The upsides of working in industrial research settings

The upsides of working in industrial research settings

Academic research can be very satisfying for a lot of folks involved in it. All those late-night lab visits combined with a group of people sharing similar interests as yours can be a very stimulating experience you can have ever. While there can be numerous perks of academia, it doesn’t come up without its downsides, some of which I will not get into in this article. I will focus more on the experience of leaving the bubble of academia and getting into the real-world industrial work environment. For many of the folks like me, being in academia can be daunting, and there is a strong urge to leave that you occasionally shove aside, hoping that things might turn up better in the future. The issues like bad academic advisors, lack of resources, and very little-incentive can very quickly take a toll on your mental health. The long hours required for the experiments can soon deteriorate your everyday social life. While you dedicated all of it and did your best to perform “great” research, the results(publications) are often more affected by your advisor’s stature, funding of the project to make it work, and finally, the level of expertise of your research advisor. These are kinds of stuff that are out of your control and never anticipated to be an issue in the first place.

Nevertheless, if you decided to leave academic research based on the above factors, trust me, there are great things ahead. I also decided to leave it and move on to industry settings, few months back. I am currently working in a medical AI startup and the experience have been a perspective shift for me. I will try to describe the crucial ones here concisely.

1. Fair compensation for your efforts

It is not such a hidden fact how most of the academia thrives on uncompensated free-labor. While people in academic research often keep the money as their priority, it sometimes hurt when you can’t get your needs met with the meager amount of cash provided as a stipend. It was not until I left the undergraduate research that I realized the amount of unpaid work I did without much incentive either in credits or cash. Contrastingly, most corporate offices have a consistent compensation policy that ensures a reasonable pay for your efforts. While it depends a lot on the company’s financial condition, you can even demand fair compensation if you feel that you don’t feel like it. Of course, companies are also paying differently for the same job description, but it is mostly higher than what you might be getting as a stipend in a research lab. Remember, you might also be working as an unpaid worker in a lab.

2. Working on more impactful research problems

The problems mostly worked out in academia are part of a small niche that nobody deeply cares much about except you or your advisor. Such might be something a lot of people working in academia have experienced. Working in an industrial lab can be a perspective shift for many of us as tackling problems is directly related to what the company is trying to achieve commercially. They don’t spend even a single penny on a project without knowing how it can benefit the company in the short or long run. Few people might find it very disturbing not to work on fundamental questions but to develop a solution. Still, it was quite a revelation for folks like me to know about the utility of the work I am doing is doing. Even from the perspective of learning, I never found the university system ideal for myself. I found myself more driven by the prospects of the end product of my mental efforts. While working on application-based projects in industry settings, I feel I am learning more quickly than I did during my university years.

3. Well-funded projects

Securing funds for academic projects often require a daunting task of grant-proposal writing with no assurance of success. Often, people are working out of their own pockets or from PI’s self-secured grant. Such scarcity is, however, not a case when you are working in an industrial lab. Of course, there are restrictions regarding the spending limits, but there are still more resources to utilize to make a project work. It might not be accurate for well-funded labs, but the chances are low that everyone will find a decently funded lab.

4. Scope to move on

A disturbing aspect of academia is how many people are stuck with bad advisors and professors who hardly care about them. Once you start with a supervisor, it’s often hard to change them and start with someone else. It becomes a compulsion for many graduate students to complete the Ph.D. thesis somehow while tolerating the advisor. In industry, it is less compulsive as switching is standard, and people often change companies when they realize their growth is hampering or unsatisfied with the work environment. Once you gain a few years of professional experience, it becomes easier to decide employment terms.

Concluding remarks

Indeed, there are downsides that I will discuss soon in my upcoming blog, but overall it is enriching to switch to industry research when there are good topics and scope of growth. This blog is just a little attempt to break the jinx of non-academic work among the folks primarily invested in shaping an academic career. It is always good to know that there are greener pastures, and they are accessible with some efforts.