A Survival Guide to Your First Industry Role

20 Jul 2020

The move from the university/academia bubble to your first role in industry can be a daunting and confusing time. In 2016, after a whirlwind few months trying to figure out what I actually wanted to do within animal science, I found myself starting work for a Bovine IVF laboratory in Scotland. The bovine division of the company was newly established at the time, and hoping to secure themselves within the UK beef and dairy industries. This was certainly an unplanned career jump and the first few months felt like I’d been dropped in the deep end having just learned doggy paddle (I know, not the best analogy). However, fast forward 4 years and I can honestly say the experience so far has been a fantastic journey!

If you are hoping to make the industry plunge, here are 5 tips that I would have passed on to myself at the start if I could. I hope they help you to feel a bit more at ease with that scary jump and to understand that others are in exactly the same boat.

1. Skillful Confidence:

If you feel as if you’re walking into a job that you have no clue how to do, that’s normal. Remember, no one is expecting you to become salesman of the year or slickest lab technician overnight. Focus on the skills and knowledge that you have already picked up and gradually adapt them to the new role. For example, group research projects will have given you great communication experience, as well as the ability to work under pressure. Perhaps you spent a lot of time collecting data on farms, giving you fantastic skills for dealing with farming clients and their livestock. This tip is all about setting yourself realistic targets and expectations whilst also walking in there with your head held high, ready to learn and absorb as much as you can.

2. Fail Successfully:

In my first technician role at the company, one of my jobs was to stock-take and pack roughly 250 different items of IVF lab equipment into “mobile laboratories” (transit vans) ready to collect oocytes from donor cows at remote farm locations. Of these 250 items, there are about 3 very essential pieces of kit. Driving with a team of staff for 4 hours to realize I hadn’t packed one of these essential items was a horrible, gut-wrenching feeling. Given I was so new (and young) at the time, I naively thought that it was time to start job hunting again. In the end all that was required was a sincere apology to the client and other staff members and it was forgotten about. In fact, my manager helped me to make the checklist system more robust so that it wouldn’t happen again. What is the point of all this? The point is that in industry, just like in academia, we all make mistakes. These mistakes may cause more hassle or money loss in business cases but the main point is the same: turn the mistake into a positive learning experience and use it to improve the business in the long run.

3. Team Up:

I found that building a support network is essential to staying happy and productive at work. At first I thought of getting to know colleagues as an extra bonus to the job, similar to socializing and meeting new people back at university. However, I soon realized that this was an essential part of daily work. After all, they are the people who will be supporting you whilst you learn the ropes. Don’t put pressure on yourself to instantly befriend everyone in the office or know your manager’s life story,

but remember to make an effort! Show some gratitude when they offer help, listen, and learn as much as you can from them. Most of all, enjoy finding some great colleagues and friends amongst your industry team and work hard to support them too. For me, supporting the rest of my team is the most rewarding part of the job!

4. Priority Number 1:

You. Not the supervisor who asked you to stay late again. Not the client who asked for their lab report back 2 days early. You. Like with all areas of life, an industry role will come with added pressure from colleagues, clients, or even the animals we look after. This tip is a friendly but hugely important reminder to look after yourself and be your very own number one priority. Work hard and strive to succeed but never to the point of damaging your health. Try to find a clear divide between work time and relaxation time and escape the work bubble every once in a while – trust me you will come back refreshed and more driven than ever. Sometimes areas of work get to us and start to affect our mental health - find help and chat to someone if you need to, either a colleague you trust or someone external. The benefit of external help is that it comes with a fresh perspective and outlook on things. The benefit of speaking to a colleague is that they may have experienced similar pressures and be able to help or know someone within the organization who can help.

5. Enjoy the Challenge:

Looking back there were plenty of fantastic experiences working closely with farmers all over the UK, which I found really rewarding. At other times there was lots of pressure placed upon our small team, which made the role frustrating and difficult to navigate. Most of all though, the job was loads of fun, probably because it was so challenging at times and really pushed me out of my comfort zone. My final advice is to dive into your industry role headfirst, be confident in your skills and knowledge, learn from your mistakes and enjoy your successes!

Good Luck! (Not that you'll need it.)