Industry is usually that word that gets thrown about a lot during your PhD. Sometimes it’s framed as that elusive thing that you don’t quite know what it is. Sometimes industry gets a bad rep, the word industry comes with a lot of connotations. It’s the dark side, it only cares about money, it’s where ‘bad people’ end up in their career. In some regards, these beliefs aren’t wrong, but at the same time they are far from correct. I think it also results in a lot of PhD students and academics naturally assuming that academia and working for a university is the ‘light’, it’s where people go to ‘change the world’. Once again, these views aren’t necessarily wrong, as working in academia can be very rewarding and impactful. However, if you’re not careful, you find yourself constructing a dichotomy of good vs bad, fulfilling vs empty, money vs passion. As with many things in life, there is no dichotomy of two sides, there’s a lot of space in-between and what’s necessarily ‘good’ can take a lot of different forms.
I’ve touched on it previously, how people in academia can also be ‘bad’ and just because you work in the academic world doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good person or you’re doing a good thing (sorry to break it to you). The inverse is true if you work in industry – you’re not necessarily a villain or doing bad things to the world. But what do we actually mean by ‘industry’?
Traditionally, industry is usually associated with the pharmaceutical world – well at least for me it is, as my PhD is within a medical field (sort of). For you it might mean something different, but generally industry is a word that’s associated with companies only caring about money, mistreating their employees, and fostering a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world. However, I think this sort of definition is too specific and negatively charged. In practical terms, industry is just any organisation that isn’t an academic one. This can look like a lot of things – some of which are positive, across a range of sectors. The word industry is broad, varied, and no two ‘industry’ organisations look the same. Industry can even encapsulate government bodies, non-profit organisations (NGOs), and of course businesses. These are equal, as we’ve already outlined you can have good and bad people within academia – the same is true in industry. The same narrative applies to organisations. You can have some organisations that seek to do good, bring value, look after their staff, and have an impact in the world we live it.
I think this is an important sticking point for a lot of PhD’s who wish to leave academia or who are at least exploring their options. Going to ‘industry’ can bring up a lot of negative feelings about yourself and your career based on the dichotomy outlined previously. It can also make you question whether your PhD was worth it. I think this is also why a lot of PhD’s also dabble with the idea of working with charities and other NGO’s – because they’re trying to find the middle ground of ‘doing what’s good’, relevant to their field of study, and leaving academia.
As an individual, your career will be an important factor throughout your life. The reason for this is primarily because it’s how you generate an income, achieve a sense of fulfilment, and grow and learn new things. Sometimes academia can provide all of these things – and if that’s for you then great! However, for the vast majority of PhD students, academia doesn’t provide all of these. As industry is such a broad word that covers so many different roles, working environments, salaries, and opportunities it can provide you with the perfect blend of what you want out of your career. It’s flexible and non-rigid nature (unlike academia) means you have unlimited options to explore and discover. Put simply, whatever you imagine your career to look like – that job exists out there somewhere, no matter how ridiculous you think it sounds, you just have to find it.
Industry isn’t some evil entity. It’s just the other side of the coin. This side of the coin isn’t bad or has to come at a cost to something else you deem important. Of course, vast majority of PhD students love the academic world, the challenges it brings, and the positive contributions we make. But industry exists in parallel, not opposite to that. In some cases, industry is able to break barriers and achieve things we could never do within an academic setting. Industry has access to different and better resources and their priorities and visions may result in larger scale impact. Different doesn’t have to be scary or feared, it can be a place where you can prosper, thrive, and ultimately be the happiest you could ever be in your career.
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