Hello there bloggies!
Taking a quick break from the tennis with this post. The other day I was talking with a postdoc who was considering whether to take a position in industry or to pursue a faculty position in academia. She wanted to talk to me to get the perspective of someone who recently left an academic lab to work in pharma.
I’ve gotten used to discussing how doing science is different and the same in industry. Listing out things I like. And also pointing out the things I don’t like as much. But this postdoc asked me about this transition and leaving academia in a very blunt and interesting way.
What do you miss most about not doing science in academia?
For some reason, asking the question this way hit me a little differently. It forced me to pause a moment before reciting my standard answers. I wanted to take a moment to share what I told her I missed the most after leaving academia:
In industry, you don’t have the intellectual freedom and fluidity that academic investigators enjoy. Your work in industry must support the projects you’re on and be in scientific areas of interest to the organization. Random investigations of fancy aren’t for pharma.
You also work in larger groups and for managers that hold you accountable. Industry scientists must build consensus and work cooperatively to move large projects forward. And sometimes that means doing what your manager says. You don’t have that final say that a PI has. While pooling minds together is something I personally enjoy, you inevitably lose control over certain decisions and aspects of your projects.
Now, here’s where I’m going to lose a huge chunk of people. Though it probably isn’t a massive surprise since I spend my free time writing on this blog. Many scientists decide to leave academia just to avoid writing grants and papers. While I think both grant and paper submissions are needlessly complicated and sometimes hopeless processes, I have to say I miss the writing part. Crafting together a series of experiments and communicating why they are important was so fulfilling to me. That’s the part where you figure out what everything means and how it adds to science.
Largely, the need to write papers and proposals is far less in pharma than in an academic setting. Communicating results and science is still massively important. But it is mainly done through meetings and slides. They just simply aren’t the same as writing a nice paper and getting it published (sigh).
This last bit was something I didn’t even consider when I made the move to pharma. Things here in industry change all the time. Projects morph. Colleagues leave. Bosses and other higher-ups take new positions. Organizations are re-shuffled. Lay-offs are a thing. These all happen and happen far more often than I thought from the outside. And they are all outside of your control. You could be the best scientist ever and will need to overcome these.
Academics are subject to the whims of funding cycles, reviewers, tenure committees, and department heads. But these tend to be slower moving than the whims of industry. The ability to adapt is so important while trying to make it in pharma.
I actually still don’t know whether this colleague will move to industry or work toward an academic investigator position. There’s never any right or wrong answer in that choice. I’m still navigating what sort of plan I want to follow. I just hope that my conversation helped her get a fuller perspective to make an informed decision.
And I hope that this post can offer something to those curious about science in pharma and industry. Do you have any questions? Hit me up in the comments below or on twitter @DrFsThoughts.
Have a great weekend!