Welcome to Free the PhD
Find the Job. Get the Job. Own the job. Love Your Life as a PhD.

Free the PhD

About Free the PhD

Breaking Open the Black Box of PhD Careers

Free the PhD is a career development and advocacy platform for PhDs who want to learn more about the world outside academia, and for PhDs who have left academia, but still desire a community of like-minded people.  We grow with you as you grow in your life and career! 

It can be lonely in the lab - and it can be lonely in the cubical, so we welcome all academics who are interested in staying connected to their research roots and building a strong, supportive and collaborative community.

If you're frustrated with your mentor - this is the place to chat about it.  If you're not getting interviews, let's troubleshoot and get you back on track.  If you're struggling with a work situation - let's put our heads together and strategize!

The Free the PhD mission is to empower and support fellow researchers on the life journeys that are right for each individual, and encourage each other to make the impacts we are each uniquely suited to make in the world.  

Some of us will lead companies, and some of us will lead households. All are equally important and valuable, and it's time we stop feeling afraid, ashamed or unsure of our next steps.  With your help and contributions, Free the PhD is a place to learn, grow and meet your full potential!

Can't wait to see you there!

-Vay Cao, Ph.D. Founder of Free the PhD

Why You Should Join Us

It's time for PhDs to take their futures into their own hands. Get ready for the job market early - get training and hands-on exercises and resume-building experiences, and obtain advice and moral support to live the kind of life you want with your degree and research experience. 

We are a knowledge database where you will find bite-sized, manageable lessons, along with candid, honest and practical discussions and Q&As with fellow PhDs who have already successfully transitioned and wish to mentor others.

We proudly offer the Ultimate Career Transition Program for Scientists (and other Academics), hosted right inside the Free the PhD Community.  As a member of the Free the PhD Community, you have free access to this 3 Module self-paced course with videos, guides, templates and social support.

You will get access to:

Module 1: Getting Ready for the Job Hunt

  • How to analyze the professional world to find the right next step for you - what almost every PhD doesn't do - to their detriment!
  • How to manage your time and PhD transition expectations as you enter the job hunt, especially when juggling research and life responsibilities.
  • Tools on how to help yourself schedule your work time and career activities - with built-in accountability in the Community!
  • Job Exploration topics with career-specific advice and details about different industries and jobs within them, so you can make an informed decision about your job application focus.
    • Includes information about best practices, software platforms, analysis methodologies, metrics of success, why employers care and other on-the-job expectations when applicable!
  • Transferable skills explained in context - everyone knows the buzzwords like "communication" and "time management".  But can you show how you demonstrate them in a targeted, relevant way to employers? We'll demystify this concept once and for all.
  • Vital academia -> outside world mindset changes that MUST happen if you are to be successful on your job hunt.
  • How to use real project management tools recognized outside academia to begin structuring your job hunt as a project you can practice managing.

Module 2: Find the Job

  • See real examples of multiple PhD career paths, from junior level positions to Founders and CEOs - and how they made their jumps.
  • The single most effective framework to evaluate what jobs are out there, including analyzing job titles and quickly understanding the requirements for any given role.  
    • Hint: we usually only consider one of 7+ categories of jobs right out of academia - don't cheat yourself out of all of your options!
  • How to decide what kinds of jobs are the right kind for you - a unique individual, based on your skillsets, preferences and what employers are looking for.
  • How to reverse engineer job postings - and even predict what they might need so you can position yourself as the most valuable candidate for the job.
  • How to structure your resume, cover letters and reach-outs for networking. We provide networking templates and scripts you can personalize for your conversations and informational interviews.
  • LinkedIn guides to ensure your first digital impression to employers is accurate and attractive. If all you've been told to do is to post 2-3 job titles you want in your LinkedIn profile, ask to connect with other academics, and ask other academics for recommendations, maybe it's time to try something new that actually works on hiring managers.
  • How to get experience, hands-on, for the jobs you want - this unique perspective is offered nowhere else, yet will give you the biggest return on your investment for your job hunt.  It will take work and time, but you can help yourself "qualify" for any job with the right guidance, and we can give it to you because we've been there!
  • A detailed informational interview protocol - providing you with specific questions and expected answers to get each time so you don't waste your time or theirs.

Module 3: Get the Job

  • Templates for your cover letters and resumes - structured in a framework that lets you deeply personalize your materials in a targeted way for the right audience in less than 10 minutes - and we will help you if you get stuck!
  • How to change the way you think so you don't self-sabotage during interviews - super important and not usually discussed openly.
  • How to practice for interviews (and get the opportunity to practice your interview with feedback)
  • How to be confident, genuine and irresistible on your job interviews.
  • What to negotiate for once you have an offer.

Module 4 (bonus!): Own the Job 

  • How to get started on your next job with the right attitude, tools and workplace expectations, setting you up for success (and avoiding bad situations!) as you begin creating your own future at your new organization.
  • What to expect from new workplaces, including how to detect and manage bad bosses and toxic work cultures - the #1 reasons PhDs might have a poor work first experience that ruins their career advancement.
  • How to take full, strategic advantage of your next career step so you advance quickly and don't repeat mistakes from your previous life.
  • And much more based on your feedback and needs!

In addition, we will consistently be adding new content and courses for getting started on the right foot once you start your new job!

We meet you where you are, to help you get where you want to go next. You won't need to read another job hunt book or article after this course and participating in the the Free the PhD Community - because it incorporates knowledge from all the top resources and real world experiences in a clear and impactful way!

Most importantly, we help you brainstorm strategic ways to get hands-on experience desired by employers. Nothing can replace the power and value of real-world experience - not paid certificates, not expensive training courses, and not even networking - if you ultimately don't have what it takes to qualify for a job.

Relevant experience is the universal key into any job, and we will assist you in figuring out how to get it, your way.

Stop feeling stumped or stuck in your life or career, and start taking action for the life you want to live!

Feedback from Free the PhD Fans

Free the PhD Career Transitions and Career Development

Neuroscience PhD to Senior Review Analyst

“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.

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


Epigenetics PhD to Program Manager

"I was trapped in a terrible job and was sending resumes out, left and right, but they just seemed to be falling off the face of the earth.

I had a long list of skills, experience and education, but it didn’t seem to matter and I couldn’t figure out why the response was so poor.

Vay helped me construct a resume that was more attractive to employers, and explained WHY my applications never seemed to be reaching human reviewers; under her guidance, I finally managed to secure a challenging, satisfying new position with a significantly better salary and work-life balance.

It was amazing to see how seemingly-small, targeted changes made a tremendous difference in employer response, and this is the kind of information that only an expert can provide.

Vay was always interested and invested in my success, and it was a genuine pleasure to work with her. I fully recommend her services to anyone who feels lost in their job search, or just needs to update their applicant profile to get an edge.”

-P.C. Ph.D., Genomics Program Manager

Neuroscience PhD to Scientific Director Offer

“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."

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

Neuroscience PhD to Medical Science Liaison (MSL)

"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

Biomedical Science PhD to Academia Manager at 23 & Me

"Vay is an amazing career coach. She coached me through the interview process as I was transitioning from my doctorate studies to my biotech job. The world of academic research and the world of corporations can be very different and it can be challenging to navigate.

I love having Vay as my supporter. I often share with her my challenges and my accomplishments and it's very valuable for me to have a coach, who has gone through a similar process, as she can easily relate to my experiences and the emotions that come along with such a journey.

Her advice is always on-point, effective, and best of all, delivered in a kind and gentle way. She is a great listener and helps me identify the core values that matter to me.

I highly recommend her to anyone who would like to make the transition from graduate studies/academia to the professional/industry arena."

-Thao Do, Ph.D.

Education and Academia Marketing Manager, 23 & Me


Cell Biology Ph.D. to Scientist and Business Development Coordinator

"When finishing my Ph.D. in Cell Biology, I started looking for a new position and was immediately overwhelmed by conflicting advice and general pessimism about finding options outside of academia as a fundamental scientist in a small lab and an international student. 

Additionally, many competing deadlines (writing papers and thesis, handing off my lab, moving, looking for jobs) seemed impossible to manage. Free the PhD and my advisor Vay Cao helped me to get the chaos under control and find a job of my dreams while staying sane in the process. 

Having a supporter during my job hunt was extremely valuable. Discussing my experiences with someone extremely knowledgeable, positive and impartial allowed me to stay sane during a high-pressure, high-paced job hunt. 

I am particularly grateful for the very much needed emotional support and for many instances when Vay helped me with wording things the right way for interviews and professional communication.

I am so stoked about my job! As a Scientist and Business Development Coordinator in a bioprinting startup I spend some time in the lab supporting our cell biology team. The business side of my job entails doing market analysis, competitive intelligence research and due diligence work as an in-house market research consultant. It is a great mix of staying close to science while learning about broader applications of biomedical technology every day.

One of the things I love the most about [Free the PhD] is that it gives equal value to multiple career options (unlike say Cheeky Scientist’s heavy-handed selling of industry positions). With FreeThePhD one can confidently chart their own course inside or outside academia and get the support they need no matter what is their career path." 


"Thank you so much for your support during this long, long half a year of job search! It was an invaluable experience."

Free the PhD is for Post-Transition Career Success, Mentoring and Advancement too!

For those of us who have already transitioned into a new career - or are transitioning again - we may already feel the learning curve and pain of figuring out a completely new work environment on our own.

Managing workplace culture, ways to deal with stress, evaluating project opportunities, managing workplace relationships with bosses, peers and direct reports, and strategically positioning yourself for advancement, promotions or a new transition into a new opportunity - these issues are rarely addressed during our PhD or postdoc years.  

If you want to discuss these topics with others who understand where you're coming from - Free the PhD is also the place for you!

Have an opportunity to give back to fellow PhDs who are on their transitions or early careers through mentorship opportunities - and share your unique experiences with others who could benefit from the path you took.

Join a supportive, experienced community of people who will help you take your career where you want to go! 

Looking forward to seeing you there!

-Vay Cao, Ph.D.

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