The Budding Scientist’s Dilemma: Academia vs. Industry

So, you’ve decided that you want to be a scientist or maybe you’ve known this for a while. Either way, congratulations! Careers in science are intellectually stimulating, rewarding, and enjoyable. But, before you break out the champagne, you must decide between the dreaded occupational dichotomy: academia or industry?

Academia involves research-related work within the higher educational system including (but not limited to) applying for grants, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, mentoring students, running a laboratory, and teaching university courses. The science conducted in this environment can be basic, applied, or a combination of both.

Industry also includes conducting research, however, it is not associated with an academic institution. Instead, industry-related research, typically in an applied, clinical nature, is conducted at large corporations, organizations, and start-up companies.

woman walking in park

As someone just starting out in your field of choice, potentially as an undergraduate student, this might be your first time hearing of the societal pressure to make such a “big,” “life-changing” decision. While the choice might be easy for some individuals, it is often difficult and strenuous for others. In order to help, we’ve outlined some points to consider when navigating your future as a scientist.

How do these Environments Compare to One Another?

Before you make any decisions about graduate school versus jobs, take the time to understand what type of position you might actually want. Often the best way to find a sense of direction in this situation is to read through job descriptions (JDs) for your chosen scientific field and write down a list of pros and cons. Rather than search through hundreds of positions online, we have compiled a list of essential pros and cons.

Academia Pros:

(1) You will often have the freedom and flexibility to create your office hours as you see fit. If you are a person who enjoys working independently, such an environment can be conducive to productivity.

(2) You will be encouraged to explore your specific scientific interests, especially since these intellectual passions are what you’re expected to research and publish!

(3) Job security is a coveted asset for anybody – and although it is difficult to achieve, securing tenure as an academic can guarantee your professorship at your institution for life.

(4) The culture of academia flows at a more steady, slowed pace due to its focus on long term goals associated with development one’s individual interests and research..

Academia Cons:

(1) Academics have numerous responsibilities outside of the lab that can be time consuming and detract from conducting research.

(2) The pressure to obtain funding and tenure can be brutal – which is why the phrase “publish or perish” was created. This often requires hours of writing numerous grants and peer-reviewed papers with no guarantee that they will be accepted.

(3) According to a study conducted by The Scientist, scientists in industry annually make 30% more than those in academia with an average annual income of $129,507 in comparison to $88,693.

Industry Pros:

(1) Because organizations in industry have large teams working towards a common goal on a quick timeline (i.e. drug development), there are often immediate, impactful results engendered. This can be a highly rewarding experience for employees knowing they have made such direct contributions to patients’ lives.

(2) Career trajectory in industry is infinite. If an individual yearns to move from one area of a company to another, wishes to climb up the corporate ladder, or become less involved in the science conducted and more involved in business affairs, there are always opportunities! This starkly contrasts academia, where individuals are expected to continue forward in sometimes a very niche area.

(3) Within industry there is strong emphasis placed on teamwork. In order for a company to succeed, all individuals need to work together to achieve the desired outcome. This leaves less room for competition and more for collaboration.

Industry Cons:

(1) You will work a standard eight hour day. With this comes a structured work day/week and numerous deadlines that need to be met.

(2) Because there is such a large emphasis on teamwork and successes are viewed as achievements by the company as a whole, individuals are usually not credited – no matter how much time and effort they have dedicated.

6 white doors and 1 yellow

What is the Right Choice for My Career and My Happiness?

Regardless of what this blog, your friends, colleagues, professors, mentors, and/or parents say, the right choice for you can only be decided by you. And chances are that you probably don’t know the answer… yet. Rather than worry and ruminate over the unknown, focus on what you do know and consider the following three points:

(1) Take your Strengths and Weaknesses in Stride.

As the old adage goes, “you know yourself best.” Recognition and understanding of both your strengths and areas of improvement will aid you in choosing the environment best for you. If you know you don’t work well in groups, industry might not be the greatest option. On the other hand, if you want to see your work make an immediate impact in patients’ lives, industry could be the way to go.

(2) Follow Your Passions.

Money is always a HUGE motivating factor in deciding where and how we spend our lives, but money may not buy you happiness or fulfillment. Cliches aside, do not sacrifice your passions to do something you feel like you should be doing or making financially.

(3) Embrace Change.

If you have already selected a path, but now feel like you are in too deep to change your career, take a deep breath. Most people change their minds and there is no guarantee that what you choose to do at 25 is what you will be doing at 50! So if you do decide to switch from academia to industry or vice versa, hone in on your skills, accomplishments, and hardwork and market yourself appropriately and prepare for your desired job.

If have decided that industry is the best option for you, and you are actively looking for a job, is currently looking to fill many open positions at leading biotech companies in the greater Boston area.  Check out our large list of biotech jobs.

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