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question for Rich

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 4:27 pm
by Elizabeth
I agree with John that the industry-exposure programs should be for at least a year or two. I think it is also important that this happens at the relatively-advanced level. Some PhD students in our university have industry experience as a tech or intern, but you won't be exposed to management level issues if you are there at the entry level. (I guess most PhD scientists join companies with some kind of supervisory responsibilities.) The way most PhDs go into industry right now is like making medical students choose speciality without hospital rotations.

Mutation or Extinction?

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 6:19 pm
by Andy Spencer

I haven't read most of the other posts in this thread. One tough adjustment for me in the switch from academia to industry has been working in a regulated laboratory environment (GLP).

In academia, you may do tedious work at times but it's always for a scientific reason (rigor, curiosity, technical necessity). In a GLP environment or even in non-GLP industrial environments, you sometimes need to do tedious work for other reasons (to comply with federal regulations, to lock down intellectual property, to make a partnership happen). So you can find yourself spending effort on things you normally wouldn't in academia for reasons that are not close to the reason you "grew up" thinking were the most important.

Hope that's useful.


Mutation or Extinction?

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 6:20 pm
by Larry 2
As a scientist who has worked in three different areas (Academia, Federal Research Organizations, and in Private Industry), I think you have the core difficulty pretty well described.
For a start, it seems that academics treasure tenure too much. Most industry scientists keep their positions for long tenures and retire from their company after many years.
Second, what looks like academic freedom is very often a joke to industry people: grad student = do what you're told, Post-Doc = keep the PI happy, even if he or she is a jerk to you, tt = keep your head down and don't offend anyone (especially with data that contradict their work). Finally after years of work and keeping quiet, you get tenure and can say and publish anything you want, if you remember how. But it has been a long time, if ever, since you could make you own judgement. Sorry, but it doesn't look very free to us.

A group that I was associated with early in my career was a soft-money University group, which functioned very much in a "business mode". Support with publications, stats, drawings and research proposals was supplied, but very few academics would live with the pressure to publish that the lack of hard money imposed. Those who did thrived far beyond the rest of the academics. It was a good place to be -- exciting and fast-paced, and everyone was expected to contribute. So, it can happen, but it's rare.

There are major differences, yes. Not everyone is cut out for either location.

Sorry for the long post, but this is an important topic to all of us.


Mutation or Extinction?

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 8:25 pm
by Kevin Foley
I think much of the discussion about academia vs. industry is a bit over blown. There isn’t as big a chasm between the two as we seem to believe.

Certainly, there are differences between academia and industry. And it is valuable to discuss these differences so that those of us who are interested in transitioning from academia to industry can figure out if it is a good move and then adapt more quickly one we get there.

But in my experience, those who are successful in academia would, on average, have had a good chance to be successful in industry. And the converse is true as well.

Is the adjustment from academia to industry any bigger than the adjustment from undergrad to grad school? You got through that OK, so what is the big deal about industry? Or how about the adjustment from postdoc to faculty? Is that easy? If anything, I bet it is harder because you are suddenly the only one in charge.

If you can’t adapt successfully to an industrial environment within 6 month, I think you would have a tough time in academia as well. Drive, ambition, flexibility, creativity, individual excellence, teamwork…ad infinitum, are all traits that are important in both realms. Sure, there are probably some outlier personalities that would only succeed in one environment or the other, but I think these are the exceptions.

Which is not to say that you can’t have a preference for one environment over the other. There are real differences. But for most of us, we are fully capable of adapting to those differences and succeeding.

By the way, the exposure that that the grad students and postdocs of today get to industry is much better than was typically the case when I entered grad school in 1987. I probably met one or two industry scientists during my entire grad career! I can’t see how the postdocs of today are any less ready to transition to industry than was the case 20 years ago.


Mutation or Extinction?

PostPosted: Sat May 13, 2006 10:09 am
by Max Rempel
The biggest shock for me while working in industry was that of all coworkers no one was interested in science, the progress of science and the progress of humanity. All these topics considered boring and politically incorrect. The interests of industry were considered not to be related to interests of society. Most of the people in the company were not even interested in the progress of the company, as worrying about the interests of the company was the only privilege of the management, not scientists. The allowed topics of discussion were only the ones appropriate for the small talk - sterile news, food and sports. This was the biggest cultural difference between the very involved life of internationally diverse postdocs very involved in progress of science and society and the very constrained and diplomatic environment in biotech. When the time came, I was happy to come back to academic research.

Mutation or Extinction?

PostPosted: Sat May 13, 2006 8:44 pm
by Kevin Foley
Max: "The biggest shock for me while working in industry was that of all coworkers no one was interested in science, the progress of science and the progress of humanity..."

Obviously, we can only comment based on our own personal experiences. It sounds like your experience in industry was not that great. But if what you describe is generally true of life in industry, why would anyone want to work there? There a lot of scientists clamoring for jobs in industry…but you don’t hear much about industry scientists clamoring to get back into academia. Maybe life in industry isn’t so bad?

At one company I worked at, we had a monthly book club to discuss philosophical and ethical issues in biotechnology. At another company, greater than half the employees were fluent in a foreign language. At one, we had an annual charity auction that raised $40-50,000 from items donated by employees and bid on by employees. At another, we had an annual community service day where employees would get the day off to work at soup kitchens, Habit for Humanity, etc. More than one company I’ve worked for had weekly lunches or dinners where the employees could talk with the CEO in small groups. And I certainly haven’t had the experience of working for a company where “no one was interested in science.” Quite the contrary, many of the smartest, most motivated scientists I have met in my career happen to work in industry. And most importantly, I’ve worked at companies where the medical discoveries we made saved or profoundly changed many people’s lives. I know, because we would invite the patients to speak at our company meetings. Nothing is more motivational that hearing about how a debilitating disease has impacted someone, or more gratifying than hearing how their lives were improved by a treatment you helped develop.

None of this sounds like the sterile environment you describe.

Industry is like academia--there are good supervisors and bad supervisors, good labs and bad labs, good companies and bad companies... We should avoid making sweeping generalizations. If you find yourself in a bad situation, you need to move on, just as it sounds like you did. But don’t let one bad experience sour you on future opportunities.

Personally, I have enjoyed everywhere I’ve been, both in academia and industry. But I can’t imagine going back to academia; I’m having too much fun in industry!


Mutation or Extinction?

PostPosted: Sun May 14, 2006 12:30 pm
by D. John
Obviously YOUR experience is nothing more than that....YOUR experience. I am a scientist who has found my "dream job" in industry. Most of those I work with are more than happy to be doing science at a great, very financially stable company. We are expected to publish and attend meetings, have weekly journal clubs like an academic institution, and get to really do science without having to be bogged down with going out seeking external funding. Yet, we still have MANY open positions because we cannot get people to actively solicit employment....does this sound strange? It shouldn't...many companies do not advertise for most of their open jobs. Those of you jobseekers applying online only for "open" positions are selling yourself short. There are many companies with lots of jobs just waiting for the right person to come and apply.


Mutation or Extinction?

PostPosted: Sun May 14, 2006 1:24 pm
by John Fetzer
There are so many good comments on this so far. I'll touch on a few generic ideas. First, industry does hire people and expects them to change. The onus is on the employee. There are not very many training opportunities to learn and the assumption is that the school of trial-and-error/ hard knocks will winnow out those who cannot adapt. Once again this puts the burden on the employee.

It is not a matter of technical brilliance. It is in attitudes. In academia, a lone wolf can thrive and poor people skills mean that you just become the ogre PIs that are griped about so much here. Academia does not care that much about whether you yreaty your students poorly if you bring in grant money. Industry does not allow lone wolves very much unless they are extremely brilliant. This is because short-term team projects (usually of less than two years' duration) are the norm. Collaberation and cooperation are key to get the job done on time and on budget.

Val points out (my interpretation) that even Dave, who is very active in AAAS and others like him have not broken into the "higher echalon" thinking of most scientific journals or societies to make these career issues of paramount importance. Career development in the sciences is still viewed by successful academics, who dominate the societies and journals, as of little value or common sense (since they knew how to succeed). Unfortunately after several years in this field, I do think that it still bears a quixotic flavor. Few universities or companies have good career development programs for young scientists.

The status quo will endure because the burden to cope is all on the young scientists. If they fail, they are replaced by fresh faces. As this gap widens (I wholeheartedly agree with Dave's original theme), this will only get worse. So all of you young scientists need to learn before you are already out in the world what is expected and how to accomplish it. There are articles and a few books on this, so all is not lost.


Mutation or Extinction?

PostPosted: Sun May 14, 2006 3:14 pm
by Dave Jensen
D. John said,"Yet, we still have MANY open positions because we cannot get people to actively solicit employment....does this sound strange? It shouldn't...many companies do not advertise for most of their open jobs. Those of you jobseekers applying online only for "open" positions are selling yourself short. There are many companies with lots of jobs just waiting for the right person to come and apply."

John, this is one of the great mysteries of life. Twenty years after first writing about networking and the process of seeking industry employment, I am still 100% baffled by the fact that so many people just don't get it. You are correct, in that there are only a very limited number of jobs that are advertised. These jobs are targeted day in and day out by thousands of job seekers who spend their ENTIRE job search wrapped up in looking for ads. They prowl the internet, post their CV's, and endlessly line up at H/R "gateways" on the web, filing applications.

Every client company I have has open positions right now, for BS, MS, and PhD scientists. All it takes to find one of these is to circumvent the process that your labmates are using. Job-seeking is one of those few areas of life that rewards people who do NOT follow the crowd. While it may not be a purposeful filter, companies like the one that John works for may have the attitude that they WANT people to find them, because those folks who seek them out make better employees. So, perhaps this is a filter of sorts in itself.

Dave Jensen, Moderator

Mutation or Extinction?

PostPosted: Fri May 19, 2006 11:22 am
by Dave Jensen
The article "Mutation or Extinction" now appears on the Science Careers site, at, along with an interesting article about careers in the chemical industry. Just an FYI, and thank you all for the great contributions to this topic in the thread on the forum,

Dave Jensen, Moderator