Description: ‘Industry’ comprises a spectrum of enterprises ranging from start-ups and contract research organizations to established biotechs, large pharmaceuticals, and manufacturers of scientific equipment and medical devices. The working culture differs significantly among all these venues, but all research programs in private sectors supports various stages of discovery and development. Industry is a business, therefore most of what is pursued is viewed through the lens of potential for profit. But this does not diminish in any sense the devotion of those within industry to the thrill of discovery and the outcomes that represent substantive advances in therapy and diagnostics. Many who enter research in industry do so with the intent of making a tangible contribution to people’s lives. The therapeutic/product-driven mission means that researchers in industry, by and large, have less autonomy than those in academia; research programs within a company are chosen primarily by senior management and are guided by the overall goal of the company. Yet, initiative and innovation at all levels are prized. The laboratory setting is very much like that in academia, absent graduate students and to some extent postdocs, with more emphasis often placed on highly skilled technical support. The reporting structure is more vertical in the sense that no laboratory is works independently. Especially in large enterprises, facilities are rarely limiting. Researchers are not beholden to writing grant proposals, which is a considerable distinction from academia, but depending on one’s level within a laboratory or superimposed hierarchy a justification of resources, particularly manpower, may be required on a more or less regular basis. Industry places a considerable emphasis on collaboration among investigators, much more so than in academia at this point in time. Research in industry can represent a useful platform for pursuit of other kinds of careers that are aligned with product development, for example regulatory affairs, medical writing, and medical liaison activities. There is no such thing as tenure in industry, of course. One’s stability is that inherent to any kind of business concern, i.e. subject to changes in relation to financial and strategic imperatives.
Advantages of an advanced degree: A PhD, MD, or MD/PhD is almost always required for any kind of position that lends itself to advancement in the scientific arena of industry. Reports on the requirement for postdoctoral experience are varied at this point in time. The situation the advantage of a postdoc is made more complicated by the growth of ‘industry’ postdocs and the hiring by at least some companies of recently graduated PhDs first into temporary positions. A ‘cost/benefit’ analysis of pursuing a postdoc is worthwhile: the benefits are 1) many other applicants will have had postdoc experience, therefore those without are at a disadvantage, 2) there is a maturity that comes with having to adapt to a new area of research in a short period of time, and 3) companies often consider research experience in determining position and salary; the costs are time and a generally lower salary.
Key competencies: Please see ‘Competencies Intrinsic to Scientific Endeavor’ elsewhere in this website. Competencies relating to critical thinking, mathematical and computational facility, and experimental design are essential, of course, but one cannot undervalue the ability to work effectively in a team, communicate clearly, and to learn new technologies quickly. Research in industry also places an emphasis on goal-orientation, teamwork, and ability to adapt to changes on short notice. Advancement requires all this plus the ability to lead.
On-campus student organizations: There are no student organizations working on industry research per se, however the Penn Biotech Group/Health Care Consulting and Penn Graduate Consulting Group can provide useful perspectives.
First steps: Networking is perhaps the single most important key first step in i) understanding what any particular company or set of companies in a certain industry setting can offer, and ii) getting one’s foot in the door. Attending job fairs on campus or otherwise making connections with panelists who present at Penn can be useful. As mentioned above, postdoc positions in industry exist. These can represent a quite useful means of being recognized by a company, but be sure to compare carefully the advantages/disadvantages of the particular postdoc with those of academic postdocs, as considerable differences can exist.
- David Searls, Ten Simple Rules for Choosing between Industry and Academia. PLoS Comput Biol 5(6), 2009
- Michael Price & Elisabeth Pain, Advice for Future Pharma Scientists: Start Small | Science Careers