Breaking the PhD mould: finding a career outside academia

Sarojini Balkrishna
27 January 2016

Meet Sarojini Balkrishna, an ANU alumna who proves that there is life outside of academia for PhD graduates.

Like many PhD students, Sarojini always imagined she would continue in research before she decided to pursue a career within the pharmaceutical industry.

Sarojini’s passion for research flourished while studying at the ANU Research School of Biology.

“I was in a great lab and if you ask anyone they’ll tell you it was one of the happiest times of my life.”

But at the end of her PhD Sarojini decided to take up a new challenge and hung up her lab coat to embark on a career with industry.

Sarojini now works as a medical science liaison for the cardiovascular portfolio of the pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca.

“What drove my decision to join AstraZeneca, is the importance the company places on scientific leadership.

“It’s really inspiring to be pushing the boundaries of science to deliver life-changing medicines.

“And I have fun doing what I’m doing. So I think that’s a good sign.”

Sarojini admits that the move outside of academia can be difficult because it is hard to find an intellectual challenge after a PhD.

Fortunately, she found a role that involves all the elements she enjoys, including engaging with science, working with people, and opportunities to be involved in business strategy.

She says the skills she gained during her PhD were valued by her employer, who also supported the further development of her scientific and commercial acumen.

For students interested in pursuing a similar career, Sarojini says a broad skillset is required.

This includes having strong skills in communication, planning and organising, leadership and coaching, as well as the scientific knowledge needed to have a “peer-to-peer discussion with the top echelon of external experts”.

Sarojini says that a PhD certainly equips students with these sought-after skills and in addition, students can benefit from the overall experience that ANU offers them.

“I was the Sub-Dean and a senior resident at Fenner Hall. In these roles you could really demonstrate a lot of the communication, teamwork and leadership skills that employers look upon favourably,” she says.

“There are definitely many options to explore after you finish a PhD and I think it’s a question of trying to understand what you enjoy doing and marketing your skills in terms of what you can offer.”

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Updated:  23 April 2017/Responsible Officer:  Science College Directors/Page Contact:  Science Web Services