Hello Wild biologists!
It has been a while since I have posted something on my blog.
I thought at some point I would just give up on writing, but here I am again (never give up). While hanging out with one of my closest friend, we had a extremely interesting discussion about industry and academia and how they are linked in science. The main questions that were arisen in our little debate (which I will answer in the following paragraphs) were:
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of being in Academia or Industry?
- Is the knowledge between the two fields transferable?
- What can you achieve realistically in both fields?
After getting my MSc in Biomedical Sciences, I went for a job in industry while my friend, who cursed a MSc in Paleontology, went straight to Academia (predoctoral researcher or Ph.D). I think it is quite interesting to discuss this matters with her, since our perspectives and what we have learnt my differ and it helps to have a less biased point of view.
Academia, advantages and downsides
I will start analyzing the academic field. One of the biggest and most beautiful aspect of academia is that it gives you the opportunity to explore a very specific topic that you are interested in; it is what is also known as research. As for your Ph.D the topic has to be novel, interesting and also it has to be about something that has not been studied before. Through the development of your Ph.D you would acquire innumerable qualities: communication and writing skills, a great network of scientists who would you collaborate (hopefully) with during your career development, criticism and great attention for detail.
The downside of being a researcher comes when you have to make a decent living out of it. Many Ph.Ds are not founded and therefore people interested in developing a research career find it very difficult to carry on within this path. Besides, once you qualify for a founded Ph.D the competition is fierce, so the stress levels are beyond imaginable. Indeed, many studies find that Ph.D students face difficulties on keeping up with a good mental health and suffer anxiety and depression. Once you get the founding, you get under the pressure of publishing in high quartile journals to be “eligible” to develop your scientific career in academia (access to a PostDoc, Research Fellow, Research Associate or Professor). I would love to mention one fact that many ignore, specially the ones who are not involved with this career: while developing your Ph.D, there is a high chance of being underpaid; most of the salaries are between £1000 or 1000€ per month, while the working hours, depending on the research group you are in, could go over 12h per day. This formula (overwork and underpaid), for sure, is not the cup of tea of everyone.
Industry, advantages and downsides
Certainly, if you want to get into industry you will be better paid and your working hours will be more regulated than as a Ph.D student. Nowadays, there are a lot of Biotech companies, who take students fresh out from university and give them the formation needed to perform their duties within the company, facilitating the task of getting a job. Some companies, would allow you to grow with them and eventually you would pass from more automatic roles (Such as preparing buffers, excel data sheets, doing the same basic experiments, etc.) to their research teams, where you will be assigned with a project related to some patent they want to develop.
As someone who have been working in industry, I have learn that this path has a lot of disadvantages. While you make more money than a Ph.D student, if you analyze your potential development if 5 years, it would not be not as much as if you get a Ph.D. You will grow slowly, and your growth would be directly related to the role you play within your company. It is true that if you stand out, you might get paid courses to keep learning, but this knowledge would be limited to the sort of job you do, which is not necessarily what everyone likes. Finally, I would like to mention, that not all fields in science are profitable and it is very hard for so many scientists to get out of their specific academic field (e.g. paleontology).
I would say that there are so many other points that I would like to discuss, but I think this post would be extremely long. So I focused my main ideas about this topic. For me, as a curious human being, I think a research career is more fulfilling than industry. However, I think while you are trying to get a Ph.D you have to make sure to have the right financial support. I have always thought that understanding life, how it develops, the interactions at the cellular and molecular levels, the pathophysiology diseases, etc. somehow makes me happier, which for me it is the final destiny of all mankind. And while developing my Ph.D, I will try to remember that. However, I understand, that at some point, when you have a family and you need to pay rent or a mortgage, bills, health insurance, car, car insurance and so many things that I might have forgotten, your best option is to have enough income to fulfill your basic needs.
These are my main ideas, now the election is yours.
Until the next post 🙂
The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.- NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON