As a science student, graduate, or post-doc, how you choose to start off your career can be a difficult decision. Whether you’re commencing a new and exciting venture in industry, or deepening roots grounded in academia, how you decide to spend your next few years in the science space is dependent on a multitude of factors.
The truth is, a career in both academia and industry can provide you with a wealth of opportunities in the sciences. It is important to understand your own priorities, ambitions, and goals in order to make a balanced decision.
If you are struggling to decide which career path to take, keep reading! In this blog, we discuss the benefits and pain points associated with pursuing a career in either academia or industry, guiding you to make an informed career decision to fulfill your potential.
Do you prefer your own company? Or do you thrive by bouncing ideas off your fellow colleagues? This is question to consider before making your next move.
Typically, industrial roles will provide the hustle and bustle of a commercial career, particularly as an industrial scientist in a busy laboratory. For example, juggling manual library preparation to operating high-tech DNA sequencing robots to finishing daily clean-down tasks — it’s fast-paced. An energetic atmosphere can be motivating for some people in the workplace and provides a sense of community across the team.
In contrast, a role in academia can deliver a lot of independence. If you favor longer-term projects or simply prefer a quieter space to think and develop your ideas, you may be leaning toward a role in academia. Often, you may be lone working on a project with little active support from your fellow colleagues, giving you the space and freedom to make your own decisions. This is a real perk for some people studying science, as it truly allows you to take ownership of your work.
Industrial roles within the scientific field provide a clear pathway for career progression. As a post-doc, starting out in a mid-level role can be the first stride to a successful career. The direction to follow is often already established, giving a sense of security when stepping out of academia. This is often referred to as ‘climbing the corporate ladder’ and is a real motivator for many people looking for success in the scientific field.
While progression may not be as clear-cut in academia, many science graduates continuing in research-based roles are able to carve an illustrious career. If you are passionate about a specialism, academia can allow you to guide a team in pursuit of it.
Although both routes are undeniably different, progression can be found in both. Roles in both academia and industry science will allow you to take advantage of new opportunities, depending on how you envision your career evolving.
Industrial roles in science tend to be more collaborative across a wider range of roles and departments. For example, you are likely to be working cross-sectionally with laboratory teams, commercial departments, quality assurance representatives, and even sales in many of your tasks. Learning from collaboration and “seeing the bigger picture” can be a real benefit to an industrial career pathway as you get to fully understand what is required to commercialize a scientific discovery.
While collaboration does exist within academia, this usually involves working with like-minded researchers and therefore without exposure to distinct ways of working. This can be preferable for academics as you try to improve your knowledge-based development in your chosen field. Deepening your expertise within a division of study will put you at the forefront of innovation in your specialism, and emerging as a thought leader broadens the scope for success on a dramatically larger scale!
Industrial scientists generally have better job security. However, with new advancements in technology, such as the deployment of artificial intelligence and robotics into formerly manual scientific workflows, job security in industry has wavered in recent years. With this being said, industrial scientists are currently pushing scientific boundaries in the field of medicine, next-generation technology, and many more - the space has never been so populated!
In terms of academia, post-doc contracts are typically restricted to several years in length. As a result, you may need to move institutions and even countries on a semi-regular basis in order to carve out a long-standing career. With this said, there will always be a need for basic and translational research. The development of next-gen technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning will never overshadow the importance of human-driven innovation. Ultimately, the science industry is constantly expanding, and research will need to keep up.
Of course, if the holy grail of the academic pathway is achieved, a tenured professorship position, the uncertainty of an academic career suddenly disappears! Once holding a tenured position in a university, the position cannot be easily terminated making professorship one of the most stable jobs available.
While money is not everything, it is certainly a contributing factor to the career path you choose to take. Generally, industrial careers in the science sector provide a higher income, but that's not to say other career pathways can't provide a comfortable lifestyle. There is a lot of monetary value in industry across the scientific field, and it is often a welcomed change after years spent in education.
Your income in academia is dependent on how you apply yourself to your role. For instance, becoming an expert in your research field will open doors such as industry consultancy, or allow you to take on part-time roles outside of academia that rely on your expertise, such as government advisory positions.
So — academia or industry?
If you have a curious mind, are looking for a challenge, and want the satisfaction of discovering the unknown, academia could likely be for you. On the other hand, if you want a clear path of progression, a faster-paced environment and a potentially higher salary, industry provides a great option!