Wondering how to start the transition into industry after completing your PhD? Seeking more information from people that are pursuing the same career path?

Check out our interview with Maria, who works as a postdoc within Nestlé, at the EPFL campus (Lausanne).

Katia Monsorno and Nagammal Neelagandan, on behalf of BSNL

Maria João Lima, Post-doc/Associate specialist, Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences
  • Hi Maria! Thank you very much for agreeing to share your experience with us! Can you tell us about what you did before joining Nestlé and about your background?

Sure! I graduated in Biochemistry at the University of Lisbon, in Portugal. Then I moved to the University of Aberdeen to start a PhD in Regenerative Medicine, where I worked to develop new cell therapy approaches for diabetes. After that, I did three years of postdoc before joining Nestlé in 2017, again as a postdoc. The approach I was using was very similar to my background, because the project aimed to establish a new model for diabetes, that could be used also for other internal projects and for testing nutritional interventions.

  • How did you get to know about the position at that time? And which kind of positions are usually found within Nestlé?

I got to know about the position through a Researchgate alert. The advertisements are usually found also on LinkedIn and on the internet website, but they are not that common. I guess you have to be coming with the right skills at the right time. 

Within Nestlé there are both PhD and postdoc positions, which are allocated on the different internal projects.

  • How was the selection process for your first position?

The first stage of the selection was online: pre-recorded questions were asked and my answers were automatically recorded. Then, the second step involved having an interview with the manager, with the group and with few other group leaders. I also had to present my previous work.

  • Can you tell us more about the research that is done within the company and how it is structured?

Oh well, there is a lot of research going on at Nestlé. Most of it is located in Lausanne, but there are two main sites: the Innovation Park – at the EPFL campus – and Vers-chez-les-Blanc. The two sites comprise several research institutes including Packaging, Food Safety and Analytical Sciences and an R&D Accelerator where new ideas are fast developed. There is also a Clinical Research Unit where clinical trials are conducted. I work at the EPFL site, and specifically in the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences, in the cell biology department. The communication between the different institutes is quite easy, you can just contact people whenever needed. We also have regular department meetings. The environment is very international and the official working language is English.

  • Is there any interest in more basic research within the company?

Oh yes! I consider what I am doing at the moment is basic research. I am currently establishing new models for diabetes research, which other academic labs around the world are trying to do.

  • What is the typical day at work?

That really depends on the position you have within the company and the project you are working on. I spend my time in meetings, preparing presentations to share my results, and in the lab.

  • Do you have to write regular reports as part of your work? 

We do reports at the end of the project, but mostly we have presentations, I think the biggest challenge for me, coming from academia, is really to communicate our research to the Nestlé business. But this is actually good, because it allows you to learn how to communicate with people that don’t have your background.

  • What are in your experience the main differences between the academic and the industrial research environments?

I would say that the main difference is publishing. It is still considered important, since one of our objectives is to disseminate science, but it’s not the ultimate goal. We need to carefully consider publication in the context of the business’ needs, and ensure IP protection where needed before we broadly communicate our scientific results. I would also say that in general the work in industrial research is more fast-paced.

  • What about attending conferences? How much interaction do you have with academia?

Before COVID, every scientist would be entitled to go conferences.

  • What happens if your project is not relevant for the business anymore and your contract is going to expire?

Within the company, you can get training and change into other kinds of positions or projects, that fit your interests. There are several paths you could take within Nestlé, and the company encourages you to take training every year.

  •  Do you have any advice for people that would like to apply for a position in Nestlé?

For joining Nestlé at first, I would recommend setting up alerts or to directly ask people you know about available positions, because sometimes advertisements are published internally first.

  • In your experience, what skills do you think are particularly needed for a successful transition for academia to industry?

That really depends on the position that you are applying for. As a general rule I think it is important to have a solid background in your field of expertise and good communication skills.

We thank Maria for agreeing to be interviewed by us. We hope it has been helpful for many of you!

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