What's the difference between working in a lab and working in R&D for a company?
I'm graduating with my bachelor's degree in physics this May (yay!), and I learned that I loved working in the lab, performing experiments, doing computational analyses, drawing conclusions, etc. I'd love to work in a lab at some point but there seem to be a lot of entry barriers for physicists who don't have a higher degree.
I'm wondering what the main differences are between working in a lab and working in a research and development role in industry. Any insight appreciated!
1) Regulated Lab: will the knowledge to verify/validate and test samples for compliance and further actions or whatever along the lines of oversight for abiding by the rules or laws. Not going to be much fun stuff innovative stuff. Will be more routine and repetitive but certainly rewarding.
2) Business (R&D Lab): this lab environment (in my opinion) is not for a knee-buckler and is the most rewarding due to the ability to be involved in novelties (technology development). this is definitely a stressful environment. If you have the entrepreneurial spirit and fervor, this is a good route.
3) Academia (R&D Lab): this is lab environment is going to be a rewarding experience if you enjoy teaching, the research will be novel but also will be pigeon holed due to stated goals of research, awarded grants, and/or resources. In my opinion, this is a good route after a career in a business lab environment or a regulated lab environment. In my opinion, students get a better experience from a professor who has worked in industry (business or regulation) for a myriad of experiential reasons.
Not having gone down the PhD and academic lab route myself, I'm not sure how qualified I am to speak of differences between those sorts of labs and industrial R&D, but my career path has taken me through a number of different types of lab and R&D roles, and I can probably make some useful comparisons between undergraduate teaching lab work and industry R&D.
The first distinction that comes to mind is the focus and the types of problems you investigate. Undergraduate labs are mainly to help you better understand the physics, so a lot of the early work you do essentially already has known answers that you're trying to replicate. They'll then gradually introduce you to doing actual "new" science later on to give you a taste of the process of real science and discovering something new; which is the direction academic labs will be working towards. Industrial R&D, however, is a bit of a different direction, generally more application-focused. Rather than trying to better understand some aspect of physics or the universe, it's generally more about solving a particular problem or making some device work. The distinction between physics and engineering becomes a lot more blurred in industrial R&D, and you develop more skills in fine tuning and optimising rather than in developing the fundamental physical understanding.
Another key aspect is intellectual property. In academic research, you're aiming to find things out and share with the wider scientific community by publishing papers. In industrial R&D, the research output is valuable information, and there's often a lot more care taken with regards to confidentiality and protecting intellectual property with patents and non-disclosure agreements.