On the surface, working as a professional researcher at academia (universities, medical schools, research institutes, government research centers) or at industry is a matter of personal choice. Research jobs at either location have both good and poor operational features. As I have written earlier, many faculty scientists now are increasingly dissatisfied with their serious job problems in academia (see “Why Are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with Their Job? Part I”, and “Part II” ). For the industrial scientists I have known personally, all seemed to be quite happy with their employment, unlike their academic counterparts. It remains uncommon for any faculty scientist to move into a new research job in industry.
As part of a group of interesting articles about current interactions between industrial research and development activities with scientists in academia, Nature (07 December, 2017: vol. 552, number 7683) has just published a brief dispatch by the science writer, Elie Dolgin, “In Good Company” (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-07425-z). This article describes 4 selected faculty scientists who ended their dissatisfaction in academia by moving into a new position researching in industry. Although the very small number of scientists surveyed does not permit any valid statistical examination, I will give an overview of these individuals followed by a closer look at their motivations (i.e., what were their chief dissatisfactions with university research, and what were they looking for when they moved into industrial research).
Overview of scientists who moved from academia into industry!
The 4 scientists surveyed include both males and females, have varied backgrounds, conducted research in quite different parts of science, and were employed at various institutions within the United States. One is a cancer cell biologist, another is a neuroscientist, the third is a tumor immunologist, and the fourth is a physicist now working with large-scale computation for weather predictions. No common characteristics of age, chief research interest, or cultural background are notable. Some had researched in academia for several decades before moving. All were quite successful with their research career in academia, but developed reasons and feelings for wanting a big change.
Announced causes for dissatisfaction with researching in academia!
Motivations of all 4 individuals for moving out of academia into industrial research include recognition that their research findings then will have more practical outcomes and impact for people needing help. One experienced academic scientist strikingly put the feeling behind his move as, “It’s an opportunity to make drugs instead of papers.”
Perceptions about their new industrial job!
These individual scientists all found more satisfaction researching within industry due to the presence of several different new opportunities: larger salaries, more possibilities to extend basic studies into applied investigations, no need to get research grants to fund their experiments, and the presence of active training programs for postdocs at larger industrial institutions. One scientist who worked on basic research in academia stated about the new job, “I (now) get to see my work come alive.”
These individuals also are aware of a few disadvantages for working in industry, such as needing to attend internal meetings more frequently, absence of graduate students, and the strong role for senior administrators in industrial research projects.
Not announced, but very real, advantages for making this move!
Although not specifically announced in Dolgin’s report, inspection of what their new industrial positions involve indicates that all 4 scientists now have a much larger leadership responsibility (i.e., leading a large research group or serving as an administrative supervisor of an entire research program). Thus, they all advanced their professional status to a large extent. The academic environment for research usually restricts such possibilities to whatever can be funded by individual success in acquiring large or multiple awards of external funding.
Some needed discussion about researching in academia versus industry!
The strong general dissatisfaction currently felt by many faculty researchers underlies what prompted these successful professional researchers in academia to want to move into a better job in industry. The 4 cases described in this report clearly indicate that moving from academia into industry can be a realistic way for faculty researchers to improve their job situation. Basic research in academia simply no longer is being encouraged because research now is viewed only as a profitable business activity at most universities. Since they are profit-seeking institutions, they now value faculty scientists much more for getting money from research grant awards than for making important new discoveries.
Just as there are limited opportunities for university faculty to have charge of anything beyond whatever their own research grants can support, industrial researchers can more readily be part of and supervise dedicated teams working on some specific aspect of research. The “industrial team approach” to lab research is made very difficult in academia because all faculty scientists are forced to compete with all other scientists in the current vicious hyper-competition to acquire more research grants (see “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ). That counter-productive atmosphere distorts all research in academia today.
Utilization of the industrial team approach for scientific research recently has been initiated at several new biomedical research centers supported by large philanthropy instead of by research grants (see “A Jackpot for Scientific Research Created by James E. and Virginia Stowers! Part II: The Stowers Institute Is a Terrific New Model for Funding Scientific Research!”, and, “Getting Rid of Research Grants: How Paul G. Allen Is Doing It!” ).
This provocative and fascinating short article in Nature can be read profitably not only by working research scientists, but also by ordinary people! It clearly points to the need for a much larger survey of faculty scientists who have moved into industrial research, so that some statistical measures for evaluating motivation and outcome can be made. In addition, the implications of this brief survey raise very important questions for postdocs and graduate students, such as “Should I aim to start my professional research career working in academia or in industry?”
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