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Academia or Industry? How do I choose?

Academia or Industry? How do I choose?


Are you a scientist or engineer
who’s about to finish up a graduate degree and you’re trying to decide between
a career in academia or a career in industry? In nearly 10 years of mentoring
scientists and engineers in their career choices, I found most people tend to be better suited
for one than the other. So, in this video, I’ll give you three
questions to help you decide if you should stay in academia
or transition into a career in industry. Hey everybody,
Dave Giltner with TurningScience. It’s been several months
since my last video. I’ve been on a lot of travel,
teaching two new workshops and it’s been going great, but I realize
I’ve gotten really behind in making videos. So, here is the next one. Now, the upside of all that travel is
I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with many of you and understand some of your biggest concerns
about your careers. And I’m going to be working those ideas
into my next several videos. One of the biggest concerns
that we scientists and engineers face as we finish up our graduate degrees is… do we stay in academia or do we transition
into the private sector? This can be a really tough decision
for a lot of people. Some of the questions that make
it seem so ominous are, will I like working in industry? If I stay in academia, am I going to end up
only writing proposals all the time… and not really doing any interesting work? If I transition into industry, will I lose my freedom to do work
that I really enjoy, things that excite me? If I go into industry, can I change
if I find that I don’t like it? These are some really tough questions and it can be a hard decision
for a lot of people. So, in this video, I’m gonna give you three questions that will
really help you decide which is best for you. And if you are already looking for a job, I have something that will really help you
there as well, so stick around to the end of the video
and I’ll tell you about that also. Question number one, are you interested in the applications
for the research you’re doing? Do you find yourself frequently wondering, “What will this be used for?” “Who will need, who will ultimately use
the research that I’m working on?” If you do, you should definitely consider
a career in industry because that’s what industry is all about – identifying and creating applications for the awesome
science research that is done in academia. I find that some people really like
to study science for its own sake. And that’s great. Others, though, really care a lot
about what their work will be used for. Some research, of course, doesn’t really
find applications for years or even decades, and that’s okay. But some people don’t like spending a lot
of time on their work, and not knowing what it’s going to turn into, who is going to need it,
what it’s ultimately going to be used for. Think about two ends of this spectrum. On one side, you’re studying a problem
that will help us better understand the universe. You’re creating new knowledge,
new science, but it’s not really clear
what it will be used for. Might not even be clear how many people
in the world care about this problem right now. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a very clear need
and you are trying to address it. It could be anything
from a new scientific instrument to trying to improve the speed
of optical communications, to trying to cure cancer. But whatever it is, when you get up
and you go into work in the morning, you know exactly where your work is headed. You know exactly
the problem you’re trying to solve and who needs your work. If you think about this spectrum and you find yourself much more closely associated
with this end of the spectrum, the application, you should definitely consider
a career in industry. Question number two, do you like variety in your work environment or do you prefer consistency? Would you be okay having a new project to
work on every year or two or maybe even every six months? Or would you prefer to work on one or two
research areas over many years, developing a deeper knowledge, deeper understanding,
and a greater expertise over time? If you prefer the variety, I would definitely suggest
you consider a career in industry. Industry tends to be more dynamic
than academic research. Companies need to change
to keep up with changing markets or competition
or simply to grow the company. Now that’s something I found to be
a really exciting part of my own industry career I get bored a bit easily. I like new challenges. I love to learn new things, and my industry career has given me many chances
to do that on a regular basis. So, as an example, early in my career,
I worked for a fairly small laser company. It was about 500 people. And I was in a group that was developing a
number of new technologies trying to find one or two that would have
a larger commercial success. And that meant, over a few years,
I got to work on a lot of different projects and I found it really, really exciting. I like that variety. Academic research tends not to change so much. It tends to be more stable. So, if you like the variety,
I would definitely consider a career in industry. Question number three, is work-life balance important to you? If so, you should probably consider
a career in industry. Generally speaking, people who work in industry
have more time for life outside of their work. Now I have a theory on this. Academic research tends to be pretty open-ended. You can always understand the problem better, collect more data, do more analysis, have more publications. But in industry, you tend to be working
towards very specific results which usually result in shipping something
to a customer. And as long as you’re getting those results or as long as your plan shows
you’re on track to get those results on time, you can go home. Now I remember
when I was working on my PhD, academic research, the results I was after were
really far in the future, The only real measure of my success seemed
to be the effort that I was putting in, how long I spent in the lab. That’s what people could see. That’s what my advisor could see. Aand I felt like the longer I spent in the lab,
the better I was doing. Ever since I’ve worked in industry, I’ve had very specific results
that I was trying to achieve. It was very clear
what was expected from me that week, that month or that year. And as long as I was achieving those results or I was hitting specific milestones
on schedule, I felt fine going home. I was being measured by my results,
not by the amount of effort I put in. And if I found a way to get those results
quicker or more efficiently, that was a bonus that helped me. Now, it’s not like
you don’t hear about entrepreneurs, people in startups working day and night
to get their companies off the ground. Absolutely, you do. So, some of that certainly happens. But, generally speaking, people in industry have more time
for life outside of their work. Trying to decide between a career in academia
or a career in industry can be rather challenging. Much of the uncertainty stems
from your trying to make a decision between something you understand well, academia, and something you probably don’t understand
very well at all, industry. If you’re still struggling with this, if you’re still feeling uncertain, make an effort to do informational interviews or some people call them expert interviews with people who work in industry. Ask them what they like about their careers,
what excites them, what they find challenging, what they don’t really like about it. This is something that will really help you
quite a bit, help that uncertainty. Now, I mentioned earlier, I have something extra for those of you
who are already looking for a job. I recently completed my “Essential Industry Job
Search Guide for Scientists”, and I’d like to get to you for free. Just look for the link in the description
below this video that says “Essential Job Search Guide”. Now, I’m sure you’re aware there’s a lot of
job search advice out there. Thing is, most of that has been created by people who make a career
of giving job search advice, not by people who have
actually worked in industry, spent a career there, know what industry managers, hiring managers,
are looking for and know how industry works. I do. And that’s what I’ve put in this guide. I talk about what a manager in industry
would like to see in your resume, about how you can talk
about your academic research in a way that makes them take notice, and even about how you can sound
like you understand how industry works even if you don’t have
any industry experience if you’ve never worked there. You want to get this great guide? Just check out the link
in the description below, Essential Job Search Guide. Check it out.
You’ll be glad you did. Well, I hope you found this video
on making that decision… between an academic career
and an industry career… helpful. If you like this video,
please click that like icon below. It’ll help me, but, more importantly, you will help other people
who could benefit from this video because more likes means
YouTube shows it to more people. I’d also be grateful if you’d share this video
with your friends and your colleagues. And if you’d like to get
more videos like this yourself, click that subscribe button
and ring that notification bell. I try to make about two of these
every month to help you build
the career you really want. Thanks for watching. Now, let’s get out there
and turn science into things people need. [Music]

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