I remember the day I realized I had reached my limit with bench work. I was in the lab performing the same molecular biology techniques that had become routine, when suddenly it hit me: I needed something different, something that would challenge me in a strategic way and offer more flexibility. It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic hit that I truly understood how much I craved the independence and freedom that came with remote work. Fast-forward to today, and I am now a full-time remote consultant, free to work from wherever I want in the world.
Prior to this transition, I spent most of my career working in laboratories, performing cell culture and other molecular biology techniques. Although I enjoyed the routine and the camaraderie of my colleagues, I couldn’t ignore my yearning for a more flexible and location-independent work arrangement.
Quitting my postdoc position and starting a consulting job was the first step in this new journey. I said goodbye to my apartment, packed my bags, and became a nomad, moving from one country to another while working remotely for my company. Although the nature of consulting differed significantly from my previous experience in laboratory work, I found that my academic research background provided a solid foundation for success in my new role as a life science consultant in the management consulting industry. The critical thinking skills and problem-solving approaches that I had honed during my years in academia proved invaluable in analysing complex business problems and developing effective solutions for my clients. Furthermore, my expertise in project management, data analysis, and communication proved to be highly transferable and allowed me to excel in this new work. The shift was challenging, with the constant search for reliable Wi-Fi connections and suitable workspaces, but it was also incredibly rewarding.
Despite the obstacles, I’ve learned how to be proactive in avoiding unexpected situations and have adapted to different work environments. One amusing and somewhat embarrassing memory I have from my time working remotely was during a crucial strategy session with my manager, who was based in North Carolina at the time. I had found a nice café in Puerto Vallarta to work from, thinking it would be a quiet and conducive environment for the call. However, mid-conversation, a band started playing loudly nearby, disrupting our discussion. While it may have been a humorous moment, I quickly learned the importance of finding reliable and suitable workspaces while working remotely. It also taught me to be adaptable and to think on my feet, as unexpected situations can arise when working outside of a traditional office setting. Despite the interruption, the strategy session ended up being productive, highlighting the flexibility and resilience required for successful remote work.
One of the most significant benefits of remote work is the flexibility it provides. I can take short breaks throughout the day to do yoga, breathing exercises, or simply enjoy my surroundings. I no longer have to pretend to be busy when I need a quick nap or walk outside. These breaks leave me feeling refreshed and more productive when I return to my work.
Regarding my living situation, I opted for short-term apartment rentals through platforms like Airbnb. This allowed me to have flexibility and move every month to save costs on rent. It was definitely a shift from having a permanent home base, but I’ve enjoyed the freedom and adventure of living in different places and meeting new people. Over the past year and a half, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing incredible places like Cape Town’s beautiful beaches and Mexico City’s lively streets.
Although I do sometimes miss the hands-on aspect of being in a lab, I’ve found that my work in life science consulting has allowed me to continue to use my scientific background and analytical skills in a different way. Despite the downsides of remote work, such as missing out on social activities with colleagues, I’ve found ways to stay connected and feel like part of the team through virtual meetings and online chats. It’s been interesting to see how the skills and knowledge I gained in academic research can be applied in private industry, and I’m glad to have better compensation than in academia. In fact, I feel that my work is appreciated more in private industry than it was in academia.
As I reflect on my journey from bench scientist to full-time remote consultant, I’m grateful for the diverse experience and opportunities it has brought me. With flexibility and a positive attitude, anything is possible. I’m excited to see what the future holds and where my career and life journey will take me next.
Matteo is a life science consultant and author of Beyond Academia, a career development book for PhDs.