Differences in Academia, research Institute and Pharma company: scientific point of view
It's been a while since I got back from Novartis campus. In previous posts I was writing about the scientific mission, its purposes and its course. After this experience, I can compare Academia, research Institute and Pharmaceutical company approaches to the research and science. However, it has to be emphasized, that in the following article I am comparing the Czech Academia, Dutch Institute and Swiss company, as the national background has a huge impact on the final working feelings. So here we go: Charles University, AMOLF and Novartis.
Let's begin with the general structure in the institutions. Faculties typically create subdivisions of every University, being further segmented to Departments. In Academia one feels the ubiquitous hierarchy: at the top of the pyramid stand professors (one of them being usually a leader of the Department), followed by associate professors. Next come postdocs (already with PhD degree) at the almost bottom PhD students and at the bottom undergraduate students. (Plus within the student groups you got the "extra-points" for each year at the university. :-) ) Similarly to the Czech Republic, stress is also put on academic degrees for example in Germany. (Nevertheless, at the end the relationship between a PhD student and his/her supervisor can become very informal. So it also depends on particular personalities.)
The same hierarchy is also applied in a research Institute. However, the division is usually more simple and more informal: group leader and the rest of the group. The slight differences between the academic degrees holders are not so obvious as everybody works together. In practice it means nobody really takes care whether are you a professor or "just" a doctor. Also the I-already-got-PhD impression of professionally older colleagues is usually not accented. I believe the differences between the students/postdocs are decreased as they often work in groups and they discuss the plans and ideas together.
However, I would like to point out, that having a general respect to more skilled colleagues is polite, decent and correct wherever you work! This aspect is sometimes missing in the Czech Academia. I think it is because Czechs have sometimes problems with authorities. On both sides. That is, the ones on top think they deserve more respect that they actually do and the ones below are wondering why to respect someone just because (s)he is more skilled, older or more experienced. This goes throughout the different Czech societies and is definitely not limited only to science.
Hierarchy in a Pharma industry research group is more than obvious: CEO at the very top (even though (s)he is not really a member of the group, being rather a half-God, who is rarely to be seen) - group leader - group members. In a company nobody cares what is your academic degree, it is your skills that matters. For example the current CEO of Novartis has no medical education and before he came to Novartis, he was a leader of a company for production of ketchups (I think it was Heinz).
MONEY is the main driving force in an industrial research. The company has an eminent interest on multiplying its capital and everything has to be subordinated to it. On the other hand, money is no problem if you want to do experiments and you do not have the equipment. You will probably easily get it after you apply. The researches in a company are not really motivated to publish in journals as most of their projects concern a private topics of the company. Moreover, some of the data is not desirable to publish at all! I would summarize it like that: Money is the aim. And the more money you have, the more money you can earn!
Money is not the aim but an important medium in Academia and research Institute. The main aim is to publish scientific results. The external evaluation of a scientist is determined mainly by the number of publications in high impact factor journals and their frequency of citations. Having as many high quality papers as possible becomes therefore an important goal.
A significant aspect of Academia is also the responsibility for education of students. The teaching is an inherent part of job for nearly every academic worker. Also the PhD students are very encouraged to take part in the teaching as it brings unique opportunities on the perfection of their communication skills and knowledge, too. In a research Institute, the opportunity to teach is almost zero. On the other hand, the students can be fully devoted to science, which is also a plus.
GETTING FINANCIAL RESOURCES AND BYROCRACY-LOAD
In Academia, the amount of money is somehow limited. To get a financial support for a project, it is necessary to apply for various grants. It includes writing pages and pages (and pages) of project designs. Unfortunately, it does not mean, you get the money, when the application is written. You have to come up with a hell of a good idea to get the financial support. The more money or more fancy grant you apply for, the better your project has to be. When you are in Academia, applying for grants becomes a substantial part of your work. The higher the position you have (i.e. the higher the academic degree), the more paper work appears on your to-do-list. From what I saw, the load of the byrocratic paperwork can be scaled as follows: Academia - Company - Institute. Academia being the most heavily affected area.
In a research Institute the writing of grants and getting financial support is usually limited to the group leader and PhD students are not expected to come up with their own research plans. When a PhD student gets the position, enough money for the whole study period is ensured. The student signs a typically 4-year-long contract and can be sure (s)he will be paid regularly and also well. Together with the salary and certainty comes also the precise aims of the doctoral thesis and defined goals, which should be reached. Thus, the PhD student can focus only on the research as the substantial details as money sources and projects have been planned already at the beginning.
The financial strength of a Pharma company has already been mentioned. :-)
Within a Pharma industry each department endeavors to give the impression it is needed. It struggles to show the company could not flourish without it, to show it brings the most precious results. It is understandable, because if the group does not produce any valuable data, it can simply be closed.
What I would totally miss while being in a Pharma research lab is the fun scientific projects, the Friday-afternoon-experiments. In industry one has enough money for the science, but the freedom of projects selection much lower. Some of the work can be transformed to routine and the fun experiments done from the pure scientific enthusiasm and curiosity are limited.
There is still a lot more to write on the differences. I know the list has not been completed. At least I have couple more topics for future posts. What is yout experience with doing science? :-)
Faculty of Pharmacy, Charles University in Prague, Hradec Králové, Czech Republic
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