Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Winter 2021

“Quite a Change from Academia” – Words of Wisdom from a Clinical Psychologist in Industry

Jessee Dietch, PhD; Eric Zhou, PhD; and Michael Mead, PhD; Sleep SIG

Jason Ong, PhD

The explosion of health-focused companies, particularly those that leverage technology, has led to increasing opportunities for clinical psychologists to apply their training in a fast-paced business setting. Yet many clinical psychologists have little access to information about these “alternate” career paths that are steadily becoming more mainstream.

As part of the Sleep Special Interest Group Outlook article series on alternative career paths in clinical psychology, we had the joy of connecting with Dr. Jason Ong to learn more about careers in industry. Dr. Ong is a clinical psychologist who recently made a career change as a highly successful researcher and clinician at an academic medical center to an exciting new position with Nox Health. Here, Dr. Ong shares his experiences including what motivated the career change and advice for anyone considering a similar path.

Please describe your role in industry.

I am the Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine (BSM) program at Nox Health. My primary role is to develop a BSM service that integrates technology and care providers as part of a sleep healthcare system at Nox Health.

As a highly successful academic, what pushed you to consider moving to industry?

I have always been interested in business and entrepreneurship. When this opportunity came up, I wanted to see if I could take the things I have learned in my research and clinical work and merge them with my interest in business and entrepreneurship. I was also getting increasingly frustrated at how slow things move in academic research.

What are the differences in terms of your responsibilities and day-to-day work in industry, compared to academia?

I think the main difference is that I get to work together in multidisciplinary teams that now include business leaders, tech developers, operational managers, and clinical folks. This is quite a change from academia, where you are primarily responsible for yourself (and your lab as an extension of yourself) and if you work in a multidisciplinary setting, it usually means different medical specialties or nurses and physicians. Also, my role now focuses more on strategic development rather than seeing patients or writing grants or manuscripts. It’s similar to moving from a coach or player, where the focus is on winning games, to a front-office position, where the focus is on building a championship team, managing the salary cap, and selling tickets.

For some, an appeal of working in academics is the flexibility of the work schedule and the type of work you pursue. Has there been an adjustment to your role in industry?

My position is a remote-work position that does not involve direct patient care at this time, so I would say that I have even more flexibility than I had in my academic position. People in our company are very respectful of work/life balance so I rarely get emails after hours and there are no expectations to work after hours or on the weekends. If there has been any adjustment, it’s that I get to spend more time with my family and my quality of life has improved!

What is something about working in industry that you wished you had known before you took your position?

One myth that I think is often perpetuated in academic circles is that the smart people are in academia and the greedy people are in industry (or all they want to do is make money). But I was speaking to a colleague who also recently left a successful academic career for an industry position and we were both talking about how impressive the intellectual resources were in our respective companies. Maybe it doesn’t generalize to other companies, but I think it’s a myth perpetuated by academicians designed to keep people in academia!

What are drawbacks to or considerations for working in industry? What are the greatest benefits?

Things move quickly in industry and job security is not the same as academia, especially if you are tenured. So, it can be a high-risk venture and you need to be prepared for that. However, the reward can be very high, especially financially, if you work for a start-up company. I think learning business fundamentals is also a helpful skill that generalizes across sectors.

For someone who is curious about exploring an industry-based job, what advice would you give them as they start their search?

I would highly encourage anyone considering a move to industry to first talk to others – mentors, colleagues, those who have made the change – and get their input. When considering an industry job, you might also need to ask questions about the financial aspects of the company, especially if it is a start-up company. We don’t need to do that in academia, so you might need to learn a bit about how to evaluate a company’s financial situation. Finally, consider your skillset (e.g., do you like writing and managing grants? Seeing patients?), tolerance for risk, and whether or not you like to work in teams or do your own thing.

For junior faculty or those out of training, it might be more difficult to go back to academia if things don’t work out so you probably want to choose more carefully. For established faculty, the risk/reward and work/life balance will probably be important considerations.

Is there anything you miss about academia? Anything you don’t miss at all?

I miss seeing my friends and colleagues on a day-to-day basis and the opportunity to talk about really cool and interesting research ideas. But I have an adjunct appointment at Northwestern, so I am still involved in mentoring and collaborating on research projects.

I absolutely do not miss the nitpicking and the incessant need to critique that is commonplace in academia, especially with grants and manuscripts. I was part of this system so I am guilty of it as well. But it has been very refreshing to focus on the big picture and what is most important rather than constantly responding to a bunch of critiques, which can derail or delay projects. I also do not miss RVUs or being on soft money.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I am happy to talk to anyone who has questions about working in industry or is considering a change from academia to industry.


Dr. Ong can be reached at jong@noxhealth.com