Archive for the 'industry' category

Figuring out your identity outside academia

This morning, I went for a run before work and listened to this week's Recovering Academic podcast. In this episode, they talk about how a large part of being an academic in recovery means having to figure out how much of your identity is being an academic scientist, and if that is gone, what is left? I very much recognize this feeling, even though I'm still a scientist, just not in academia. I did very much have to redefine myself, not just on the outside (new outfit, different haircut), but even more on the inside. What I am mostly still struggling with, is the difference in achievements and how visible those are. In academia, I was very much motivated by getting papers published and being able to search for my name on Pubmed and finding an increasing number of hits. The output is very tangible and is celebrated with press releases and such. Now that I work for a company, the end-product that we make is even more tangible (an actual thing that can sit on the table), but my part in it is much less visible, especially to the outside world. Think about it, you can read everywhere who invented CRISPR or optogenetics, but many inventions coming out of companies are celebrated in a much less personal way (to the outside world at least). Sort of connected to that is the fact that I took pride in the things I finished (experiments, papers), whereas now it is much less clear when something is actually finished and the work leading up to that thing that can sit on the table is much longer most of the times.

On the other hand, the fact that everything was so personal was also a reason for me to leave academia. Because the downside of celebrating personal accomplishments was the fact that also criticism on papers and grants proposals felt very personal. Anyways, just some rather incoherent thoughts after listening to that episode, which you should do too!

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On selling your soul to the devil

Oct 19 2016 Published by under industry, life in the office

Say you work for a toy company*. You enjoy making toys and you know the toys make the kids happy. The company that you work for has to sell the toys in order to make profit. But in order to get the parents of the kids to buy the toys, the company thinks they need to market them with gender-specific advertising. You are not in the marketing department, so very far away from where these decisions are made. And - as I said - you like the toys, the company and the fact that you make kids happy with the toys, but not the way the toys are marketed. And when you address this with your direct colleagues (so not the marketeers), most of them say:"Well, this is just how the world works, boys like cars and girls like dolls, we cannot change this. Also, this successful marketing is what pays your bills."  Whereas I feel that changing this might actually be a little contribution to a more equal world, and at the same time, the company emphasizes they value a diverse workforce, which in my mind is almost not compatible with the marketing strategy behind their products.

Have I sold my soul to the devil? Do I accept this is the way things are or do I try to change this somehow? If you work in a commercial setting: how do you deal with things you personally disagree with?

 

* Clearly I don't, but for the sake of the argument it doesn't matter.

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How to create a culture of openness in a team?

I'm currently involved in 2 different projects, and without sharing any more detail about what they entail, I've noticed that the teams differ a lot in terms of openness of the team members. With that, I mean to what extend people dare to voice their concern and be critical towards each other and towards the project. To me, this is not very different from the situation in academic labs, where sometimes there is more room to be critical and share new ideas than in other cases. For example, how do you deal with results that don't fit the story that the lab is building?

But how do you create such a culture of openness? If I compare these two teams that I work in, I see this as the main difference: In the open team, a lot of the tasks are shared, even if it may seem unnecessary to share this much. Meetings are larger, because more people are included. Sometimes people join who don't seem experts on the topic, but this also means that they can think out-of-the-box compared to people who have been working on something for a while. In the not-so-open team, people tend to get their own little assignment from the team leader, that they then need to report back on once finished. Sometimes the different team members aren't aware of what the others are working on, or where they are in the process. In the open team, the way of working leads to the feeling that we are all working on something together, whereas in the not-so-open team it sometimes even leads to an us vs. them kind of feeling.

When I read the piece on Theranos in Vanity Fair recently, I realized that this was almost an exaggerated description of the not-so-open team that I work in:

Holmes [Theranos' CEO] had learned a lot from [Steve] Jobs. Like Apple, Theranos was secretive, even internally. Just as Jobs had famously insisted at 1 Infinite Loop, 10 minutes away, that departments were generally siloed, Holmes largely forbade her employees from communicating with one another about what they were working on—a culture that resulted in a rare form of executive omniscience. At Theranos, Holmes was founder, C.E.O., and chairwoman. There wasn’t a decision—from the number of American flags framed in the company’s hallway (they are ubiquitous) to the compensation of each new hire—that didn’t cross her desk.

And the end of the Theranos story warns what can happen when you create a culture like this. Just to add: the team that I work in is by far not as siloed as the situation at Theranos, but reading this and comparing the two teams that I work in makes me realize the value of being open and being able to share your opinion and ideas.

And then to end: what can you do as a team member? Personally, I try to continue to share my opinion in the not-so-open team, even if that is often not met with enthusiasm from the team leader. I try to catch up with other team members and share what we are working on - sometimes outside the scheduled team meetings. But working in these different teams also makes me realize how difficult it is to change the culture within a team - as a team member at least.

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"Academia is sticky"

Fellow tweeps @IHStreet, @Doctor_PMS and @LadyScientist have started a podcast "Recovering Academic" where they talk about what it is like to leave academia and find a job outside the academic world. I think it's awesome, go check it out!

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Did you spend too much time as a post-doc?

Four years ago, I wondered "if I would ever make the decision to look for a job outside science, and if so, if I would regret all the time and effort put into trying to get data, write papers and get grants?". Before I left science, now almost two years ago, I spent more than four years as a post-doc doing slice electrophysiology mostly. Since I left academia, I've never patched a cell anymore.

Most scientists at the company I work at have done a post-doc, but many of them shorter than the 4,5 years I've spent as a post-doc. And then of course there are people around my age in more commercial jobs that have no PhD or post-doc experience at all (and probably get paid quite a bit more than me because of having more experience) So looking back, one might wonder if I've spent too much time as a post-doc?

I've given this quite some thought recently, mostly because it sometimes feels unfair that people who have an equal amount of experience-years end up in different positions. And I realize that if I had known that I would have ended up where I am now, I may have been able to get there with a shorter route. However, I also realize how much I have learned during my post-doc that is still very useful now, like writing, leading people and also just the experience of living somewhere else for a while. And of course the notion that work is also enjoyable, not just a race to get to some end-goal. So even thought I was afraid I would regret my time as a post-doc if I wouldn't be able to stay in academia four years ago, looking back I wouldn't have done it much different.

What about you? If you have left academia, do you wish you had spent less time as a post-doc?

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Assumptions vs open questions

Instead of: "Hey, are you an intern/graduate student/post-doc here?"

You can ask: "So, what is your position here?"

Or, instead of: "Is this your first job after graduating college?"

You can ask: "How long have you worked here and what have you done before that?"

So that I don't have to say - again - that I am not an intern, this is not my first job and yes, I do look kind of young but that does not take away from my credibility, if you first clear you mind of all the assumptions that live there.

Image from here: http://gentlemen-always-know.tumblr.com/post/104584707343

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Academia, my lost love

Dear academia,

it's been nearly two years since we parted. When we just met, I was so in love. I wanted to be with you, gather data and write papers for you. I wanted to science with you and spent many of my waking (and supposed-to-be-sleeping) hours thinking about you. I wanted to stay with you and worked so hard to try and make that happen.

But then, when I was all disgruntled and unsure whether us being together was really what was best for me, I decided to leave you. I decided to join industry. In industry, the building is shiny, the people have had training on how to communicate and I was even offered a permanent contract.

But when I look out of the window of that shiny building, I can still see you. I hear about you at home from my husband and from friends. And now that the honeymoon phase with industry is over, and I see the cracks in the shiny building and the fact that even with communication training, people are sometimes still jerks - but in a politer way - I miss you. I miss doing research without the boundaries of what is commercially useful and what is important to convince the people who need to prescribe or buy things. I miss being able to think of a project entirely by myself and write it down in the hopes of being able to execute it some day. And mostly, I miss the dream of being important someday; having my own lab that does breakthrough science and wins prizes for it.

And I don't know if this means I should try to get back together with you, academia. Or that I just forgot the disgruntled bits and only remember the good times we had together. Or that - perhaps - I can figure out some way to have a threesome.

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Being evaluated on WHAT and HOW

When I moved from academia into industry 1,5 years ago, the biggest eye-opener was that in that company we were being evaluated not only by WHAT we did, but also HOW we did it. So it is not only important that you submit a paper, or get results from an experiment, or start a collaboration, it is also very important how you do that. It is for example important that you openly communicate with people, involve all the stakeholders that are important for the particular project. And this leads to an evaluation system where it can happen that you did not submit a paper that you were supposed to submit before the end of the year, but that happened because you involved an additional collaborator, thereby making it a more influential paper and/or set up a new collaboration, and you will still be evaluated positively because of that contribution.

I really like this way of working, because it means that shit can happen (and being in research you can rest assured that shit does happen), but the most important thing is not the shit itself, but how you handle said shit*. To me, this feels very different from being in academia, where it seemed like I was being judged by things that felt largely out of my control, like getting papers and grants accepted and rejected. It seems like in academia there is much less appreciation of HOW you make things happen and I wonder if changing that would contribute to more people being happier there?**

*Of course in the long run you do get judged by the things that you’ve helped to make happen, which makes sense I think.

** Additional reading: Universities with "cooperative culture" can help women thrive 

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What you mean when you say 'diverse'

The other day I was invited to attend a meeting with a couple of important (internal and external) people at my company. And even though overall the company that I work for has a very balanced gender ratio, at this meeting I saw mostly white men.

Interestingly, today I read what the boss of the division wrote about this meeting. They said something like: 'we had a very diverse group of people at this meeting'. I assume they were talking about different scientific and commercial backgrounds that were covered by this group of people. Or perhaps a group of mainly men and one woman is considered 'diverse'?

Also, it makes me wonder how we talk about quota of women at the highest level of companies, but never about all those levels in between*. And if at those levels we are not talking about gender diversity, how do we ever fill the pool of women who will be able to fill top positions?

*Or am I wrong? I would love to hear about places where gender equality is addressed at different levels, so not just overall and at top positions.

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How interacting with people at work is a lot like interacting with toddlers

The other day I was in a training that talked about effectiveness and it made me realize that being effective is really tested the most when dealing with toddlers. The trainer talked about how being effective is not only about the quality of the outcome but also about the acceptance of everyone involved. This made me think about getting a toddler to put their shoes on. When it would be only about quality, I can put those shoes on in about 5 seconds. However, when effectiveness is about getting out of the door with a toddler with their shoes on, I've found that often the only way to get this done is by having the toddler put their own shoes on, however testing for my patience that might be. The alternative would be that the toddler has shoes on, but is laying on the ground yelling that they want to do it themselves for much longer than it would have taken them to put them on themselves...

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I'm trying to remind myself of this example, because I've found that my initial reaction very often is to figuratively speaking put the shoes on the toddler myself and run out of the door, while this might not be the best way to interact with people (collaborators for example) in the long run.

 

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