Thriving in Industry: Key Lessons for Scientists with David Giltner, Ph.D.


This week’s episode features David Giltner, Ph.D. David is an accomplished figure in the field of technology commercialization, product development, and career design, with over two decades of experience in developing cutting-edge photonics technologies for commercial use.

In 2017, he founded Turning Science to provide training and support for scientists looking to transition into the private sector. David holds a BSS and PhD in physics and boasts seven patents in laser spectroscopy and optical communications.

David’s books, “Turning Science Into Things People Need” and “It’s a Game, not a Formula,” have been instrumental in guiding scientists through their career transitions.

Transitioning from Academia to Industry

We start by discussing David’s early career after earning his PhD. David highlights the challenges he faced when transitioning from academia to industry. He emphasizes the lack of guidance on careers outside academia and how he navigated this transition independently. David’s decision to work with lasers, a familiar field from his graduate work, led him to industry, where he contributed to the development of semiconductor laser technology. The presence of a highly educated workforce made the transition smoother, yet David admits he grappled with adapting his working habits from academic research to the corporate environment.

Preparing for a Career in the Private Sector

We then cover David’s advice for current PhD candidates interested in pursuing careers in the private sector. David stresses two major points: the importance of designing a career path and understanding the industry game. He outlines a five-step approach, highlighting the significance of identifying strengths, defining a target, and emphasizing the art of storytelling. Furthermore, David underscores the necessity of comprehending the industry dynamics to thrive in the corporate world.

Avoiding Common Mistakes in the Private Sector

David discusses common missteps scientists make when transitioning to the private sector and how to avoid them. He outlines three prevalent challenges. First, he observes that many PhD scientists enter the workforce feeling the need to prove themselves as the smartest person in the room, a mindset unsuited for teamwork. Second, he notes the tendency to lose sight of company priorities and get engrossed in curiosity-driven projects, contrary to the results-oriented nature of industry. Last, David highlights the struggle scientists face in making decisive recommendations, as academia’s emphasis on certainty clashes with the fast-paced decision-making required in the corporate sector.

David’s Books and Themes

We then shift the discussion towards David’s books, beginning with “Turning Science Into Things People Need.” David explains that the book emerged from his desire to provide guidance to scientists seeking rewarding careers outside academia. He then introduces his second book, “It’s a Game, not a Formula,” which serves as a playbook for succeeding in industry. David’s forthcoming third book promises to delve deeper into the diverse career paths scientists can pursue, including roles as employees, entrepreneurs, or collaborators between academia and industry.

Working Internationally: Cultural Considerations

We delve into the nuances of working with PhDs in industry, especially when it comes to international collaborations. David acknowledges social and communication customs vary globally, which can impact how scientists present themselves in interviews or collaborations. He emphasizes the power of storytelling as a universal tool to convey accomplishments without feeling like one is bragging. David encourages scientists to share experiences through narratives, allowing potential employers or collaborators to visualize their contributions effectively.

Upcoming Goals for 2024

Mark concludes the episode by discussing David’s goals for the upcoming year. Besides the release of his third book, David is eager to expand on two new workshops. The first focuses on building a scientific consultancy side gig, offering PhD candidates and postdocs opportunities to leverage their strengths. The second workshop, “Startup Basics for Scientists,” aims to demystify entrepreneurship for scientists considering venturing into the world of startups. David emphasizes the importance of understanding both the benefits and challenges of starting a company, highlighting the unique strengths scientists can bring to entrepreneurship.

Resources mentioned in the episode: David’s books

Turning Science Into Things People Need

It’s a Game, not a Formula