R&D in industry over the horizon

SunriseR&D in industry isn’t a surprising postdoc career destination but it’s still surrounded by mystery. What are the reasons former postdocs in industry say that they like it? Or there any downsides they are hiding?

This year, we’ve had lots of feedback at the Postdoc Careers Service on what’s it like and what are the key differences to academia.

Shared risk and glory

In academia if your project doesn’t go well and you are struggling to get any results, the burden is on you to fix it, limp on with the project and try to recruit some volunteers to assist. In industry, inherent team work means that you are not holding the whole weight of the project. As one postdoc now in a local biotech put it “If you are struggling (with experiments) the team is struggling with you and everyone is helping you out”. Sounds great but be aware that getting all the kudos for a project is probably off the cards too as the successes rightly need to be shared. So, if a getting the glory on an individual level is your primary driver, academia might be a better fit.

High tech shiny labs

While academia is idea cutting edge territory, industry is doing it on the technology front. R&D firms invest in equipment and technology which postdocs tell us is a step above most academic institutions and a major perk of the job. Time is money, so companies don’t tend to scrimp on the resources you need to get your job done.

stopwatchFast turn around time

Having years to delve deeply into an academic research area is heaven for some and the reason that postdocs go on to be PIs. But if you get more of a kick from shorter time frames, industry will tick that box. Project managers will be giving you targets and deadlines. It might mean that you can’t go down every interesting experimental route but it will mean you know what you have to focus on when which many postdoc tell us they yearn. But that level of organisation comes at a price. Industry postdocs say the number of meetings is a “culture shock”, the work is intense and the expectations are high.

Real world applications in sight

Certainly anyone working in pharma cites helping patients as a key driver, but that applies to all R&D careers across the sectors. Knowing that people will be consuming and purchasing what you research can be a reason to get out of bed even when the projects are tough.

What, no hidden downsides?

Sure, there are downsides. We’re well aware that the people who volunteer to come back to tell us their industry story disproportionally selects those with a positive tale to tell. But we’re keen to hear the downsides too. The downsides are often the reverse of all the positives above, it’s just a matter of your perspective. But if the positives energise you, it’s worth having a look over the horizon.  Find out more about real life postdoc R&D careers industry.


Anne Forde, Postdoc Careers Adviser


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