I recently read “Planning a Scientific Career in Industry: Strategies for Graduates and Academics” by Sanat Mohanty and Ranjana Ghosh. Even though I am a tad bit removed from the start of my career in industry, I find it valuable to read books and articles that make me think about things in a new way. Here are some of the things I thought about while reading this book – if you find them intriguing, you may want to check it out.
Scientists as Knowledge Workers
Scientists are knowledge workers – we combine expertise in a particular subject area with critical analysis skills. This means we have more flexibility than many other kinds of workers – we can apply the same analysis skills to a new area of knowledge, or learn new analysis skills in the same knowledge area.
As knowledge workers, our primary responsibility in industry is to solve problems, and in the best case to identify multiple solutions. You may have been hired to solve a particular kind of problem, but your knowledge, skills and abilities are probably more broadly applicable. Looking around the company for other kinds of problems that you can solve is never a waste of time, and in fact can be a very good source of job security.
When contemplating transitioning to a new company, it is very important to understand the culture of that company, and how you will (or will not) fit into it. For example, how does the company react to new ideas? Some companies embrace them, while others like to stick with the tried and true. If they always go with the tried and true, and you prefer to experiment with new ways of doing things, you are probably going to end up very frustrated.
Another thing you will almost certainly do throughout your career is make mistakes. How does the company react to those? Obviously you will be held accountable, but to what level? Are there checks and balances in place to keep you from going too far down the wrong path? What is the attitude of management – “Oh well, we tried something and it didn’t work” or “How could you have done that”?
Being able to work as part of a team is incredibly important in industry, much more so than in academia. Teams today are larger and more diverse than they have been in the past, allowing input from members with a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise. However, since teams are also often geographically distributed and comprised of individuals with different specialties, it may be harder for them to build trust and consensus. The most successful teams form in companies where senior executives are seen to collaborate, where many communities already exist around particular interest areas, and where the team members are able to build on prior relationships.
Knowing what you want to get out of your career makes it significantly easier to find a path that will let you get there, rather than the random walk that most people take. Ask yourself what you would do with your time if you didn’t have to earn money. What are your dreams? What would a fulfilling career and life look like to you? By understanding what will make you happy in the long run, working towards that in the short term, you can make sure you are on the right path.
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.