Working In Industry vs Academia – Academia and Industry career 

In a world constantly poised on the cusp of innovation, the tussle between academia and industry continues to shape the trajectory of burgeoning research and practical problem-solving.

This blog dissects the myriad facets of working in academia versus the industry, shedding light on the nuanced disparities surrounding focus, career paths, collaboration, salary, and professional growth, among others.

As each sector unveils its own set of ladders to climb, challenges to meet, and rewards to reap, the exploration presents a holistic gaze into the intertwined worlds of academia and industry.

Whether it’s the structured rigor of industrial projects or the exhilarating freedom of academic exploration that beckons, this blog offers a nuanced narrative for those standing at the crossroads, poised to step into the labyrinth of career possibilities post-Ph.D.

Differences between academia vs industry

Navigating the nuanced divergences between academia and industry often elicits a spectrum of narratives from professionals transitioning between these realms. 

FocusTheoretical and fundamental researchPractical problem-solving
Career PathDoctorate → Postdoc → Faculty/Research PositionVarious, often project-based roles
Measurement of SuccessPublishing papers, securing research fundingProject success, leadership, profitability
SalaryGenerally lower compared to industryHigher, with more immediate financial growth
CollaborationCan be within academic circles, often interdisciplinaryCommon, with multi-disciplinary teams
Professional GrowthDependent on academic achievements, publishingDependent on project management, leadership
EnvironmentAcademic InstitutionsCorporate settings, factories, onsite projects
Real-world ApplicationMight be delayed or indirectImmediate and direct
Intellectual ExchangeWithin academia, conferences, scholarly publicationsAcross various sectors within a company/project
FlexibilityStructured around academic semesters, grant cyclesProject deadlines, client demands
Typical Work ExamplesConducting studies, writing and publishing papersDeveloping products, managing projects
Perception by Others (as shared)Sometimes seen as elitistSometimes underestimated in intellectual rigor

While academia often revels in theoretical deliberations and the prestige of publishing papers, industry is entrenched in practical problem-solving, oftentimes led by individuals who might bloom later in their careers but are no less intellectually capable.

In academia, the trajectory often follows a well-trodden path from securing a doctorate, to possibly engaging in a postdoc position, and then striving towards a faculty position or a long-term research post.

The meritocratic ladder in academia is often quantified by one’s ability to publish in reputable journals and secure research funding.

Work in industry is often more project-focused, where the immediacy of solving real-world problems takes precedence over theoretical musings.

The collaboration between multi-disciplinary teams is commonplace in industry, fostering a diverse problem-solving environment.

Salary and career advancement also portray stark contrasts. Academia, traditionally, might not offer the lucrative salary packages that industry does, making the latter more appealing to some.

Working In Industry vs Academia - Academia and Industry career

The metric for career advancement in industry is often tied to project successes and leadership acumen rather than publishing prowess.

Transition from academia to industry

Transitioning from academia to industry presents a crossroad, often leading to an enriching career path filled with applied research. 

  1. Self-Assessment:
    • Understand your skills, interests, and long-term career goals.
    • Identify the aspects of academia you enjoy and those you wish to avoid in future roles.
    • Reflect on the skills you have acquired during your academic career that are transferable to industry roles.
  2. Research:
    • Research different industries and companies that align with your interests and expertise.
    • Look into the types of roles available, and understand the skills and experience they require.
  3. Skill Development:
    • Acquire any additional skills or knowledge necessary for your desired industry role.
    • Consider enrolling in relevant courses, attending workshops, or obtaining certifications.
  4. Networking:
    • Attend industry conferences, webinars, and networking events to connect with professionals in your desired field.
    • Join professional associations and online communities related to your field of interest.
    • Conduct informational interviews to gather insights about working in the industry.
  5. Professional Branding:
    • Update your resume, focusing on your skills and achievements rather than just academic credentials.
    • Create or update your LinkedIn profile to reflect your industry aspirations.
    • Draft a compelling cover letter that articulates your value and enthusiasm for transitioning to the industry.
  6. Job Applications:
    • Apply for positions that align with your skills and interests.
    • Leverage job boards, company websites, and professional networks for job opportunities.
  7. Interview Preparation:
    • Prepare for common interview questions and industry-specific questions related to your desired role.
    • Practice articulating how your academic experiences and skills translate to the prospective job.
  8. Interviewing:
    • Attend interviews and showcase your enthusiasm, knowledge, and how your background makes you a strong candidate.
    • Send thank-you emails to interviewers expressing your appreciation for the opportunity.
  9. Continuous Learning:
    • Stay updated with industry trends and continue learning even after securing a job.
    • Seek mentorship within your new workplace to smooth the transition and continue growing professionally.
  10. Adaptation:
    • Understand the new culture and work dynamics.
    • Be open to feedback and ready to adapt to new working methodologies prevalent in the industry.
    • Network internally within the company to learn, grow, and find future opportunities.
  11. Reflection and Forward Planning:
    • Reflect on your transition experience, recognizing what went well and what could be improved.
    • Set new career goals and plan your next steps within the industry.

The first step involves introspection: understanding one’s long-term goals and personal circumstances is crucial. 

For instance, the stability offered by large companies might appeal to individuals with significant family responsibilities, as opposed to the dynamic, yet uncertain terrain of startups.

Academic research is largely self-directed and the freedom to dictate one’s research goals is often said to be unparalleled.

Industry offers a plethora of resources, enabling researchers to focus solely on experimentation rather than the mundane task of generating reagents.

Being a self-starter who is able to proactively manage your own time is valued in both realms, but the pace and immediate applicability of research in industry often demand a more collaborative and deadline-driven ethos.

The advantages of industry positions are:

  • faster career advancement,
  • higher life sciences salary,
  •  and a dynamic work environment.

The transition also allowed for more focused research, with the benefit of working within well-resourced labs, unlike the often resource-constrained academic labs.

There’s a stark difference in job security and the ability to advance your career quickly in industry as compared to staying in academia.

Industry allows for exploration, be it in big pharma, small biotech, or startups, and this dynamism can be exhilarating for those looking for a myriad of experiences post-Ph.D.

It’s imperative to note that knowing your strengths can help decide between academia and industry.

Possessing excellent communication and teamwork skills might favor a career in industry, where cross-functional collaborations hasten the achievement of research results.

Differences between a career in academia or industry after PhD

Embarking on a career path post-PhD often presents a fork in the road: pursuing academia or venturing into the work in industry.

Each avenue offers a distinct flavor of challenges and rewards.

  1. The post-PhD career path leads to a significant choice between academia and industry, each with its own set of challenges and rewards.
  2. Industry positions, such as a research scientist, often entail a clear, structured trajectory towards managerial roles while still engaging in research.
  3. In contrast, academia follows a different ladder of progression, from lecturer to professor, offering a blend of research and teaching with more autonomy over research direction.
  4. Academia brings the pressure of publishing papers, a fundamental aspect of academic success, along with the opportunity for enriching collaborations with other scholars.
  5. Industry roles tend to offer higher salaries and potentially better job security, appealing to many postdoctoral researchers.
  6. There exists a possibility for transitioning between academia and industry, as seen with individuals seeking new challenges and perspectives.
  7. Such transitions highlight a level of fluidity between the two sectors, suggesting a mutual valuation of skills acquired in either domain.

For instance, a research scientist in industry might find themselves on a science-management hybrid pathway, climbing up the managerial ladder while still engaging in meaningful research.

The trajectory from a base level to senior managerial positions appears to be relatively clear and structured in industry settings.

On the flip side, academia presents its own set of ladders to climb.

From starting as a lecturer, one can aspire to advance to positions like senior lecturer, reader, and eventually a professor. Unlike the rigidity of industry, academia offers a blend of research and teaching, giving scholars the autonomy to steer their research direction. 

This comes with the pressures of publishing papers, which is a currency academia thrives on.

An enticing aspect of academia is the ability to collaborate freely with other scholars, enriching the intellectual journey. 

The work in industry often comes with a handsome salary and possibly better job security, which might appeal to many postdocs.

Transitioning from academia to industry or vice versa isn’t unheard of.

It’s illustrated by individuals who, enticed by a change, migrate between academia and industry, seeking fresh perspectives and challenges.

Such transitions also hint at a fluidity that exists between industry and academia, indicating that the skills acquired in one can be valued in the other. 

Making a choice: Industry or academia after PhD? My Experience

My career journey meandered through a PhD, an industry stint as an explosives chemist in mines, a return to academia, and various entrepreneurial ventures including a percussion business and a science communication startup. 

This vast spectrum of experiences birthed profound insights into the pursuit of happiness through career.

The journey revealed that a job’s monetary reward can offer temporary satisfaction but isn’t a long-term happiness solution.

The transition from academia to industry brought a near-tripling of income, an initially euphoric experience that soon revealed money to be merely a band-aid for job dissatisfaction. 

On the contrary, flexibility and freedom emerged as more significant factors contributing to job satisfaction.

Academia offered a more flexible schedule compared to the rigid nine-to-five routine in the industry.

 It’s crucial to note that this flexibility in academia was not a default but earned through achievements like securing grants.

Stability, often sought in a career, appeared elusive in both realms.

The industry offered apparent stability unless projects were axed due to financial constraints. Conversely, academia’s stability seemed a hard-earned luxury, often achievable post several years of surviving on short-term contracts.

My experience understanding personal preferences, risk tolerance, and values might be the cornerstone in making a satisfying career choice post-PhD, be it in academia or the industry.

By aligning one’s job with personal strengths, interests, and the desire for flexibility, financial reward, or stability, the path to enduring job satisfaction becomes clearer.

Wrapping up – industry vs academia

The voyage from academia to industry or vice versa embodies a pivotal moment for PhD graduates, placing them at a juncture where theoretical pursuits meet practical applications.

The dichotomy between academia and industry mirrors the contrast between self-directed research and focused applied research.

Working in academia often unveils a path lush with intellectual autonomy, intertwined with the rigors of securing research funding and publishing.

An industry career paves the way for collaborative endeavors, fast-paced project timelines, and often, a more lucrative salary potential, as corroborated by life sciences salary surveys.

The transition from academia to industry often encapsulates a shift from an academic environment to a realm where research directly fuels real-world solutions, thus rendering immediate impacts.

The choice between academia and industry isn’t binary; the fluidity of transitions between them implies a continuum of opportunities.

Understanding one’s long-term goals, the allure of either immediate industry research results or academic exploration, and personal circumstances like financial exigencies are paramount.

The right choice could mean a fulfilling journey where daily endeavors resonate with one’s core interests and career goals, whether that involves delving into academic research or advancing in an industry job, each with its unique set of challenges and rewards.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.