Ideas & Inspiration

Parag Mahanti: Career insecurity and navigating life outside of a PhD

Life Sprint speaks to… Parag Mahanti

Dr Parag Mahanti has an impressive resume. With a PhD in Organic Chemistry, the current Director of Investor Relations at Novartis Pharmaceuticals and co-founder of The Grad Grid networking group, Parag’s skills and knowledge are in demand. So we were incredibly fortunate to have Parag take time out of his busy schedule to speak to Rakesh and Matt about how he provides career clarity for PhD students and why an academic researcher's life isn't a good fit for everyone with a PhD.

According to new research from OECD, despite the shortage of permanent jobs in academia, universities still largely focus on preparing researchers for academia. Parag’s invaluable advice and insights from his own journey helps postdocs and PhD students around the world prepare for the job market and navigate life outside academia.

If you’re looking for guidance on your own PhD journey, here are our key takeaways:

Initially, Parag was going to become an academic professor, as he thought this was the natural next step of PhD. During his journey, he discovered these things about himself that eventually led to his career pivot: 

  • He did not like spending all his time in a lab.
  • He is very extroverted and the life of a PhD/postdoc can be quite lonely. 
  • His best research papers came out of collaboration with others because he loves talking to and connecting with people.

While Parag did not conduct any career experiments, he did unconsciously test different pathways by:

  • Doing internships, both paid and unpaid (however there can be barriers such as visas for international students).
  • Joining the consulting club at university. This club entered many competitions, which became a great networking opportunity to meet the judges and consultants at big firms. Alternatively, he advised that you can build a club if your university does not have one.
  • Practice explaining your research in a few lines and to help you define the market size of your area of expertise. 
  • Volunteering at conferences.

As a researcher, it should be natural to apply the same scientific experimental mindset to your career as you do to your research. But Parag admits that academia is often put on a pedestal and PhDs don’t worry too much about careers. Why?

  • PhD students don’t spend enough time thinking about their career options. They need to be more introspective about their future wants and needs. 
  • Academic inertia - there are often very few external forces urging PhD students to change their academic pathway.
  • There is no active process of guidance from professors or universities. 

Becoming an expert in your area of research is not how industries look at your experience. Parag started The Grad Grid because he believes many more resources are needed to help PhD students navigate the job market. Here are the questions to ask yourself if you are looking to transition out of academia:

  • What are the jobs I can get outside of a PhD?
  • Who do I talk to? (this is where Grad Grid came in) 
  • How do I apply for these jobs?
  • And how do I prepare for these jobs? 

Parag’s quick tips:

  • Create a decision tree. This is instrumental in clearly laying out your thoughts. 
  • Start asking yourself questions about your future by the third year of your studies. 
  • Talk to as many people as you possibly can. 
  • Writing a good resume takes about 3 months. 
  • All skills are transferable but you need to understand your target audience. For example when applying for a job in industry, you must focus on the numbers. The company wants to know what impact you have had, not the depths of your research.

Parag was incredibly thankful to Life Sprint for the opportunity to speak to such an engaged group of PhD students, and says more interactive opportunities like this should be facilitated. If you have an idea for an event or want to hear more about a specific career topic, we’d love to hear from you!

Additional Resources & Further Reading:

Check out the following PhD resources and books Parag recommended:

  • The Grad Grid: LinkedIn Networking Group 
  • PhD Career Guide: Website 
  • PhD Coffee Time: YouTube Channel
  • The McKinsey Mind | Ethan M. Rasiel (for more info on decision trees) 
  • The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking | Barbara Minto (effective communication) 
  • Case In Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation | Marc P. Cosentino (understanding consulting)


About Parag Mahanti PhD
Scientist by education, musician by passion, curious by inclination. Parag started off his career as a research scientist, obtaining his PhD in Chemistry and Chemical Biology from Cornell University. Understanding the obstacles that international students face and beginning to question his own academic trajectory, Parag moved into life sciences strategy consulting before landing in pharma strategy at Novartis Pharmaceuticals. Passionate about motivating PhD students to explore and pursue non-academic careers, in 2016 he started the The Grad Grid community with the explicit intention of sharing resources and advice on career networking, and to help people connect outside of their lab. 

About Life Sprint
Life Sprint
is a four-week process for tackling career stuckness. Inspired by design thinking and coaching theory, Life Sprint has been designed to help reframe career challenges, identify obstacles and take small but powerful steps toward a better life.

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