Industrial Postdoc success factors

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Industrial Postdoc success factors

Postby A.I.C. » Mon Jun 08, 2015 11:20 am

There have been a lot of articles out there about the great benefits of an industrial postdoc as compared to an academic track. However, as a Postdoc in industry, I have realized that there are a lot of challenges and misconceptions around industrial postdocs. And these extend beyond IP issues, which are not necessarily a disaster for an industrial postdoc:

Just because you have access to state of the art equipment, it doesn't mean that you are guaranteed high impact papers. In fact, most postdocs in industry end up with average papers or none at all. I learned this at a gathering of postdocs from five major pharma companies. Many factors contribute to this (obviously the nature of the project) and it is highly dependent on the specific group you are in and the relationship with the supervisor. There's little chance for teamwork sometimes and you don't always get to outsource or rely on others for help. You're probably the lowest in the food chain. The senior scientist next to you can have the molecular biologist clone her construct and the biochemist purify her protein while she sets up crystal trays. You will have to clone, express, crystallize and do everything yourself. Sometimes you may be able to get people to help you out, but there's an expectation that postdocs do everything themselves.

Timelines are narrow and nonnegotiable and at the end, if you didn't already find a job, you fall off a cliff. You lose access to the company, your data, your software, all your emails... You start thinking of contingency plans midway through your first year as you realize that high impact work is not very possible without a body of preliminary data that preceded your entry into the postdoc.

Supervisors vary as much as professors and abuses are possible. Some supervisors are control freaks or micromanagers or won't let you present your data. Others are more laissez faire. Some don't even care about the postdoc's progress. Of course there are also great supervisors that will fight for your success and do their best to enable your success. Academic adivisors can be between great collaborators and completely indifferent.

The industrial postdoc definitely distinguishes your CV. But I've heard a lot of postdocs complain that some companies are avoiding industry postdocs because they "learn some bad habits".

Although the progress of a postdoc is being tracked through the program. It's usually through numbers like impact factors and publication numbers instead of a comprehensive understanding of all the issues the postdoc faces.

This is definitely not meant to discourage people from going after industrial postdocs. But the postdoc program is fairly new in my company. I'm hoping to hear people's thoughts on what makes these programs work, what have companies done to make improvements?
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Re: Industrial Postdoc success factors

Postby Dave Jensen » Mon Jun 08, 2015 11:31 am

Good post, thanks. Everyone will appreciate the fact that you're involved in a program now, and that this gives you some great credibility to discuss the subject.

I'd like to note what the experience of the "crowd" has been here on the forum, because I've read and moderated the forum for more than 15 years and there's been some trends.

People have come to expect that a "good postdoc is a good postdoc," whether or not it is done in industry or academia. Each type of postdoc has it's own Pro's and Con's . . . It goes right back to the PI, as well. A PI in academia who is known to really help his or her scientists get out there and find work at the end of the process -- thats worth its weight in gold.

But the industrial postdoc has one advantage you didn't mention, and it appears that most people consider this the reason to do one. (Clearly, the reason to do one is not to get into a better environment for publication . . .). That is, you build a network. Your contacts in the company you work for will each go on to be important people in different companies. They'll remember you (if you are good at your job) and be a great resource for you down the road. A select few will be references that will help you bridge the interview question, "How do you think you would do in your transition to a full-time industry job?" In short, the industrial postdoc appears to me (by reading and listening to the comments of those who have done them) as something that works for the good networkers, and something that is not necessarily the right path for a person who keeps their nose buried in the lab (and who believe, as some do, that networking is not important.)

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Re: Industrial Postdoc success factors

Postby Dick Woodward » Mon Jun 08, 2015 12:18 pm

I would like to add to what Dave says about developing your industrial network. The hardest job to get in industry is the first one. Generally, you are a total unknown with some academic credentials. The industrial post-doc means (or should mean) that you have developed some level of an industrial network that can assist you in finding that first "real" industrial position.

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Re: Industrial Postdoc success factors

Postby Dave Walker » Mon Jun 08, 2015 4:01 pm

Dave and Dick have hit the main points; I can chime in with my experiences with industry postdocs as my clients.

- At a proper institution with an established program, the postdoc basically operates at the "Scientist" position within a company. This is particularly valuable for your first job, because many Scientist positions are looking for experience. You can check off boxes for both having done a postdoc and getting industry experience in the same amount of time, shaving off years of extra work needed.

- At smaller companies or those with less-established programs, there is a sense (earned or otherwise) that a postdoc is a risky venture. Here in the Boston, MA area, I was surprised at how few groups actually have Postdoc programs, but I think this is why. Smaller biotechs are too focused on being productive to do postdoc-like work, and only a Novartis or Biogen has enough multi-billion-dollar clout to pursue something tangential for a time.

- If you are a networking person, the access alone is worth it, and having your name on a Big Bio business card can get you places. In a concentrated place like Boston, this is another big plus.
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