On the amount of people you interact with to do your job

Yesterday I met with a graduate student to talk to them about my experiences leaving academia. They asked:"What is the biggest difference between working in academia and industry?". Of course there are many differences (and quite some similarities too), some of which I have probably discussed on this blog before. But one of the main differences that I had not expected when making the transition, is the amount of people you (have to) interact with in order to get your job done.
In academia, of course there are many people to interact with: you usually work with your PI (if you're a grad student or post-doc) or with the people in your lab (if you're a PI), and then with collaborators, university staff, colleagues, etc. But the amount of people who are crucial in decision making (for example on which project to pick) is usually limited (please comment if you think I'm wrong!).

In the type of matrix organization that I work in, there are a ton of people to make decisions to move a project forward. I am in R&D, and already within R&D there are different teams that all need to align, and different directors that need to have a say, and then there are the people in other functions that either need to make decisions themselves about the project, or at least need to be managed in order not to protest against a decision.

And another thing that really surprised me at first is the fact that most meetings are not actually meant for decision making. Instead, they are meant to have all the important stakeholders in the room to say yes, while the actual decision-making process has already happened in pre-meetings, or pre-pre-meetings or over coffee or at the water cooler. And so I find myself spending a considerate amount of time talking to people: understanding whether they would support a project and if not, if I can convince them otherwise or what would need to happen for them to change their minds. One of the directors remarked the other day:"the main thing that stands in the way of success in this project are people's emotions. We need to manage those".

4 responses so far

  • LK says:

    Your last paragraph describes our faculty meetings. Easy to identify the proposals/initiatives that have not been vetted in pre-meetings -- often descend into long discussions without reaching a vote.

  • Rheophile says:

    Yeah, that last paragraph has started me thinking too! Gonna keep an eye out to see if that is precisely how things work in my new position.

  • chall says:

    oh goodness yes. I think this is the largest difference to me from being a post-doc to now, even if I'm still working in "academia" although not as a pure scientist.

    "Instead, they are meant to have all the important stakeholders in the room to say yes..." - I would say that the meetings are to make a lot of people FEEL that they are important and IN the project. That it leads to BUY IN and that they all will SUPPORT the project and the success of it.

    So many words, so much business speak - alas, that's my life nowadays 😉

    This is also one of the more illusive differences to point out to people who look for their next job after phd/postdoc. Imho, the jobs focus a lot on "do you fit in the group" and "can you learn the gig". Being one of the team is important, whether or not it's about communicating or "feeling nice". Again, maybe not what I would like to be important (as an introvert), however, experience keep showing me what is...

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