Academia vs. industry – making the transition

As universities gear up for the new academic semester, half a million graduates* across the United Kingdom will either frantically be looking for a new job or in the process of starting one. As they kick off their new career experience, they will quickly realise the tools and knowledge acquired at university don’t always transition seamlessly to their new role.

It is a moment a lot of veteran graduates can relate to. I remember my first day when my new boss placed hundreds upon hundreds of paper files on my desk and told me to sort them into a coherent filing structure – a situation my Master in Management didn’t prepare me for. However, the grit and determination to get through my Master served me well at the time.

Thrown in at the deep end
It is an eye-opening experience, the transition from school or higher education – which has a highly optimised curriculum, run against a strictly defined timetable and delivered by leading experts in their field – to land all of a sudden in a business environment with multiple ways of working, lots of complex internal and external relationships of influence and forever changing timelines (not applicable in all circumstances, especially at Luminous!). For graduates, this is the biggest challenge to overcome, often referred to as being thrown in at the deep end.

The role of academia – and when it’s ok to break the rules
Looking at my specific subject matter of expertise, project management, which is a technical profession, the role of academia plays a vital role in my day-to-day work. It provides me with the tools and techniques needed to make good business decisions, based on tried and tested methodology, as well as facilitating a level of consistency required by the industry.

When deployed in practice, academia helps us to structure a framework around a project, but often we break a few rules and leverage personal experience to develop an optimum methodology which will allow us to achieve the project’s objectives. This activity is referred to as transformation, which is the process of taking existing practice/learnings and using it to develop a new methodology in order to achieve a benefit to the business, usually longer term, usually financial. As you acquire more experience and knowledge over your career, your ability to develop more complex transformative processes and to deliver them at a larger scale become more attuned and thus more valuable to the business you work for or even your own business.

Cultivating new talent
While this summation is slightly oversimplified and condenses many years of personal development into a handful of sentences, it should be stated that there is a general lack of academia embedded within organisational cultures. This is often a difficult challenge for graduates during the transition process, as the training offered, if any at all, is often inadequate and doesn’t cultivate their talents to the benefit of the business until at least their second year of career development. In addition, the internal culture of a business also suffers due to this lack of academia within business practices, as many bad habits formed early in graduates’ careers can continue through their later careers.

Aim for success
In summary, making the transition from academia to industry and then to transformation is about learning what rules you can break and which ones you cannot. My personal advice to anyone who wants to succeed in their profession is to make sure you constantly absorb information (academic or practical), to always be open to new ideas and work collaboratively with your peers. On top of adopting this mantra, the development of communication and administration skills are vital for your success within any organisation. For me, academia is a foundation for your future success – it was extremely worthwhile and it becomes very apparent later in your career, opening many doors to new and exciting opportunities.


*HESAHigher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2016/17 – Qualifications achieved


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Christian Barnes

Christian works closely with with Luminous' Digital Engagement Director, Dominic Moore, to shape the digital delivery experience throughout the agency in line with industry best practice.