Transition—Spotlight Industry Part II

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Notes from Negotiating the Transition: Differences between Academia and Industry

This 2009 panel included four guest panelists who had completed postdoctoral fellowships in academia. Two had chosen to continue the academic career path as tenure-track faculty (see Negotiating the Transition—Spotlight Industry, Part I), and two had chosen instead to transition from academia into industry. Below are a few of the questions posed by the audience and the answers provided by the two academic panelists: Isabelle Marcotte, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada, and Aldrin  Gomes, Assistant Professor, Department of Neurobiology, Physiology & Behavior, University of California, Davis.
(Notes prepared by Damien Samways and Susy Kohout of the Early Careers Committee)

What factors are important to consider when deciding between an academic or industry career?

Both panelists agreed that working in a field they enjoyed made all the difference in their careers. Clearly, grant writing is an important, as well as time-consuming, responsibility for academic research. However, adequate start-up funds give new investigators time to establish their laboratories before needing further research support.

How easy is it to transition from industry into academia?

Industry and academia have diff erent working environments and many elements of training are not common to both career paths. Generally, the longer you stay on one of these career paths, the more diffi cult it can be to transition to the other. Th at said, a highly successful scientist on one career path can sometimes use this as leverage to make such a transition easier.

How much bench work versus other responsibilities can one expect in an academic path?

One of the panelists spends little time at the bench now. In the beginning, however, a large portion of this panelist’s time was needed in the lab, setting up equipment and training the incoming lab members. Having established the laboratory, more of this panelist’s time is spent writing grants, managing the research projects and lab personnel, teaching, and networking. Finding people to trust with the everyday running of the lab, such as training, is important.

The other panelist has a different routine. Writing is also a major responsibility, but this panelist endeavors to spend two hours in the lab every day. Time management is key to accomplishing that goal. Good time management allows the freedom to mix and match one’s daily schedule while still completing all one’s responsibilities.

When applying for an academic position, how can one know what is a “good fit” (i.e., is this particular department  appropriate for my skills)?

Before applying, research both the institution and the department to help determine whether the position is appropriate or not. If the advertisement for the position does not provide enough details, don’t be afraid to make inquiries by email.

It is also important to consider that departments are often merging, or have implemented cross-discipline initiatives focusing on particular research goals. These places are often looking for high-quality candidates who will think outside the box. A broad scientific base should be considered an asset, not a liability.

If teaching is a consideration, make sure to inquire about the teaching load and how teaching is expected to fit into your responsibilities along with your research. Also,  determine what courses you are comfortable teaching and apply to those departments.

During the job search process, how does one prepare for the interview?

There are many aspects to the interview process. Your research presentation needs to be geared toward a broad  audience. “Chalk talks” are not as common as they used to be, and you should ask whether this is expected.

Research those professors you are going to meet and search for some common ground. Pointing out common ground between your research and their will make your position stronger in research. Personality and enthusiasm are also important factors. Those interviewing you will become your coworkers, so their ability to work with you will make a difference in their decisions.

One of three panelists transitioned into a tenure-track professor position through a research scientist position and believes that those intermediate positions eased the transition into a professor position. Coming in with an  independent funding source, such as a K99 award, is also a terrific advantage in the current climate. Applying for  independence transition awards is highly encouraged, although they are highly competitive.