[Carina writes...] There are some big splits in life. Vanilla or chocolate? Cats or dogs? Have kids or hobbies? Industry or academia?
Carina with her favorite plant, pokeweed.
So I never thought industry was a viable option for me. But when I was home for the holidays, my family bugged me to think differently. (Oh you don’t think it’s a good idea for me to not have a professor job until I’m 35? Ugh, you just don’t get me...) A friend of the family works in research and development for a big company, and he hooked me up with an “informational interview” (aka a phone call so I could ask a bunch of questions) with a friend whose work is sort of tangential to what I do.
I also learned that there are some aspects of the work environment in industry that appeal to me. It would be fun to work on a team toward a common goal, with a leader whose job is to facilitate working together and minimize the obstacles in your way. Academia can be really slow and inefficient because collaboration is hard, and most of us aren’t very good at leading or being led. However, even though teamwork is appealing, I know myself well enough to realize that I really hate having a boss. So I would probably choose the independence of academia. -1 point industry.
One of the bummers about academia is its cut-throat, competitive nature. Of course, companies are competitive too, but you wouldn’t really see that from within-- you would be working together with your giant team, rather than trying to one-up other individuals so you can get one of those dozen interview spots around the whole country that are available in your field at research-focused universities. +1 point industry.
More pokeweed. Isn't it nice?
One of my favorite things about academia is that my job is to be creative and independent. It would be strange to have someone telling me what to research in industry, rather than deciding for myself. There are big goals that companies are working toward, but he said that they encourage creativity and freedom within those bounds. Still, it seems unlikely that any company would pay me to try and figure out what I most want to know in all the world: how insects that eat plants drive the formation of new plant species over millions of years. -1 point industry.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of my favorite parts of my job, science communication and outreach, is also valued in industry. There are programs to get science out into local communities, especially for underrepresented minorities. I might even venture a guess that there are more resources and rewards in industry for such efforts, whereas academia still doesn’t have good structural incentives. +1 point industry.
Looks like industry and academia are tied! But perhaps the most important question for me in the end is, do I feel like I’m having a positive impact on the world with my work? Maybe the overall goal of making food production more efficient while minimizing our impact on nature is something I could get on board with. But that’s NOT the overall goal... it’s to make someone money. And I just have a hard time picturing myself feeling motivated to go to work everyday to make someone money. It dilutes the “save the world” thing for me. -1 point industry, for game point.
However, there are many ways to save the world, and working together on a huge team to figure out how to solve real-world problems like feeding people is a pretty good one. If I’m totally honest with myself, the real deal-breaker is probably just that I want to run an academic lab so I can be my own boss and do research on whatever I want, and saving the world is a rationalization that makes me feel more important. To each her own! I gave it a shot, Mom, but it’s just not for me. Don’t worry, only seven more years until I get that real job.
*just kidding...but not really because as every ecologist knows, unlimited population growth and ever-burgeoning consumption doesn’t work when resources are limited…
**Sorry, not sorry. This is what ecologists actually think.