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Exit — Luis Toledo, a highly recognised researcher at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, is rewriting his CV and orienting it towards the private sector. There is too much work pressure at university.
Luis Toledo is now leaving the university world.
For seven years an associate professor and group leader of the Toledo group at the University of Copenhagen, he does research on how cells solve the challenges that arise when human DNA replicates itself.
Luis Toledo is proud of his scientific achievements since 2016. But there are aspects of the job that he can no longer live with. The job anxiety has started to take over.
»It is the constant struggle to be successful and comply with all the requirements and metrics. And then there is the uncertainty that is always there in academia. That is why I am stopping,« he says.
According to Luis Toledo, academics nowadays are constantly required to be at the forefront of their field and have scientific articles published in recognised scientific journals. This at the same time as having to find more and more external funding for their own research. Over time, this has led to a feeling of anxiety and uncertainty in him, he says:
»We are alone with our thoughts on how we can live up to all these metrics. We can talk to our colleagues about it. But at the end of the day, we are left alone with all the uncertainty and all our problems in finding funding and getting results.«
Luis Toledo leaves a system that, in his words, is hierarchical, and where there is only one way forward: Up the career ladder.
Now, the research group leader has started looking for a job in the pharmaceutical industry. And he will emphasize other qualities when he presents himself.
His new CV will tell a story about who he has worked with, what he is good at, what personality he has, and especially what he dreams of doing in the future — all so he can put his skills to work for a company in the private sector.
»I don’t have a job yet,« says Luis Toledo, who ends his position at the University of Copenhagen on 1 September 2023.
Luis Toledo has authored many cited articles in leading international journals and has made significant discoveries within his field of research.
He has been an associate professor at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and has managed postdocs from six different nationalities and has represented the University of Copenhagen at several international conferences.
He has received funding from prestigious European research funds.
Luis Toledo has decided to quit before he has found a new job. He was concerned that his own fear of change would get him to stay.
Now there is no way back.
»I am still in the process of finding out what is to be included in my CV. I am trying to find out how to describe what I have enjoyed working with. I am specifically looking at all the experiences I’ve had and who I’ve had them with – rather than focusing on the results I’ve achieved,« he says.
According to Luis Toledo, an academic’s CV consists solely of bibliometric parameters: What have you published in articles and in which journals, and how much funding have you brought home?
»This is something that has worn me down. And this is even though they are the same parameters that have opened doors for me in the past,« says Luis Toledo.
He emphasises that his experiences in academia are not only bad.
He mentions that he has had fantastic colleagues through the years that he is delighted to have met, and who have taught him a lot.
In the midst of the competitive university environment, according to Luis Toledo, there is a kind of altruism among academics that makes them very helpful if someone asks for help.
But he believes that too many remain at university for too long, because it seems safe. And because many people are unaware that it is only the fear of the unknown that is holding them back.
You have to be a good administrator, mentor, manager, teacher and communicator. And to succeed, you need to work non-stop.
»99 per cent of those who start a PhD don’t end up as professors. So they will have to move on at some point. But they still perceive academia as a one-track access to a job as a scientist. This is instead of perceiving it as a period of time where you learn a lot of new things, after which you go on to a job outside. This happens to almost everyone in the end,« says Luis Toledo and continues:
»It was really liberating fro me when I, six months ago, started to think about leaving the university. It was certainly liberating for me to imagine moving into a different world where the actual work is appreciated, not just the technical metrics.«
Luis Toledo has come to realize that to succeed outside academia, you need to learn a lot of new things. He has almost started from scratch:
»When I see a job posting for a position at a department at the university, I already have an instinctive ability to, within a few seconds, interpret whether this is an interesting position – whether it is a place I want to work,« says Luis Toledo.
He does not have the same strong intuition of what a position in the pharmaceutical industry entails.
»Industry is a completely different world – with different implicit rules and codes. In academia, you have your metrics, your discoveries, and your grants that define your value. In industry, you have to show who you are as a person, and especially what you have a passion for. Because at the end of the day, this is the one thing that says something about how good you are at your next job,« says Luis Toledo.
That’s why he’s now rewriting his CV:
»You have to get out there and talk to others. You might be talking at a party with a key person who can’t give you a job right now in this particular company, but then perhaps in the future. Or someone knows someone else who might be interested in hiring someone with your profile in another company. And then you also have the option of getting yourself a coach.«
Luis Toledo is a successful researcher on paper, and it may surprise you that he has often felt inadequate. But this is due to the way academia is structured, he says:
»I often compare myself to other researchers of my own age. And I say to myself: Jeez! I’m really nothing compared to them. In the distorted world where metrics and personal sympathies mean so much, we humans are psychologically fragile, and we find it easy to feel like a failure.«
It was when he became group leader that he really started to feel the pressure to constantly perform.
»There is a requirement for group leaders that they should be able to push the pedal to the metal. They have to do everything quickly if they want to stay in the job. They need to, in particular, be able to keep a focus on publishing articles and getting funding for research. But they have to, at the same time, be able to do many different things: You have to be a good administrator, mentor, manager, teacher and communicator. And you will only succeed if you work non-stop,« says Luis Toledo.
»And if you put all that together: If group leaders do a good job for a period of time, the pressure only increases. And this can run them down in the long term,« he adds. He feels that universities should be more transparent about their researchers’ career development.
»The insecurity — something every researcher has to face — can really run you down. Even though academics can take on many different jobs, our livelihoods depend on all kinds of factors that we have no control over. There came a time, when I could suddenly no longer see my future in this setting. Now I’m looking forward to a working life where my efforts are more evenly distributed, and where I am, to a larger degree, part of a team«.