On working for a company

Via Nicoleandmaggie I came across this post about whether to work for a large company or not:

This is what I imagine working for a big corporation feels like:

You’re somewhere in the belly of a huge ocean cruiser, making sure that some aspect of the engines run smoothly, but you do not see where the cruiser is going, why it is going where it goes, and you are not sure whether it might currently be in the process of running over a small fishing boat or polluting the sea with oil. But at least someone is paying the cruiser for what it does. You feel some loyalty to the rest of the huge crew in the cruiser and you know that they all depend on the engines working well, maybe you also feel loyalty to the passengers who are paying your salary, but the captain and his plans are extremely far away from you, and you suspect the captain may be evil, you don’t know, you will certainly never meet him except when you see him in the news.

But you are surrounded by a nice team of specialists working on the engines with you. You have fun together and you can use your talents and capacities really well. Your direct boss is likable and praises you for your effort. You earn good money and you can live a life in safety.

Is that good enough?

*Spoiler alert*: this post is a couple weeks old and the last comment says that they did decide to join the large company.

I really like the analogy of being somewhere in the belly of a large ship, not being able to see or influence where the ship goes. For now - with small kids who still sleep-deprive me more often than not and a husband working towards getting some stability in academia - I like being in this safe big ship. I like the people in my ship and the ship often sends inspirational videos of what happens out on the sea to inspire the people working in the ship. But it's a BIG change from academia where I felt much more like I could decide what to do and what to work on (which of course if you think about it is only true if the PI and/or funding agency allows you to work on it...). Now, I have to think about what my targets are, and which of those has the highest priority. And when I want to know exactly how something works scientifically speaking, the answer is that if it's not in the interest of the big ship, it's not something that I should be working on.

5 responses so far

  • Adam says:

    I think this is a decent analogy. Having worked in both large and small organizations, my role has definitely been more specialized in the larger organizations, and I've had much much less influence over the overall direction the organization is taking. (I should note that this is true for both industry and academic organizations: I had more autonomy in a 10-person company than I did working at a University, for example.)

    However, part of this is choosing what "level of abstraction" you think of as being your organization. A big organization can be a whole ecosystem of its own, and its departments often interact with each other like quasi-independent units. Even if my employer has 10,000+ employees, my department might only have 100 or so... and while I might not work directly with my employer's customers, I still *have* customers -- they just work for other departments. The dynamic is very similar to how I interacted with our customers when I worked at the small company. I also have some say in how my *department* is accomplishing its work, even if I don't have influence over the whole company.

  • Dr24hours says:

    How is that any different from academia? Profs can't control funding research directions or university policy and may have no idea what they are.

    And as for not knowing where the organization is going? Not where I work. Very clearly communicated and input sought. I think this is a reasonably poor analogy that draws little to no distinction between industry and academia.

    • babyattachmode says:

      It may just be my perception, but having worked both in academia and now in a company it definitely feels like this. In academia I only had to convince my PI to do something and if ze was okay we did it (because a grant is not a contract, so there was some flexibility there). Now, changing direction needs input from more than one person.

    • babyattachmode says:

      On a second thought, this might sound too negative. Because on the other side, in academia you need to wait for grant money to do most of the things you want to do, whereas here, if I can convince enough people, I might be able to do it much faster. Maybe I just need some more time to explore the ship 😉

  • bill says:

    On some big ships, if you work in the belly you get a real-time feed from the deck and regular meetings with the captain. On others, you just get told what to do and paid in money, safety and comfort to do it. If you're the captain, you answer to the owners and shareholders.

    In some labs, you get real input into the decisions; in others, the PI wants you to shut up and be their benchmonkey. If you're the PI, you answer to the institution and funding bodies.

    So, unless you want to be owner and captain of your own vessel, what matters most is the people around you. If you have some job security, if your boss is not an asshole, if your work is interesting and if you actually like your colleagues -- you've got it about as good as it gets, no matter where you work.

    Note -- I've only worked in academia (far too long) and teeny little sailing boats (about 6 years now).

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