Showcasing careers beyond academia

Christopher Thomas

DPhil Interdisciplinary Biosciences BBSRC DTP, University of Oxford, 2020
Research Scientist
COMPASS Pathways

Year entered into a non-academic position: 2020

Left academia after:  PhD

What is your background?

I studied broad neuroscience as an undergraduate and then completed an MSc in computational and cognitive neuroscience. During my DPhil I studied sleep in rodents, using combined in vivo electrophysiology, pharmacology and mathematical modelling.

Why did you move away from academia?

Most of all I simply wanted to try something new, having spent so many years as a student. The opportunity to work as part of a team and contribute to something with real world impact was also very enticing.

How did you get this job? Did you face any challenges when considering a move away from academia or applying for the role?

I was very lucky getting this job, really. I heard about the company through my PhD supervisor and decided to do an internship based on encouragement from my doctoral training program. The internship went very well and I was fortunately offered to stay on in a permanent position.

Can you describe a typical week in your job?

I am currently managing a variety of preclinical research projects to explore the mechanism of action of psilocybin in treating mental health disorders. Unlike in academia, I don’t perform the experimental methods myself, which is outsourced to our partners in academia and industry. Instead, I focus on the bigger picture – study design, data analysis and research strategy. Mostly, my time is spent talking about the science with our various partners all across the world, which means there are lot of zoom calls, but there is also a balance of thinking and scientific literature searching as well. I find this role allows me to get involved in more broad scientific topics without needing to become an expert on every technical methodological detail.

What motivated you to/why did you choose the sector you transitioned into?

I chose this job for the specific position rather than the sector and I never really intended to work in the pharma industry. However, I have learned that the breadth of science that goes into drug development is so great that there is even a place for my niche scientific skill set!

 What are your favourite parts of your job?

Definitely the people I work with and the compassionate company culture.

 Is there anything you miss about academia?

I miss to some extent the independence and flexibility of academia, as well as the less formalised hierarchical culture.

 Do you have any advice for current graduate students and postdocs considering a career outside of academia?

Only that you give it a try if you are unsure! Even in just one year, the skills you learn and the mindset you develop, for me at least, were hugely valuable.