Free the PhD

By Leah Cannon posted 07-03-2017 08:51


The thought of transitioning to a non-academic job can be very scary for a lot of scientists. At Life Science Network, we want to make it easier by highlighting people and resources that can help you make the jump. This week I spoke with Vania Cao, founder of Free the PhD about how she can help scientists move out of the lab.

What is Free the PhD?

So many talented and ambitious PhDs are looking for opportunities to make an impact with their education, background and personality, yet feel stuck at the end of their training periods.  Free the PhD is a program I founded to support fellow scientists with their transitions into society after they’re ready to leave the bench. 

During my own PhD, I had coached fellow graduate students and postdocs on their job applications and interviews, and found it extremely rewarding to see them become more confident, learn how to self-advocate, and start careers in places where they felt they were making an impact.  Free the PhD is my passion project outside of my day job, because I have not forgotten how the job hunt can be a lonely and stressful experience.  Many scientists might have few resources available to support them emotionally and tactically as they branch out to explore their options.  I want to change that, and that’s what Free the PhD is all about.

How does it work?

Free the PhD is currently a resource collective for high quality, practical and honest advice and guides on topics relevant to scientists’ personal and professional growth.  There are many conflicting resources out there for how to approach the job hunt and careers, but few strategically address the tactical, psychological and emotional realities of our situation.  After reading the top books on PhDs transitions, job searches, interviewing and business, listening to countless career lectures, talks and webinars, and interviewing over a hundred PhDs in various career paths, I wanted to distill the important concepts, guides and stories in one place.

What does your ‘Ultimate Career Transformation for Scientists’ course teach scientists?

The Ultimate Career Transformation for Scientists course is a self-paced online lecture series that lays out the background literature and protocol, so to speak, for a structured, informed job hunt.  There is a logical progression through the job hunt process with guidelines, worksheets and frameworks to break down commonly used terms into relevant contexts for scientists.  We discuss and dismantle psychological barriers, assumptions and expectations that hold scientists back from clearly articulating their value outside academia.  Some topics include how to think about various careers when you’re not sure what you want to do; what networking actually means and how to do it effectively; how to create impactful application materials; how to prepare for your interview, and what to expect during negotiations.  The earlier people arm themselves with this information, the easier and more mobile they will become as they begin their next step.  I will be continuing to add more materials and resources as we go, and hope to get more participation from fellow scientists on both sides of their transition!

Do you do any in-person events?

Yes!  I’ve been involved in career seminars at a number of institutions.  I’m always happy to learn about new opportunities to engage and empower PhDs, so please reach out and let me know how I can help!

How can people learn more?

They can visit, or feel free to message me on LinkedIn!

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