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The world outside academia

23 April 2020

Careers Outside Academia

For this lab meeting, I invited three former MeaseyLab members who have now left academia and gone into the wonderful world of work. Each left at a different level and has been employed in a different work sector. To prepare for the meeting, each was asked to think of skills that they had gained during their time in academia and how this has (or hasn’t) prepared them for the work that they do now.

I’ve chosen to produce a table to list their responses. I’ve also allowed them to edit what I’ve written here.


Alex Rebelo

Mohlamatsane Mokhatla

Ana Nunes

Left MeaseyLab

MSc 2016

PhD 2018

Post Doc 2017

Current employer: job title

Enviro Insight: junior specialist

SANParks: Scientist - Social Ecological Systems

IUCN: Programme Support Associate (Invasive Species)





Current tasks

Field work

Report writing

GIS work

Social ecological systems

Ecosystem services

Cultural ecosystem services

Amphibian monitoring Garden Route NP

Working on projects:

EU regulation on invasive species

Import regulations on soil

Humane ways of managing vertebrate species

Invasion impacts on pollinators

EICAT implementation





Skills gained in academia

Working in unfamiliar field sites in adverse conditions

People skills

Report writing


Report writing

Analytical skills

How to start on a new topic from scratch


GIS work

Data management

Data management



Correlative & Mechanistic modelling

Presenting data with graphs & statistics



Communication of scientific results to a mixed audience of stakeholders

Time management skills



Learning to learn


Key Insights

Here is a list of key insights that our team shared (together with some from Jonathan Bell - NCC). They are in no particular order, but each one probably deserves a lot more information. 

  • The importance of the networks that they had made during their times as academics. In addition, the importance of how to manage and grow a network.
  • Many jobs these days involve project work, and include generating the funding from donors as well as completing the project and writing the report. Post graduate degrees really help with learning how to start, manage, and complete projects.
  • Although papers and citations gained during academic life won’t help with some jobs, they allow flexibility in the job market (potentially to re-join academia). They also demonstrate your ability to write. More papers are likely to improve your chances and some jobs include writing research papers as part of the job.
  • Employers are interested in the experience and skills that you’ve acquired during your academic work. Instead of just listing papers you need to sell what you’ve done in cover letters and interviews:
    • What kind of experience do you have with invasive species?
    • Do you understand about management of invasive species?
    • Do you have good organisational skills?
    • Have you done fieldwork?
    • Have you managed students (particularly important as you might be required to manage personell in your new position)?
  • Regardless of your academic background, you should expect to enter into your job at quite a junior level or even as an intern, and then work your way up
  • Employers are looking for ‘emotional intelligence’ (the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you). They will expect you to be a good team member, work with different stakeholders and clients. Conflict management skills are important.
  • In South Africa, if you are going into a process specialist role (e.g. Environmental Assessment Practitioner)you should think of becoming registered with respective (EAPASA or SACNASP)
  • You might not need to wait for a job advert. Use your contacts and write to people who are employers
  • You might need to become ‘comfortable with feeling uncomfortable’: your work might be so different from what you’ve done before that you should and you should be able to adapt
  • There are expectations from employers that you will meet challenges that your employers place before you (and not shy away)
  • You might need to get used to different working cultures that are meeting focussed (even when you have meetings about having meetings)
  • The working culture might not be static, and could change with the replacement of a manager or director.
  • If you are employed by a governmental agency, it will be expected that you are accountable to your employers as well as the public that pays through their taxes
  • The position you are employed in will likely involve you constantly acquiring new skills, such that you feel like more of a student then when you were studying. This really adds to the interest in the working life, and allows you to meet new and unexpected challenges.
  • New subjects and other areas might be well outside your expertise, but can be just as rewarding once you rise to meet the challenges.
  • Jobs outside academia are especially challenging in working out how to apply the results of scientific studies.
  • Your employers might expect you to conceive your projects, as well as carrying them out.
  • You are expected to be an authority in your work, and interpret your results with reasonable confidence

It was a very illuminating session, and I think that there was a lot of interesting to and fro between current and former lab members. Although none of these former lab members were present together with current lab members, they are still part of the MeaseyLab network, and you can use them! The alumni pages have contact details of all former MeaseyLab members, and where they are working now (I’ll try to keep them up to date, but let me know if they aren’t). Also, don’t forget the the CIB has a far bigger network with hundreds of alumni. It’s worth asking me (Dave or Sarah) about past alumni if you are looking for someone in a particular organisation. Your link with the CIB is very valuable, and you should use it.

Thanks again to Alex, Mac & Ana for making this meeting so interesting and informative. 

Next week, we are going to follow this format again, but this time talk about how to stay in academia.

  Frogs  Lab  meetings
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