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What's industry like?

In the next week or so I’ll be uploading another episode of ‘When are you going to get a Real Job?’, all about industry. Currently I’m on placement t in industry, so, I thought it would be useful to look at what I think are the differences between academia and industry and what might be the positives and negatives.

What’s different

1.     The Pace

When I arrived at my industry placement I was expecting to have some time to get used to this new environment and perhaps have some time planning with the R&D team. As it transpired, on the first day I was thrown into a hard day’s work getting my project up and running. Within three days my project had begun! In a brief 10-minute meeting, I had to outline my plans and what I needed to pull it off. Reeling a bit from the sheer rapidity of it all (in academia I’ve had meetings about meetings about meetings…), I hesitantly rattled off what I would need, hoping it was right and wasn’t too much to ask…

2.     Resources

After this short meeting I was told I would have mostly everything today, and they were very sorry but some things they would only be able to get hold of tomorrow. I was stunned. They were apologising for only be able to get me something in 24 hours? Needless to say, it felt markedly different to just be able to use whatever it was you needed, rather than having discussions about how much we have in the grant and where we could apply to get money… I was asking for several thousands of pounds worth of material too, this wasn’t a small ask! To add a small caveat to this, my project had been arranged in advance and had a hefty budget already assigned to it. Talking to others in industry, it sounds more often the case that you can have big resources, but you need to clearly outline the benefits to the company. In addition, if you ask for all this money… you are made to work for it.

3.     Culture

You work hard in industry, and fast. You have to be developing things that will aid the company’s profitability, not wasting time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to have a positive outcome from a project, a negative one is still good as they will know that this isn’t worth pursuing, but even if it is positive… it may not be profitable.

Whist working hard, you have to work within limits. After a long day working to set up my project I finished the physical labour at 5:15pm, so I went back to the main building… only to discover it was locked. I looked all around the building, but there was no-one to be seen! After coming from academia where people work anytime and every-time, it was a little bit of a surprise to find I had to work within such constrained limits of 9-5. When I inquired about weekend working I was told that the whole facility is locked up and alarmed, I was under no circumstances to work at the weekend. This did have benefits though, I found that outside of work people rarely talked about it and they were always meeting up and going to events after work hours. This sounds like a small thing and I’m sure for many academics it’s a similar situation, but for me it seemed unreal that people walked out that door at the end of the day and didn’t look back.

4.     Camaraderie  

Whilst I did work very hard, I had help. Often in academia it can feel like you’re on your own, but in industry it often feels like everyone is in it together working towards the same goal. I had people helping me pierce water bottles for bees and buying flowers (long story...)! I’m sure that in many academic positions this is true too, but for me it was a welcome relief to have people on my team helping me achieve success. On the flipside, this also means that you will likely help out others with their projects too, for me this was quite interesting as I could get insight into many other parts of the industry I was working in.

Positives about industry (in my opinion)

  • You work and then you live. You don’t live to work.
     
  • Perks. The company provides us with free coffee, free lunch, travel is covered, some people get company cars and on occasion the company will pay for an open bar!
     
  • Access to resources. You can undertake projects that you can only dream of in most academic positions.

Negatives about industry (in my opinion)

  • Less flexibility with work hours. You are often constrained to certain working hours, so if you prefer to work late, early or if you need to be flexible with your time, you may have to reconsider.
     
  • You are worked very hard and made to account for it. You may work 9-5, but you work 9-5, after all’s said and done too, you have to show that your time is being used profitably to the higher management.
     
  • Less free experimentation. There’s not really much opportunity to just try and experiment just to see. You have to making sure you are using your time wisely and in the company’s interests.

Obviously, my experiences in one industry will not be representative of all of the different companies out there, nevertheless I think knowing this and having a better idea of what’s entailed with industry will help you consider whether it’s for you.

Thanks for reading and look out for the next episode of the podcast where we drill into this in much greater depth.

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