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Career tip: the industrial mindset May 8, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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Most everyone recognized that there are three main venues for scientists, academia, government labs, and working in industry. The first two are somewhat similar, with longer term research goals and a great deal of autonomy. Industry, however, is not these and a certain mindset or personality is more likely to succeed there.

 In industry, the company’s businesses and priorities define the type of work, the prioritization, and the type and amount of effort made for each project. Crises can create very short term, but extremely high priority work.

 Being meticulous and thorough is often only defined in terms of adequacy to meet the demands of the project. A lot of interesting or “good” science is not done because there is no business need for it.

You must be able to reconcile yourself to leaving things undone because you have new things that you are to work on. Even the best-planned work can be delayed or cancelled because of a new task that needs immediate attention. Deadlines and pressure to do things quickly and just-good-enough are a daily feature. Versatility and flexibility, therefore, are a must. If you like a settled, predictable schedule, then industry is not your venue.

 You must be both a specialist and a generalist, as the technical problems may require world-class expertise and at the same time you will fill the role of scientist on a project team that includes a plant engineer, a regulatory-affairs person, and a business manager. They all expect you to deal with any science issues.

 Project budgets and funding are temporary and can even be ephemeral. In a crisis you may have unlimited funds to solve it, as such problems can cost a company many millions of dollars or Euros. On the other hand, business priorities can change overnight so that your two-year funded project vaporizes because of divestitures, mergers, revamped business goals, and so on.

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Comments»

1. organikchemist - May 10, 2009

I very much appreciate this post. One of the ideas that I have had a hard time overcoming is that fact that industry is not interested primarily in “good science”. It is interested only in rapid ROI and profit. As scientists, we maintain that good science leads to good products, but this may be a longer process than management might like. Therefore, we need to constantly balance the good science with the what-ever-gets-the-an-answer. It can be very frustrating.

2. fetzthechemist - May 10, 2009

You have to always to good, reliable science. You might not be able to determine all the basic permutations and dependence on variables, but you can always justify a certain amount under the mantle of quality assurance and quality control. If something is important enough to you, but not to your bosses, you can always ask to do more general work on “your own time” for an outside publication or presentation. Sometimes you might even be able to do this generic work in an outside collaboration. Companies sometimes like the benefits of getting basic work done elsewhere. I found it never hurts too much to ask.


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