Friday, August 03, 2007

The debate continues: is industry really better?

Yes, I'm sure it sounds like a broken record, both from me and from the commenters.

Funny how commenters usually refuse to read the archives, and so they show up and just ask the same "why don't you...?" questions over and over.


In response to the joke that I "now" have a friend in industry:

I do have friends in industry, quite a few in fact. They've been there for a while. I talk to them frequently. I hear all about industry.

Most of my friends are just as stressed out as I am, since it's never clear if their companies are doing well or if they are, for how long that will last.

If the big drug fails in clinical trials, everyone gets axed. And you're screwed even if you're not one of the people who gets laid off early, because morale goes down like the Titanic. And nobody wants to work in a place like that.

Meanwhile there are no openings anywhere because everyone who just got laid off is out snatching them up.


Despite having been hired with research oriented job descriptions, three of my friends have gotten suckered into doing what's essentially glorified sales and tech support, just to try to keep their companies and their jobs afloat.

Meanwhile they're on LinkedIn, desperately networking, because they've signed contracts barring them from taking a job with any of their current company's clients that they've met while doing sales...!

Gosh, sales and tech support! That sounds like loads of fun!

....Oh wait, I wouldn't want to do that in a million years.

Yeah. No thanks.

As I've said before:

Maybe the people aspects are better because everyone isn't squabbling over pennies like we do in academia?

I'm sure that, like in academia, some places are better than others.

And I'm sure interesting things get done and that I would probably be happy doing them somewhere, if I hadn't found a project I like so much that just isn't application-oriented at all.

Lately I'm more interested in basic principles than I am in applications, but I can certainly see how that would be fun, too.

I guess one component that most people don't mention is my impression that there are more rules in industry.

I know there are very strict regulations on anything that will be used clinically, how the stuff is made and quality control and all of that. I have one friend who has to have someone sign her lab notebook every day, like a notary, to verify what she's been doing and that she's been writing it all down correctly.

Gaaah! That would drive me crazy!

So I might have mentioned this before but... I hate rules. HATE them.


And I'm just not convinced that making more money would make any of my real problems go away, unless I can buy some magic Asshole Repellent Spray that works everywhere and lasts at least 12 hours??

I think I saw some in a boutique when I was on vacation at a spa...

Clearly such things are beyond my budget on a postdoc salary.

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At 7:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, maybe the Magic Asshole Repelent Spray is out of the question, but I can suggest a few things that might be in your budget, depending on your medical benefits:

Shrink visits: $25-120 per hour, depending on insurance co-pay

Cymbalta or Wellburtin: many of the benefits of the first generation SSRI's, with few or none of the drawbacks. 10-50 per month, depending on your drug benefit

Lithium-the cheapest at about $8 per month, but the weight gain can be a b*tch. Trileptal works pretty well with no weight gain, but it's a bit more pricey. Still, good insurance should take care of you for $10-40 per month. And of course in the end it is up to your doctor to help decide which is best for you.

None of thses things actually repell assholes, they just help you stop seeing them everywhere you look.

They can also go a long way toward downregulating your gloom-and-doom receptors. All of these things make science, or whatever job you have, more pleasant, increasing productivity, and enhancing career prospects.

If you're wondering whether this is insulting or sarcastic, it's not. It's the voice of experience. In fact, you don't even have to post this comment. I do wish you would read it and take it to heart, though.

with kind regards,
amazingly patient anonymous (that's your nickname for me)

At 9:57 AM, Anonymous JR said...

You are so foolish. Your comments about industry are misinformed, childish and immature. You should keep the scope of your blog focused on something you actually know something a failing academic career.

When will you recognize that it is time to put your tinker toys away, grow up and become a productive member of society. The risks you describe in industry are everywhere in every business... from the local deli all the way to the global pharmaceutical. That is life and academic science is the only exception. To make the comment that you don't want to work in industry because you don't want to follow rules and have someone actually review your work or to take a short term undesirable position for the benefit of the company is childish. An attitude like that is not welcome in any profession and will only continue to sink you as you struggle to develop your career.

You are living in a bubble and you are struggling with the reality that there is no more room for you there. There are plenty of idealistic young people to take your place.

As long as academic science depends on money either from public or private sources, there is no such thing as academic freedom, and there never will be. It is a myth meant to fool the young idealistic people like yourself into devoting more of their time chasing scientific mysteries that nobody really cares about anyway.

Maybe it is time to wipe the slate clean and re-invent yourself. Who knows what kind of challenges and accomplishments that sales position will bring you. That would be an interesting blog to read. Otherwise, you are just a dinosaur refusing to adapt and waiting to go extinct.

At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Mel said...

jr: If you think this blog is so boring, why are you still reading it? Trolling blogs is hardly being a productive member of society...

I know several people in industry and I think you've got it pretty much nailed. I've been reading your blog for a looong time and I know you aren't a malcontent, you're just frustrated. I also don't think you'd enjoy industry one bit.

You may want to make a sidebar section titled "Why I won't go to industry" and then link all the relevant posts there so that you don't have to keep rehashing it.

At 12:03 PM, Anonymous MS said...

Industry and academia have very different goals and thus very different systems and incentives to reach those goals.

Academia wants scientists who answer compelling questions, irrespective of money, who are not afraid of trying new things and pushing the frontier of knowledge. Thus, academia does not pay very high wages because they do not want to attract people who are there for the money. The intellectual freedom is your reward, not your paycheck. That's just to keep you from starving. In academia, your reward for hard work is the right to work more. In fact, even if by some quirk, your university could afford to double every post doc's salary, it would be extremely detrimental to the quality of work if they were to do so. This is because the university will be giving people a monetary incentive in place of a much more powerful intellectual incentive. Right now you do your work because you love it, not because you are paid for it. This means you do those extra little things out of love of the job. You might not do those extra little things if there was a price on each of them. Or you might do too much of the little things if you knew there was a price attached to them. Also, your experimental results are not tied to your wages, which allows you to try new and daring experiments that may (or will) not work without fear of financial reprisals. In return for all that intellectual freedom, you have to put up with all the crap! Let's face it: there's not enough money in the world to fund every idea that pops into every researchers' mind. The hoops you have to jump through are purely there to weed out the wrong type of people from this job. The moral is: you have to put up with a lot of shit in order to do what you love.

Companies are looking for quality, consistant work that is low cost. They often put researchers into positions where they do the same experiment over and over again. This is to ensure consistency between experiments. It also keeps the costs low because they don't have to train every new hire on every experiment they do. This also means that those jobs are frequently very boring. Which is why those people get paid more, in return for the boring jobs. Their reward is the money. Thus, those researchers do not try to do blue sky experiments because that will seriously jeoprodize their reward. In addition, companies need to make a profit, academia does not. To this end, companies will limit their research to areas that will show financial returns in the future. They will not fund any blue sky experiment that comes their way precisely for that reason. Academia will fund those experiments precisely because they do not have to make a profit.

The point of all the above is not to argue one side is better than the other. Rather, the point is that the two industries are very different, with different goals, and different incentives, processes to reach those goals. So it is not fair to compare the two to each other, because it is rather like apples to oranges. The fact that after all this time, these two systems emerged, shows that each system is actually very good at achieving the goals that they were designed to do. Industry is set up to achieve its goals of bringing effective products to market safely and profitably. Academia is set up to inspire compelling research into uncharted areas to answer interesting questions. With such different goals: is it any wonder that they have such different working styles and environments?


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