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academics vs industry

Betty Woolf woolf at mpi.com
Mon Apr 14 16:43:24 EST 1997

In article <H000161205da0ee1 at MHS>,
Scheiner_Linda/mskcc_SUR at MSKMAIL.MSKCC.ORG wrote:

>      I have been working as a Research Technician in a major cancer center 
>      and have been recently offered a job in "industry".  The job sounds 
>      pretty similar to the type of things I am doing now - a lot of PCR, 
>      DNA work, blotting, etc.. - run of the mill molecular biology 
>      techniques. I have been told though that industry and academics are 
>      like apples and oranges, but this is not a QC type of job or anything 
>      like that.  My question is: to anyone who may have made a similar type 
>      of switch, what kind of differences should I expect?  I have been 
>      blessed to be working in a lab now with a super PI, extremely laid 
>      back but somehow manages to get a ton accomplished.  He treats all his 
>      employees the same - whether they be technicians, post-docs, or 
>      fellows who are rotating thru his lab for a year or so.  And he is 
>      completely understanding of his workers personal problems, etc..  For 
>      instance, my babysitter (I have a toddler)was hospitalized and I was a 
>      little panicked as to what I was going to do.  In the end it all 
>      worked out but I had to take off some time and he was completely great 
>      about the whole situation.  On the other hand, the pay is lousy and I 
>      could be making a substantial increase in salary at the new job.  But 
>      my impression from the people I spoke to in industry sat that's it's a 
>      whole different ball game.  The bottom line is money and as a a 
>      technician I am considered low man on the corporate totem pole so to 
>      speak.  Supposedly being a technician in an academic setting is 
>      supposed to be that way too but I guess I have been lucky in that 
>      respect.  I have my own projects that I am free to work on at my own 
>      pace, and have co-authored article etc..  Am I crazy to leave this 
>      wonderful job with no pay.   
>      Bottom line:  What is industry like?  (I know this is a vague question 
>      but any thoughts are totally appreciated.)
>      Linda

Hi Linda,

A lot will depend on the individual company and the individual boss.  I
made the switch 3 years ago and couldn't be happier.  After 4 years in a
good academic lab, where I *usually* wasn't treated as "low man on the
totem pole" I felt the need for a change, because it looked like there was
nowhere to go from Research Technician II.  In 3 years here I've gotten 2
promotions, now have management responsibilities, have gotten to attend a
scientific meeting for the first time, etc.  I can't say this is true
everywhere, but I also can't believe I work at the *only* great company
out there.

My schedule is quite flexible as long as the work gets done.

No mistake -- money is the bottom line.  Sometimes in industry you have to
work on things that corporate partners want to work on because they will
make better drug targets, instead of what's the most interesting.

Also, if you are used to having a certain amount of "ownership" of a
project, and taking it through many steps, you may be disappointed because
if things work, they will eventually be taken away from you and given to
another group, and you may or may not hear about it again. This was the
most difficult thing for me to get used to.

Although I have been a coauthor on numerous publications since arriving
here, it's true that one doesn't always get to publish immediately, or
sometimes at all.

General thoughts:  My company (and others I suspect) know that it's the
technicians who actually do a large part of the work, and they don't abuse
them too much.  This is probably more true for techs with experience,
which it sounds like you have.

I work somewhat longer days than I did in my academic position (8 or 8:30
to 6, generally, and one or 2 Saturdays a month), but the rewards are
great as well.

What happened to me was that I grew to resent the conditions in academia,
mostly the low pay but also my boss' constant worry about funding and
tenure, and I wasn't enjoying work anymore.  

Does the fact that you were offered a job in industry mean you were
actively seeking one?  Did you get a chance to ask any of the people you
interviewed with about thier backgrounds, and whether they miss academia? 
Were you able to get a feeling for the specific company you would be
working for?  If you have doubts about this particular situation you
probably shouldn't take it, but i don't think you should rule out moving
to industry.

Just my experience.

Good luck, whatever you decide!

Betty Woolf
My opinions are my own, and no-one else's

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