We enable our employees to meet their goals flexibly—the only ‘must’ is the standard of the product and the paramount importance of delighting our clients.
Do people with a PhD frequently get hired in the company/sector?
We typically only hire people with PhDs—they understand the sector best and have the right kinds of skills to deliver within this niche.
What are your favourite parts of your job?
Getting positive feedback from clients always makes my day. When people tell you you’ve made a difference, or that they published that difficult paper, the long, hard hours perfecting the minutiae become completely worth it.
What are your reflections on your career path?
While the origin story for this business was an unhappy one, I am so glad I found an industry that is a complete match for my skills and personality. I would have been deeply unhappy as an academic and would have lived a life of extreme stress to fulfil its duties, especially those relating to public speaking.
I am grateful that I get to wake up every day as my own boss, able to help researchers who do want to achieve academic career success go as far as they want to.
Do you have any advice for current graduate students and postdocs considering a career outside of academia?
If you think an academic career might not be for you, try not to feel like a failure.
I know I did when it first properly dawned on me that I wasn’t really built for a life behind the lectern. It’s hard to accept when you’ve spent so many years on that career trajectory. But you need to honor who you are as a person. That could well mean starting your own business or going into a non-academic career.
The truth is that the opportunities outside of academia can be truly massive, deeply fulfilling, and totally compatible with self-actualization.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when exploring a transition?
I didn’t have any idea how financially rewarding this path could be. In my first year, I turned over half a million pounds and we’re set to increase that by 50% this year. It’s been beyond my wildest dreams. The fact that I get to help people in an industry that is very much ‘home’ to me, while making such good money, is such a privilege and, of course, incredibly motivating.
Can you recommend any relevant resources, organisations or events that might help somebody new to the sector find out more about it?
What can I say? Take a look at our careers page for an insight into jobs in our sector! www.lexacademic.com/careers/
At Lex Academic, we are committed to helping the world’s most promising academics publish in the best possible research outlets. Our shared understanding of the academic publishing space gives our team a uniquely compassionate insight into the process of refining work for peer review and making a strong impression with leading journals, publishing houses, and funding bodies.
We’re an author services firm with a humane mission. Spearheaded by Oxbridge-educated research academics, we boast 20 years’ editorial experience and over 100 research publications between us. We don’t believe that language should be a barrier to publication. That is why a proportion of our profits go towards our two Lex Academic Scholarships, funds that support students with dyslexia.
Beloved by those who have been let down by faceless proofreading firms and paltry software packages, our clients return to us again and again because we offer a service that they can trust. We have looked after the manuscripts of thousands of academics and PhD students, enabling native and non-native English speakers alike to place their work with leading journals and prestigious publishing houses. Our boutique author service ensures your work is submission-ready with a tailored menu of proofreading and editing services that promote publication success. All documents are edited by subject experts and finished by one of our founders.