About 2018-10-05T02:13:17+00:00




Vay Cao, Ph.D.
Vay Cao, Ph.D.Founder
Research trainees and employees – graduate students, postdocs and academic research professionals – power scientific innovation. They are doers, thinkers, teachers, hackers, and dreamers, producing both incremental steps and quantum leaps that fuel discoveries big and small in diverse fields of study all around the world.

Although the vast majority of PhDs end up in “alternative” jobs, it remains a challenging transition. Many talented researchers struggle to navigate the job market with little preparation or support.

It’s confusing sifting through job postings, not sure what jobs are out there, and what’s right for you. It’s frustrating hunting through pages of blogs, hours of webinars, and countless books when what you’re searching for is the basic set of protocols and background literature to begin your job hunt. The job hunt gets depressing and desperate when hundreds of applications go unnoticed, or interviews never seem to result in an offer.

Adding to the logistical challenges are the many psychological barriers between scientists and society. These remain unspoken and unaddressed within many traditional graduate training and resources, leaving ambitious scientists siloed with a singular mindset. This negatively impacts our ability to open our perspectives and flex into new professions and industries.

My mission, and the mission of our advisors and advocates, is to Free Your PhD: to help you join us in the world outside of academia, because we don’t see the need for anyone else to struggle, flounder and stress like we did.

It’s time to make the change we want to see!

Laura Mariani, Ph.D.
Laura Mariani, Ph.D.Free the PhD Advisor
I received my Ph.D. in neuroscience from Emory University in 2016, and transitioned from academic research to executive search consulting.

I work with universities, healthcare systems, and other not-for-profit organizations to identify and recruit top leaders in medicine, research, and administration, including department chairs, deans, and directors of research. In graduate school, I developed broad interests in higher education leadership while serving on student government in multiple roles, including President of the Graduate Student Council. I also participated in a variety of science education, outreach, and advocacy activities, including an interdisciplinary teaching fellowship funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a science policy workshop on Capitol Hill sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Prior to starting graduate school, I worked as a research technician at Children’s Hospital Boston and did a combined BS/MS in neuroscience at Brandeis University.

Alice Cheng, Ph.D.
Alice Cheng, Ph.D.Free the PhD Advisor
Alice has a PhD in biomedical engineering from Georgia Tech, and works as a management consultant in the tech and healthcare industries. Alice is also passionate about public education and science communication–she hosts PhDizzle (pronounced P-H-dizzle) on YouTube, where she interviews PhDs and other advanced degree holders. The tagline of PhDizzle is “having fun with smart people who do cool things!” and their purpose is to highlight the careers and personalities of interesting people. Outside of work, Alice enjoys listening to hip hop music, eating free samples at Costco, and reading New Yorker cartoons.


  • National Institutes of Health Graduate Student Council – “PhDs in the Real World”

  • UC Berkeley – “An Evening with Biotech: Charting A Course Through Industry”

  • Stony Brook University, STRIDE Program – “Advancing Careers with Content”

  • SBP – Science Network La Jolla – Scientist Career Day



Neuroscience PhD to Medical Science Liaison

“During my postdoctoral fellowship I began exploring career opportunities outside of traditional academic career tracks. I eventually became interested in the medical science liaison role in the pharmaceutical industry as I thought it was an excellent balance of all my interests and utilized my training thus far.

Medical science liaison positions are notoriously difficult to obtain, even with industry experience but I had none. From the very beginning of the application process Vay coached me on techniques to break into industry and how to craft my interview skills for this process. I found her advice invaluable and truly feel that every step of my interview process went superbly well as a result of her advice. I can now happily say I landed a medical science liaison position at a dream-company for me and have Vay to thank.

I highly recommend anyone in grad school or in a postdoctoral position to consult with Vay about potential career tracks and help you realize how you can leverage your science training to much more than the bench.”

Steven L. Miller, Ph.D.
Medical Science Liaison at Greenwich Biosciences


Advice on application process | Interview coaching | Negotiation coaching

Steven L. Miller, Ph.D., Greenwich Biosciences

Neuroscience PhD to Senior Review Analyst

Emotional Support

“At my sixth year of postdoc training, I still haven’t wrapped up my research result for publication, and sensed a disadvantage if I keep going to pursue a job in academia.  Even though I felt the urgency to plan for my next career opportunity, I was afraid to explore unknown career options.

I was on the brink of my true career, and Vay push me forwards.”

Application Editing

“Vay tailored my CV or resume for each job that I applied, and edited my cover letters for email inquiries. Without her help, I cannot put all the information together to allow me to confidently search in the job market.

I landed on a real job not long after I took a detailee position Vay helped me apply for.  It was from a diagnostic company, and one of my informational interviewees was my internal reference.  The job interview was scheduled with short notice.  With so much previous practice, I handled it well.”

Negotiation Coaching

“I was initially offered a salary range lower than I expected.  I took the hiring manager’s explanation as I didn’t have the exact job experience.  However, Vay pushed me to step up for myself as my research experience is a perfect match for the job.   She helped me with my negotiation email in a professional way, not too aggressive since I really like the job; not too timid as I am confident that my experience fit well.

The company re-offered me with a higher salary and with this offer, I finally finished my long-term postdoc training and moved to a real job that I have never thought I would do.”

Yizhou Ye, Ph.D.
Senior Analyst, Gene Dx


Advice on the role and likely responsibilities | Interview coaching | Negotiation coaching | English editing & coaching

Yizhou Ye, Ph.D., Gene DX

Neuroscience PhD, to Scientific Director Offer

Confidence Boost

“I got a clear plan with action steps, a timeline, and confidence that what I was doing was the right path. She helped me evaluate my experience and abilities in a way that helped me prove my worth to myself.”

Salary Negotiation

“The company initially offered me a rate that was much lower than what I wanted.  Vay helped me clearly identify how much I would take and therefore how much I should ask for in my negotiations.  I ended up asking for more than what I thought I should have initially.  The organization came back at me with the exact number I was looking for.  Vay helped me with my email back to the organization and gave me the next steps to take.”

Kristen K, Ph.D.  Received offer for Scientific Director at Cure CMD.


Advice on the role and likely responsibilities | Interview coaching | Negotiation coaching

Kristen K, PhD., received offer for Scientific Director, Cure CMD

Why Free the PhD

“Chance favors only the prepared mind.” – Lois Pasteur

• What jobs are available for PhDs? • How do I start the transition into another career? • How are industry or other careers different from academia? • How do I network and what should I do when I reach out? • Why am I not getting any interviews? • I want a real paycheck and benefits to support the life I want; what should I do next?

- It's time to Free your PhD! -

• Impactful writing & storytelling to clearly explain exactly what you need to know
• Finally get the big picture: learn and explore how segments of the “real world” differ from academia, and from each other
• Boost your confidence and get psychological support for your transition
• See what it’s like on the other side of the hiring table
• Get a practical look into careers to explore, how these roles function in the organization, and how they sustain career satisfaction and personal growth within:
-biotech, pharma
-tech & startups
-science publishing
-non-research academic
• Organized, practical, actionable frameworks for success
-checklists and tools to help you narrow down the right kinds of jobs for you
-evolving your professional identity for any kind of job application
-specific ways to network and short-cut the job hunt
-how to interview and negotiate with confidence

Join the Free the PhD Community!


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