Career-Changer Series: From Pharmaceuticals to Pilates


As part of my ongoing Career-Changer series, I had the pleasure of interviewing my very own Pilates instructor, Jenna Reece. I wasn't aware that Jenna was a career changer until I saw her mention her career shift in a Facebook post. I thought it would be great to understand why and how she changed from working in the drug manufacturing industry, following a PhD, to training and practicing as a Pilates instructor.

These career changer interviews seek to share wisdom and advice from those who have taken the brave step of changing career, in the hope of inspiring, encouraging, and supporting those contemplating a career change to do the same.

1. What work were you doing before?

I left university with a PhD in Immunology and moved from Wales to work in a contract drug manufacturing company, firstly as a scientist and then as a quality assurance auditor (for seven years). I then spent a short while as a compliance officer in a pharmaceutical company.

2. How did you know a change was required?

I felt unhappy and had a nagging feeling I could be doing something more fulfilling. Long hours sitting in an office and commuting weren't doing me any favours body-wise either. I had chronic back pain for months at a time. Other people in my workplace were unhappy; they'd been there longer than I had and continued to complain, seemingly accepting their fate. I didn't want to be someone who complained and did nothing to change, so I started to imagine doing something different.

3. What helped you make the decision to finally do something about your situation?

An Osteopath advised me to start Pilates to manage my back pain long-term. I quickly realised I'd found something that not only helped my back but also helped my mood too; I hadn't quite appreciated how being unhappy at work had affected my mental and physical wellbeing. I would leave class feeling amazing and that's when the seed was planted - I was keen to find out more so I could share this feeling with others.

4. How did you go about deciding what you wanted to do next/instead? What helped you make that decision?

I plucked up the courage to share my initial thoughts with my family and they were very supportive! In my existing job, I enjoyed training people in new systems. My degree had covered human biology, so studying anatomy and the biomechanics of movement felt like an exciting progression! I felt lucky to have found Pilates when I did - I went from feeling stuck in my job to feeling motivated about learning something new and sharing this with other people.

5. What new career path have you chosen and why?

I chose to teach Pilates, as I wanted to be working with people and helping them more directly. On a personal level, finding Pilates was a small step to looking after myself better. It felt right to share my passion and knowledge to help others.

6. How are you going about or how did you go about changing careers? Please include how you are managing/managed it financially.

I checked that the training I was undertaking was the best available. When chatting with the education provider, it was clear that they supported their trainee teachers through the process, including a period of supervised teaching and continued professional development after qualifying. Being a scientist at heart, I knew I'd be able to cope with and enjoy the anatomy and physiology side of the training.

I wasn't in a position to just quit my job, so while training, I worked four days a week and used the other weekday to study. I travelled to London to train with Body Control Pilates at the weekends and when it came to the supervised teaching hours, I would teach evening classes.

After a year of training and supervised teaching, I passed practical and theoretical exams and was fully qualified to teach. I was still working at a pharmaceutical company three days a week, so I held my first classes on a weekday evening and Saturday morning. Six months later, I decided to teach full time, so I set up more group classes and took on private clients.

Financially, I was lucky to juggle my existing job and training to teach. My husband was supportive too. Although I knew the change would mean a cut in salary, I was looking forward to being in control of my work/life balance.

7. What’s been the hardest, most difficult, or unexpected thing you’ve encountered about changing career?

A global pandemic! This was the hardest, most difficult and most unexpected change for me. It was a much bigger deal than changing from one career to carving out another where I could plan things step by step. With the pandemic, the change came overnight; I quickly had to learn how to support my clients to take classes online. There was a huge amount of uncertainty, along with the fear that my business wouldn't survive. It turns out people needed Pilates more than ever through these times; people were keen to try new technology if it meant they could continue their classes.

8. What’s been the best part about changing career?

There are so many things! Being happy doing what I'm doing has to be the best part, as that impacts all aspects of my life (and my health!). I get a huge amount of job satisfaction working with people to change their health and how they are feeling every day - you can't put a price on that!

I'm in charge of every aspect of my business; I love that. I choose the direction of my work, in terms of the areas I specialise in and take further training in. I also love that I have more time for my family and I can walk my dog in the light - not always easy when you work 9 till 5!

9. What advice would you give to others considering a career change?

A good salary, generous benefits, and Christmas bonuses are not worth it if you're unhappy at work. Think about your values and if you are doing what you want to in life? Will 'future-you' be glad that you stayed in your current job, or glad that you made a change?

I'm the world’s worst for making a decision, but the interview question, where do you see yourself in five years, helped. I tried to see myself staying put in my existing job and I just couldn't. That was when I knew the forces to change were greater than those for me staying the same, and taking steps to make a change felt exciting.

You won't know if you don't try!

10. What support, help, or resources would you recommend for those considering or implementing a career change?

Research, research, research! Find out as much as you can about your new career, what qualifications you'll need, if there's a support network in the industry while you train, and how you'll go about finding work. Talk to people already in that profession. Family chats are great for a sanity check and a reminder that you can do whatever you put your mind to.


If you’re considering a career change of your own, and Jenna's story has inspired you to finally take action, get in touch to discuss how working with Alice could help you figure out what you want to do instead, and how you can make it a reality.

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.