Most PhD students believe that academic post-doc is their only option, but this is the result of a lack of information on which non-academic career options are available to them and which of these positions fit their goals and lifestyle. It’s also very important for PhD students to pay close attention to changing trends and to make sure to note which job sectors are rising and which are falling.
As mentioned in our previous article PhD in Wonderland. Dream or Reality?, a valid reason to consider other options to the academic postdoc is the fact that - talking about the US, for example - there is an increasing amount of opening PhD positions that would never be absorbed in academia and - as emerged during a recent conference hosted by the UK Council for Graduate Education - 80% of PhD students are aware that it may be hard to get a job as a post-doc or junior research associate and secure a lifelong academic career.
The purpose of this blog post is to provide you with an overview on the world of research in industry, highlighting the benefits that this non-academic career option offers to you and the differences with the academia, in order to let you choose the right path for your career.
So, let’s go deeper and see what working in industry as a researcher actually means.
"In business, everything begins with the profit motive. ... Just the very idea of research is geared towards a product rather than knowledge itself. The most critical factor in determining whether a scientist is going to be successful in making the transition from the university to the private sector is the ability to buy into that point of view." said Michael A. Santoro, a business ethics professor at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey.
This statement introduces the first difference between academia and industry: in industry you have the chance to see the result of your research becoming a solution to a real-world problem and you can build something that the company can use and test in the real world.
But this is not the only benefit.
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Your progress is measured accurately and consistently based on performance.
Your performance on assigned work and shared goals is used to accurately measure your progress. Your performance is also used for determining promotions, salary increases, and bonuses. Not only this, but there are specific people designated for measuring your progress and they are actually held accountable to it.
As a research scientist in industry, you will report to a manager who will be responsible for advancing your team’s goals and the company’s vision overall.
Moreover, at the beginning of every fiscal year, you will write a Performance Development Plan (PDP), or similar, with clear business and personal goals.
These goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Result-Oriented and Time-Bound, also known as SMART goals.
You are rewarded for being a leader and showing initiative.
In industry, however, you will work with a very fast work pace and be expected to deliver accurate results quickly.
Working at a faster pace is enjoyable for different reasons, for example:
- you are working with a team whose goals are aligned with yours
- you are rewarded for finding better ways of doing things
If you take the initiative to improve the workflow of a system, improve a product, or make any part of the company better—you’re rewarded.
The more confidently you take initiative, the more you are rewarded.
You are part of a supportive and structured work environment.
Finally, as an industry research scientist, or as a professional in any of these non-academic careers, you are not alone and you know exactly where you’re going. In industry, every scientist has his own project.
At the same time, ever scientist is trained to support each other.
As the French chemist Christophe Eychenne said “Industry is not the dark side. Mostly, we can't find breakthroughs in the industry without the academy, and we can't find money for the academy without applications in the real life. Rather, it's just "another side" of the research endeavor.”