On hierarchy and such

In academia, it's usually pretty clear: there are technicians, grad students, post-docs and professors of different ranks (or similar jobs with slightly different names, depending on where you are in the world). And especially with grad students, post-docs and professors, they usually have increasing numbers of papers and an increasing age with rank. It is usually very clear who is more senior than who, and the person in charge usually has the highest number of important publications. In addition, as a grad student or post-doc, you usually only have meetings with people that are either higher in hierarchy (your PI) or lower (a summer student for example). It is usually very easy to figure out what the hierarchy is.

How different is this in industry! (and I know different companies may be structured very differently, so this may or may not be true for all types of industry). Here, my team leader may have less publications than me. Or more. Some of the other scientists don't have PhDs but they do have a lot more knowledge about industry-related things than me. And most of the meetings I have are with people that are similar in hierarchy. The first couple of times I found this very puzzling. It was almost like some mismatch signal going off in my brain when I couldn't figure out if the person was more senior or junior than me. Of course it doesn't matter, but it did make me realize how much the whole hierarchy in academia becomes ingrained in our system.

5 responses so far

  • Anonymous says:

    Oh wow, this is just so sad! Grad students in academia should be treated as junior colleagues -- which is the same way that they in turn should treat the students that they supervise. I'm sorry your experience in school was so different. Luckily, mine hasn't been.

    • babyattachmode says:

      When I say hierarchy I don't mean that in a very negative way; I just mean that it is usually very obvious out of 2 people who is the more senior person, judging from their position in the university which tends to correlate with measures of academic success like numbers of papers, grants etc.

  • Zuska says:

    I think it's very rare to see grad students treated, genuinely, as junior colleagues. They are students, and are supposed to be learning. That doesn't mean that the experience has to be Extreme Hierarchy Blowout! but generally that's how academia is structured. Industry can be just as hierarchical, but in different ways. There are a lot more options, a lot more categories, a lot more career paths, and those paths zig and zag and go all over, instead of marching in lockstep up the mountain to Distinguished BSD Professor Summit. There are so many more zones where you can exercise a lot of autonomy, work in real partnership with people of many different types and levels of expertise. I found it likewise very freeing when I left academia and went to industry. But then, I also enjoyed my return to academia as an administrator, which is like saying I enjoyed eating live babies for breakfast in certain scientific circles.

    • babyattachmode says:

      That is indeed what I meant to say Zuska (but then in a not very well edited post that I typed together in 3 minutes during the rare occasion that both kids were asleep at the same time ;-)..). What may also contribute to my not knowing who is more senior may be my lack of knowledge of how things work in industry.

  • Anonymous says:

    "I think it's very rare to see grad students treated, genuinely, as junior colleagues."

    I agree that this is rare -- I am very fortunate with my advisor. (I am also more experienced than the typical grad student.) Nevertheless, it's the way it *should* be. Aren't junior colleagues learning, too?

    "What may also contribute to my not knowing who is more senior may be my lack of knowledge of how things work in industry."

    True. What I don't understand is why you seem so preoccupied with figuring out who is more senior. On a particular project, Person X may be the lead, but why is it important how many papers she's published or whether she outranks everyone on the team? If she's the lead, assume there's a good reason for that (until proven otherwise) and just go with it.

    Of course, what I think you're saying is that this feels so odd to you because it's so different from what you experienced in school. It makes me think that during your years as a student, you saw the position/rank first, and then the person. And I think this is sad.

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