Academia–Industry Transitions: Q & A with Kim Dalby

Many geochemists have transitioned from academia to industry, or vice-versa, during their careers, and sometimes back again or more than once. The EAG Communications Committee recently interviewed geochemists who made the move, to find out how they made the transition and to ask their advice for others in the community who may be considering a similar change.


Here, we hear from Dr. Kim Nicole Dalby, Principal Scientist at Topsoe A/S. Visit the EAG blog to read more interviews in the series!


Dr. Kim Nicole Dalby – Principal Scientist, Topsoe A/S

What is your job?

My job title changed from Associate Professor to Principal Scientist 4 years ago, but my job remains largely the same – I use scanning electron microscopy to probe the chemical and physical properties of solids to help understand reaction pathways. Now I am part of a team, with several microscopes, who support the R&D side of the company. I also have collaborations with Universities and am still able to publish science (not that I think publications should be used as a metric for a successful academic career, but that is a whole other conversation…).


How did you get your job?

This is a fun little story. I used to say I was “lucky” but after confronting my imposter syndrome I realise it all happened because I was qualified. I had been in academia my entire career (since 2002), and I became interested in Industry later on (ca. 2010), specifically how Industry and Academia communicated. So when a one-year maternity-leave position in microscopy came up at a private company, I asked if I could take a sabbatical and applied and landed the position. During my sabbatical, my entire research section was fired from the University. With a couple of months to go on my one-year contract, the company offered me a full-time position. I accepted and have never looked back.

Did you initially plan on this career at the onset of your PhD?

Absolutely not. I wanted to be that old, grey-haired professor in a giant wing-back chair with leather elbow patches and a pipe. I now have the pipe, and the knowledge that you can also have a very rewarding scientific career in a private company.


What advice do you have for PhD students who are thinking of leaving academia?

It is a myth that leaving University is a one-way street. The door between Industry and Academia swings both ways and is more open (in my opinion) than ever before. But the transition can be messy, and I would lie if I said I didn’t have days in the beginning where I felt like a failure because I didn’t make it to full professor. But my cheer squad and my experience has shown that academia is like any other job and (if you are privileged enough) you should leave if it is not treating you well.

Interview conducted by the EAG Communications Committee.