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OTHER JOBS FOR SCIENTISTS, PART II: RESEARCH JOBS IN INDUSTRY OR GOVERNMENT LABS

Many Jobs are Available for Doctoral Scientists  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Many Jobs now are Available for Doctoral Scientists   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Commercial industries now employ a very large number of doctoral scientists for their research and development efforts.  The annual total money spent on scientific research and development by all USA industries was almost 300 billion dollars in 2011 [1].  Very large research facilities established and run by the federal government also employ very many doctoral researchers from all branches of science.  New science Ph.D.’s and Postdocs who are seeking their first employment should have a clear understanding of the fundamental differences between researching in industry vs. academia, and in government research centers vs. universities.  These distinctions are discussed in this Part II discourse.

Researching in industrial research and development centers

The goal of industrial research operations usually is to build a new product or to improve some existing commercial offering or process, thereby increasing the profits of that company.  Experimental research areas at each center are highly focused and are selected with regard to their commercial products and activities; they do not involve any wide array of topics.  Company research programs not only provide salaries and benefits, but also furnish money for all equipment, supplies, and other expenses needed in their laboratories.  Provisions for compliance with regulations, environmental protection, health, legal issues and patents, maintenance of facilities, safety and security, waste disposal, etc., usually are done in-house or via contracts with outside operators.  Decisions about key questions for researchers such as what will be investigated, how the experiments will be conducted, how much time can be spent collecting data, who will work on what aspects in the team research effort, when something needs to be patented, and, when a project is completed or must be stopped, all are reviewed and made by research officials and/or company directors.  There is much more emphasis in industrial science operations on obtaining patents, and less pushing for published research reports, than is found at universities.

When university faculty scientists look at industrial research workers, their eyes usually open very widely since some aspects definitely are utterly wonderful (i.e., better salaries and benefits, laboratories with the latest research equipment and a full range of supplies, teams of good coworkers and research assistants, interactions with stable collaborative groups, and, absence of the need to apply for research grants).  On the other hand, this excellent working environment is accompanied by certain problematic aspects; these include that research projects can be stopped by administrative decision, a research worker can be transferred out of a project and inserted into another study at any time, and, some traditional parts of research freedom are missing or restricted (e.g., opportunities to work on a subject of one’s own choosing).  Each company has a different culture and some particular distinctions, so individual young job candidates must always carefully evaluate the respective positive and negative features involved locally.  If an industrial research center needs a doctoral worker in exactly the same area as the researcher’s own personal interest, then that employment can be very wonderful.  Those biomedical and physical research scientists working in industrial laboratories that I have met all seemed very satisfied with their professional careers.

An outspoken essay by Julio Peironcely for new science job seekers recently has appeared on the Next Scientist website and deals with how to find employment in industrial research and development centers (Peironcely, J., 2013.  Leaving academia: How to get a job in industry after your PhD.  Next Scientist, Helping PhD Students Succeed (April, 2013).  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nextscientist.com/job-in-industry-after-your-phd/ ).  This article is very illuminating and provocative, and is highly recommended by Dr.M for all job candidates.

Working in government laboratories and national/regional research facilities

The USA federal government sponsors and supports its own national centers and special facilities for research (e.g., Argonne National laboratory (Argonne, Illinois), Brookhaven National Laboratory (Upton, New York), National Center for Electron Microscopy (Berkeley, California), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland, Washington), Sandia National Laboratory (Albuquerque, New Mexico), etc.).  The research direction at each of these operations is related to the targets of their governmental sponsor and funding source (e.g., Agricultural Research Service [2], Communicable Diseases Center [3], Department of Energy [4], National Institutes of Health [5], etc.).  Much additional information about all governmental labs, their current research operations, and their different sponsoring federal agencies is available on the internet.  Government labs all are large operations and often participate in “big science” (i.e., working with unique research instrumentation costing millions or billions of dollars); most have valuable programs enabling use of these special facilities by visiting research scientists.

When compared to university research operations, the labs at government research laboratories have many similarities.  The government research centers, just like universities, have huge bureaucracies, very many rules and regulations affecting all research workers, and, all sorts of administrative reviews that gauge research progress.  Doctoral science employees often have job titles and ranks analogous to those at universities.  Both reports in science journals and patents are valued at the government research centers. Amazing wastage of money is easily evident in laboratory operations at both government research centers and universities (see my earlier article in the Money&Grants category on “Wastage of Research Grant Money in Modern University Science”).

One of the biggest differences is the absence of the hyper-competition for research grants (see my recent article in the Money&Grants category on “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants”) at the government laboratories.  This is due to the fact that most of their research activities are funded internally.  However, government centers do have several levels of internal funding, and there is some normal level of internal competition between the different government sites and between the several different research operations at each site.  Another distinctive difference is that graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are found at both universities and federal research centers, but are much more numerous at academic institutions.  Research at government centers generally has more of the flavor of group efforts; individual stars at government research centers usually are associated with group efforts, and these successful scientists often can be given leadership positions at their location.

Concluding remarks

Employment seekers must be realistic and realize that no job is perfect!  Employment at academic science departments, industrial research centers, and government laboratories all have different advantages and disadvantages.  These positive and negative features must be carefully and realistically evaluated before accepting any position.  It always is very valuable to talk frankly to one or more current employees, and to ask about their views on the local positive and negative features; after that, you then must ask yourself, “Do I want to be like this current worker, and will I be personally satisfied with this working situation?”.

The main message from Part II is that many good jobs for doing laboratory research are available at industrial and government facilities, as well as in universities.  I recommend that graduate students and Postdocs wanting to find a job doing experimental lab research should become familiar with all 3 of these different settings for employment as a research scientist.  This will enlarge your available opportunities for finding a supportive working environment.

The forthcoming Part III in this series will be directed to the virtue for young scientists of being more creative and unconventional when seeking to find a suitable employment position.

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[1]  Wolfe, R.M., National Science Foundation, 2013.  Business R&D performance in the United States increased in 2011. Available on the internet at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf13335/ .

[2]  Agricultural Research Service, US Department of Agriculture, 2014.  About us.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.ars.usda.gov/AboutUs/AboutUs.htm .

[3]  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014.  About CDC Prevention Research Centers.  Available on the internet at: http://www.cdc.gov/prc/about-prc-program/index.htm .

[4]  US Department of Energy, 2014.  The Office of Science Laboratories.  Available on the internet at: http://science.energy.gov/laboratories/ .

[5]  National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2014.  About NIH.  Available on the internet at:                      http://www.nih.gov/about/ .

 

 

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