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Research in industry vs academia

I am a current graduate student in materials science looking into research careers after I graduate. Do you have any insights into the differences between doing research at a company, compared to a university? #science #research #graduate-school


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Michael’s Answer

My experience has been that research is largely financially driven, but quite differently for industry vs academia. Academia is focused more on the cutting edge, developing next generation technology that may or may not amount to something productive. Research in academia will almost always require a PhD and possibly post-doctoral work to gain the skills and experience necessary to be successful in the pathway. Being successful in academia will involve applying for grants or finding other sources of funding. I found the professors or principal investigators are not doing the research themselves, but instead spend the majority of their time writing grant applications, papers or pursuing other means to fund their lab. As a principal investigator, academic institutions expect your research and lab to be financially self sufficient (including building space rent in some cases). Performance in academia is generally measured by how much funding you bring into the college and how many peer-reviewed publications you have. Research in industry does not necessarily require a PhD, but it can be helpful for later career growth. Research in industry is typically on a shorter timeline with a more finite goal, ultimately leading to introduction of a product in the commercial marketplace. I work in industry, and spend more hands on time in the lab doing research than I feel I would have had in academia. After all, the goal of industry is to make a profit, so all research should fulfill this goal in some way. Leadership in industry is accountable for specific milestones and delivering products on a schedule/timeline. Performance in industry is generally measured by delivering projects on time, how successful those projects are and how much revenue a product develops. I hope this helps!

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Adele’s Answer

Hi Leonardo
Research at a company generally needs a path to being a marketable product. That said, companies sell many different things. Find a company culture and team you enjoy.

Research at university can be more theoretical, but generally needs to lead to publications and new unique insights.

I work in industry and personally prefer the connection to marketable products, but it is strictly a personal view.

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Wendy’s Answer

I am a recruiter in industry. I would say industry research would provide rich experience. You would collaborate with matrix organized teams, gain strong business acumen and the products/materials you are researching may be closer to moving into development. This is from my personal experience as a recruiter.

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Ryan’s Answer

Research for a company is very different than research at a university.
In Medtronic for example, we have a research team that is the first step in new product development. They are researching what devices physicians are requesting or what the next generation of device is or what device we need to build to compete in a market. Different companies have different needs for research and development. Some times the best career path is to start in manufacturing and learn the products or applications. Then when you have a good understanding on how things are made you can be a stronger R&D team member.

Hope this helps and Good luck!

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Ping’s Answer

Hi Leonardo,

I am a scientist working for a medical device company. I've got my PhD in biomedical field studying cellular and molecular mechanisms of human diseases. My interest has always been developing and commercializing therapeutics for human diseases. I took a research scientist job in a biotech company after graduation, and I have been in the biomedical industry for 15 years. The industry has provided me an opportunity for my ambition. I have also enjoying working with people from different disciplines, such as engineering, marketing, quality, regulatory, and even financial accounting. There are a lot of brilliant minds working in the industry. I feel humbled everyday.

It is my opinion that the fundamental difference between academia and industry research is the goal. The goal of the academia is to advance our knowledge and fundamental understanding of the world, whereas that of the industry is to apply such knowledge to benefit human welfare. Academic research is supported by government and public funding, and industry research is supported by private stockholders. The former is not for profit and the latter is for profit as industry has to keep investing in R&D and returning value to stockholders. You have more freedom to choose your research field in academia compared to industry as our research goals need to be aligned with company missions. There are a lot of other differences between the two, like working environment, collaboration, pay scales, etc. I hope knowing the fundamental difference may help you find your path. Best wishes on whatever you choose for your own journey.

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Changhe’s Answer

I worked both in industry and academia for multiple years. Still, the information I collected is very limited and also different industry and academia institution may have huge differences. I would like to share with you for my view by the following :
In each category first industry then academia.

Environment:
A company, Associate with people with all ages. Industry R&D typically is in big companies.
A college or university. May associate with a lot of young students. Teaching oriented colleges usually have very limited R&D or none and Academia R&D mostly is in universities.

Purpose:
Industry: Produce or develop very specific products for commercial profit purpose
Academia: Could work on applications, techniques or pure theoretical study for non-profit purpose.

Research area:
Industry: Relatively narrow but deep.
Academia: Relatively wide

Operations:
Industry: Small group of very top researchers work on master mind R&D. Researchers execute and create Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) to form projects. A few follow SOP and do routine to finish the development.
Academia: Principal investigador (PI) provides R&D guide. Researchers execute. If SOP available use it or dig out your way to resolve problems. A lot of times it is the latter.

Job Security :
Industry: Relatively lower but really depends
Academia: Relatively high

Financial:
Industry: With sufficient funding then project proceed otherwise halt
Academia: With funding then project proceed. Without enough funding manage to proceed to finish goal economically

Work to do:
Industry: A typical R&D researcher does the work assigned. Generally working on a specific area/technique typically without crossing. Some researchers may have assistant(s) in labs. The quality of work is restricted. Uncommonly touch publications in general level.
Academia: Do broader work in all areas related to the R&D project. A lot of times researchers have no assistant. Other than R&D, writing research paper for publication, research proposal to acquire external funding, teaching junior labmates etc. are implicitly for the position.

Compensation:
Industry: Generally higher, 401K, may have bonus
Academia: Relatively lower, Pension

Working time:
Industry: Depending on employer and may be flexible. Typically no extended hours.
Academia: Generally flexible, could be more than regular 8 hours or irregular hours depending on projects.

Continuing Education:
Industry: Tuition remission and depending on employer
Academia: Generally, tuition reduction allowed and mostly allow pursuing degrees while working. Some universities have spouse or children tuition reduction.

Career Path:
...

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Hatice’s Answer

Hello. It can be rewarding both in industry and academia. In general, project scope maybe more focused and solution oriented; and defined for relatively shorter time periods in industry compared to academia. Personal preference plays a role in selecting one path or the other.

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Bhavana’s Answer

Hello Leonardo, I would recommend you to pursue research at a company as it is more towards solving real-world future/current problems, and at the same time, you would gain work experience at a company. Working in a company will help you understand the nuances of how to manage up and also colleagues early. In the past, I was at the same cross-road to choose work experience or pursue a Master's in Computer science. I decided to work. In retrospect, don't regret the decision to give up a master's degree.

I wish you the best for your future.
Bhavana

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Sue’s Answer

Based on my experience, I would suggest that depends on the research areas you are interested in and level of research you want to be involved. In general, company's research department would more focus on helping the company's business while university's would more focus on academic nature.

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John’s Answer

Wendy, provided a great answer, and I couldn't agree more. I worked as an academic researcher and moved into industry. The broader skill sets she outlined are not necessarily encouraged in academia, which makes industry a wonderful opportunity to grow in new ways once you have completed your academic training. The skills you learn in industry will serve you no matter where you end up.

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Hatice’s Answer

Hello. It can be rewarding both in industry and academia. In general, project scope maybe more focused and solution oriented; and defined for relatively shorter time periods in industry compared to academia. Personal preference plays a role in selecting one path or the other.

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