Industry Science: Different Companies Are Different

In the sciences, figuring out our career paths can be a challenge. There is what we can call the academic path (assistant professor, etc) but what about other paths like industry (pharma, biotech, etc)? I found (and I think many others do too) academia to be a bit clearer because we spend so much time in the University system during our scientific training. Conversely I think a lot of times industry can be a bit more of a black box, with details and perspectives somewhat elusive. Throughout my graduate and postdoc training, I really benefited from insightful, supportive, and generous colleagues who shared this information and helped me make an informed decision about where I wanted to go in my career. Since joining industry as a computational biologist after my postdoc, I’ve been passionate about paying it forward and trying to be a resource for others who want to learn more.

To try to provide some more clarity around scientific careers in industry, I am going to start a blog series called “Industry Science” where we can look into the black box of industry together. Recently on Twitter I asked what the big questions are that people have about industry and I’m going to get started by using that as a guide for what topics we should cover. To kick things off, let’s start by discussing the impressive variability of experiences and roles in industry.

Recently on Twitter I asked what the big questions are that people have about industry and I’m going to get started by using that as a guide for what topics we should cover.

When I was doing informational interviews with people in industry I got some consistent insight. One common theme I heard was that companies can be very different from one another compared to what I was used to between Universities. Once I joined industry I felt like I saw how true that was, and job titles continue to be a good example. In some companies, the title Senior Scientist is pretty advanced, which does honestly make sense considering the word “senior” in the title. Conversely, other companies have Senior Scientist as somewhat junior roles. Additionally, things like company culture, work-life balance, etc can be pretty variable across the company landscape.

So what can we do with this information? First of all, those of us exploring careers in industry and asking questions (perhaps in informational interviews), it’s important that we get a range of feedback. Asking similar questions from a group of people from different companies can yield some powerful insights that better reflect the industry at large. It can even be helpful to ask questions from people of different sized companies, as a small startup can be a very different experience than a large established company.

The second way we can use this information is when interviewing for jobs or otherwise trying to understand whether you want to join a company/group. It’s important to ask questions about company culture, work-life balance, and opportunities employees get to continue learning and developing in their careers. This information is important and not always intuitive or apparent from the outside looking in.

So overall I’m really excited to be starting this Industry Science blog series, and I look forward to exploring some of these important questions of doing science in industry. Additionally, experiences in industry can be variable and no single source is enough, so I encourage readers to get a range of perspective if they are exploring this as a future career path. Finally, I of course always appreciate feedback and questions so please let me know in the comments below.

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