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So you want to be a scientist in industry

  1. Apr 13, 2007 #1
    Before you even start reading, if you are pursuing your degree to work in academia or for altruistic reasons, GREAT! However, this thread isn't for you so don't bother responding. If you actually care about your 401(K), your stock options, what kind of lifestyle you will be able to afford, and your retirement account, then keep on reading, this thread is for you. If you aren't going to read this entire post, then don't bother responding either.


    People will tell you that you shouldn't pursue science if you are interested in making money. This is completely faulty logic in my opinion. If science interests you, what would be wrong with making money off of doing something you love to do? Yes folks, there are some wealthy scientists out there who make in excess of $300,000 per year in industry, and not all of them are PhDs believe it or not.


    Alright where to begin?

    Let's start with what everyone is concered about:

    "How much am I going to make?"

    Let's look at the general pay scheme for the company I work at. The pay scheme is pretty much the norm in industry (with room for some deviations of course). The levels and titles might be called different things, but where you will be placed in the scheme given your education and experience is pretty much always the same in all different types of industries.



    Research Associate: BS/BA with 0-2 years experience or equivalent

    Associate Scientist: BS/BA with 2+ years experience or MS

    Research Scientist I: BA/BS with 4+ years experience or MS with 2+ years experience

    Research Scientist II: BA/BS with 6+ years experience or MS with 4+ years experience

    Research Investigator: BA/BS with 8+ years experience or MS with 6+ years experience or PhD

    Senior Research Investigator: BA/BS with 10+ years experience MS with 8+ years experience or PhD with 2+ years experience

    Principal Research Investigator: BA/BS with 15+ years experience MS with 13+ years experience or PhD with +7 years experience

    Research Fellow: BA/BS with 20+ years experience MS with 18+ years experience or PhD with 12+ years experience.


    Principal Research Fellow: open to anyone with an outstanding career

    Pay starts at about $40-50 grand on the bottom with increments of about $5000 between each level.

    Notice a few things. A bachelor's or master's is capable of running their own programs and even being in charge of PhDs given that they have enough experience. The level of degree doesn't matter that much so in industry when compared to experience. How long would a PhD take? 4+ years after graduating and then another 4+ years of postdocs. Well, if you look at the scheme you could get a Masters and 6+ years experience in that amount of time and be on the same level as a PhD who is for the first time entering industry.

    Also, look harder. Let's say you are on the very bottom. Most companies will pay for additional education. Thus, if you are BS you could earn your master's degree WHILE working. This could be completed in 2-3 years. If you choose to study while working, you get to gain experience WHILE getting an advanced degree. Thus in 2-3 years after getting your BS you could be a Research Scientist I since you now have a Master and 2+ years experience. You could completely skip the Associate Scientist level all together. Since you skipped a level, you could be on par witha PhD with just working in industry for 6 years, if you went to school while working.

    Think about all the income you would lose if you decided to get a PhD. You would lose out on 8 years of income, while someone who just went right into industry with a bachelor's would be getting paid the same as you in only 6 years if they chose to studying for a master's while working. They would also be making a salary for that entire 6 years as well. In industry a PhD isn't always worth it.


    Nature has had some interesting articles recently on finding employment as a scientist in industry. Anyone who is thinking about going into industry should read these:

    "A degree of professionalism: There's a growing career path for students who like science, but don't want to be academics."

    Nature Vol 445 25 Jan. 2007

    From the article:


    "A question of supply and demand: Simply having a PhD may not be enough-you need to marry scientific expertise with the right skills."

    Nature Vol 445 4 Jan. 2007


    From the article:



    "Great expectations: You know what you want from a job. But how do you convince an employer that your skills are relevant?"

    Nature Vol 445 18 January 2007

    From the article:


    "Are we producing to many PhDs?"

    Nature Vol 445 4 January 2007

    From the article:

     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 13, 2007 #2
    you get a phd cause you love science or a subject not because its your most financially sound option.
     
  4. Apr 13, 2007 #3

    Once again, this has little relevance to those who want to pursue a career in industry. If one wants to pursue a PhD AND WORK IN INDUSTRY, they better damn well know what employers are looking for. If one wants to pursue a PhD in something it better be something relevant to the industrial setting, not theoretical academic work. There are people who want PhDs because they want to work in industry believe it or not.
     
  5. Apr 13, 2007 #4

    tmc

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    Read the first line of the first post again.
     
  6. Apr 13, 2007 #5
    OK, I admit I'm one of those altruistic persons who's pursuing a PhD to be an academic, and I haven't considered working in industry. Alas, this thread catches my attention. Here's a question for gravenewworld: from your experiences in industry, how easy is it for a PhD to transition back and forth between academia and industry? Do corporations have research groups, similar to what we've got in universities? And perhaps most importantly: do industry scientists publish papers?

    I'm far more interested in being a scientist than making money, but it's not as though I'm specifically opposed to making money on the side, if possible. So if life in industry science is similar enough to life in academia, I just might consider it.
     
  7. Apr 13, 2007 #6

    Industry to academia "easier", academia to industry "harder". A PhD in industry always has the option of going back to academia. They may even have an advantage if they chose to leave industry for a highly coveted academic position. In industry PhDs are required all the time to attend conferences, present posters at national conventions, etc.

    Corporations definitely have research groups. That is what R&D is all about. In industry R&D is all about discovering what is new, you simply aren't doing old science all the time--however it does have to be science that will hopefully lead to a profit. You will find that in industry a lot of the instrumentation and equipment available far surpasses what is available at most universities in terms of both quality and quantity. The only downside-- the equipment has to be used for work, not personal research (most of the time).

    Do scientists in industry publish papers? OF COURSE THEY DO!!!! Take a look at all the patents that you would find in something like scifinder. Those patents are owned by private companies most of the time, but they are published by scientists in industry. Where I work, all PhD scientists are actually REQUIRED to submit 1 article per year to a journal. Currently our PhDs are submitting articles to journals like Journal of the American Chemical Society, Journal of Organic Chemistry, and Journal of Medicinal Chemistry (which are huge name journals). The head honcho in our department acually wrote THE most referenced article of 2006 in the Journal of Combinatorial Chemistry. There is plenty of room for publishing in industry. Companies encourage this, as it only adds to their reputation.

    Just remember, in industry you will probably have a boss. You probably won't get to research everything your heart desires, but if you can live with that then industry might be a good place for you. In academia you have more freedom to come and go as you please. In industry, you better produce results and they better be within a certain time frame.
     
  8. Apr 13, 2007 #7
    gravenewworld

    Do you know if it's also possible to get a PhD while working in industry, in the same way you describe earning your MS. Or are there not very many opportunities for that?

    Also

    Could you explain more on specifically what skill sets they're looking for in industry, and how to acquire them while in school?

    I'm currently in my third year of my BSc, and planning to work in industry after I finish.
     
  9. Apr 13, 2007 #8
    Thanks for your response, it was quite helpful. Based on what you've said about having a boss, I think I'll probably stick with academics. But hey, I've got five years of grad school to consider all this.
     
  10. Apr 13, 2007 #9

    It isn't really possible to get a PhD while working in industry at the same time. But look at it from the perspective of an employer. With an MS +6 years experience, they see you pretty much the same as a PhD, and I guarantee you that in those 6 years you are doing PhD level science a lot of the time.


    Industry wants more than just a good scientific background or theoretical knowledge, every candidate has that. What skills would be applicable?

    -Computer skills. If you can program or know some of the programs that are used in the field that you are trying to get into, you have a huge advantage.

    -Bilingual. Employers (not just in the science industry) love to see anyone who can speak other languages.

    -Communication skills. Are you clear when you explain something? How well are you at presenting your material? A rhetoric class would definitely help with this. From my very first week on the job I have been forced to give a presentation on what I have been doing every 2 weeks.

    -Writing skills. Enough said. If you can't clearly write down exactly what you did in an experimental procedure or can't write coherent and lucid reports, you are toast. People have had their PhDs revoked by their universities for not maintaing their notebooks properly while working in industry. Take some English classes.

    -Learn some business skills. Take a course(s) on basic economics, finance, or marketing. Many scientists in the lab are clueless when it comes to this kind of stuff. Some PhDs even have no sense of supply and demand or how to market a product. Like I said before, in order to make a profit for a company, one only really has to make a product with a unique niche, not something that is necessarily groundbreaking. Scientists always have a hard time swallowing this fact.

    -Knowledge of statistics. Industry is all about stats, if you know some statistics, it will take you a long way.

    I would suggest getting an intership if you want to work in industry. That way you gain a little bit of experience and also see what it is like out there. You have to sell yourself. Don't be afraid to brag about your accomplishments and your goals for the future. Employers want someone who is motivated.

    What else could you do? Do you know of any recent graduates from your univ. and your major who work in industry close by? Drop them an email and see if you could follow them around for a day. A lot of the times they will say yes and would love to have a college student in (but don't be upset if they say no). It may also take a while for all the paper work to clear.
     
  11. Apr 14, 2007 #10
    Thanks, I've got the computer skills and the communication skills, and I am decent at technical writing. I'll see if I can fit any language, business, or writing courses into my schedule next year. I can't fit any stats courses in though...
     
  12. Apr 14, 2007 #11

    symbolipoint

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    The managers in industry need people who can write; and who can think fast, and solve problems in a matter of minutes. If your investigative problem-solving process takes time, the managers do not care. They only care about results.
     
  13. Apr 14, 2007 #12

    ZapperZ

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    I think you are being very disingenious here. At the very least, you should have told people the whole story about this. This article was commenting on the glut of Ph.D's in the fields associated with the funding from NIH, of which YOUR FIELD is also one of those affected. This is a direct consequence of the "wealth" of money pouring from the doubling of the NIH budget done during the last decade. This "article", which is really a letter written to Nature, made zero mention about such glut in the physical science, which did not enjoy such wealth of money. In fact, one can only look at the number of US born Ph.D's in physics, for example, to see that this number is in fact declining!

    This lack of manpower is what caused the US to continue to depend on foreign scientists to populate many of its research centers. One can clearly see such dependence when practically every educational institution, high-tech business, and others asked for the visa process to be improved after Sept. 11.

    Can you, for example, look at the statistics of B.Sc degree holder in physics, and point out to where this matches exactly what you have claimed here?

    Zz.
     
  14. Apr 14, 2007 #13
    Why? That is why I gave the reference to the article and since the files are pdf files (can't copy and paste), I am not about to type out an entire article.





    What? The brief article was clearly talking about if the glut of PhDs exists at all for the sciences in general. Did you read the right excerpt (maybe I got the title wrong I am trying to work off of the top of my head with the names of the articles)? The one written by Paul Smaglik, Nature Jobs editor? The NIH was not mentioned once in the brief article. The excerpt even mentions Peter Henderson, who reports about scientific workforce issues for the US national Academy of Sciences, that said that even from his own institution, reports have been prepared about the issue of "Whether or not there are too many PhDs" and that the data are contradictory. I think you must have read the latest letter in the new Nature issue that was entitled "Are there too many scientists". I read that one too, but that was not what I was referencing.

    Also from the article (if you can call it that):

    So what should I make of this? Should I trust all the stories of people trying to find jobs in industry that I read in Nature and Science and from my own experience, or should I trust statistics from places like ACS, AIP, MAA, etc. ?

    And employers care about this because? Employers don't care where their employees come from, whether they are homegrown or foreign. They only want employees that will make them profits, if foreign born students are the ones possessing the right skills to make it into the market place, then why is it such a surprise they they are relied upon heavily in industry?

    Please if you are not going to contribute anything to as how one would get a job in industry, don't bother responding.
     
  15. Apr 14, 2007 #14

    ZapperZ

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    And NOTE the nature of the business that he was in! This is why I said that the whole article, NOT ONCE, mentioned anything about engineering or physics fields. Furthermore, how accurate do you think for someone who is surveying the field of study from one particular area to extrapolate that into the job situation in another field of study?

    And if you care that much about anecdotal evidence versus large sampling of data, then how come my anecdotal evidence do not count in your book? Every specific examples that you have given, I've also given a counter example. It seems that when faced with statistics that counter your observation, you prefer to hold up your personal views, but when I counter it with my own personal observation, somehow that doesn't count. I'm sorry, but this is the WORST example of non-scientific deduction.

    You obviously do not know that US Employers simply can't hire a non-US citizen that easily. That employer has to, first of all, prove that they have advertised the position AND have tried to hire US citizens that best match the criteria that is required. Besides, this is NOT the point. The point being the there clearly is a decline in US-born physics Ph.D's award in the US, NOT more. This causes both research institutions and private industries to hire non-US citizens to fullfill their needs. THAT is my point that you have missed!

    Not if you continue to mislead people with your quotations and observation. If you had done this only for YOUR field of study, I wouldn't have cared. But you are trying to over-generalized the WHOLE scientific field of study which includes MY field, and which I certainly have MORE of a direct knowledge to it than you do! I asked you specifically to correlate what you have claimed versus the statistics provided by the AIP about B.Sc physics degree recipient and the nature of the jobs and salary that they get. You dismissed that and prefer to use your own observation, not on physicists, but on people in your field!

    It is a highly irresponsible act on your part to over-generalized your own observation and think that it can be extrapolated not only to everyone, but also outside of your field. When I wrote my series of essays, I was never under any delusion that what I wrote would apply to someone in Chemistry or biology, or even engineering. In fact, even within physics itself, there's a tremendous variation from one area to another, and I constantly have to make reminders of this fact!

    Zz.
     
  16. Apr 14, 2007 #15


    And how come Dr. Transport's anecdotal evidence doesn't count in your book? Why did you choose to simply ignore his experiences? He is a physicist after all.






    Really. Two of my bosses are foreign born and have been waiting for their green cards for 4 years. I know it is difficult to get a job as a foreign born scientist, but if you think this is stopping private companies from highering foreign born people you are wrong. Companies have armies and armies of lawyers who spend all day and are paid to deal with these kinds of issues.

    Great so post how a physics student, who may not even want a PhD, should pursue a career in industry or provide links to posts that you already have made about this issue. Nature has been running a series of articles as to what it is like to pursue a job in the science industry since Jan. Maybe you should write them a letter and tell them that they can't generalize either.


    ZZ you are a good guy I really like you. If I ever met you in real life I would probably buy you a beer and we would get along easily.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2007
  17. Apr 14, 2007 #16

    ZapperZ

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    Where did I ignored it? I've acknowledged Dr. Transport's experience several times, and not just in that thread!

    And you seem to keep ignoring the fact that I have mentioned several times about the varying experience and opportunities that many of us have! I never claim, based on anecdotal evidence alone of any generalized situation for all of physics. That would be a LIE!

    I have ZERO disagreement with what you are experiencing or observing. I do, however, have a tremendous disagreement with your ability to project what you observe and using that to generalized it to not only all of your field, but all of science! That, if you still could not see, is my objection to what you have written!

    And where did I say they can't? First of all, the number of H1-B1 visa for industries has a CAP on it every year. Most foreign scientists start with that status first before they are even considered for a green card, which is much more difficult to get. Most have to get it via the petition by their employer to claim that they are either an outstanding scientist, researcher, professor, etc, because these do not have a limit. The other employment base green card has a lenghthier process AND gets capped every year on the number that can get through.

    Still, this is BESIDES the point once again. The data is very clear and has no dispute. The # of Ph.D's in physics received by US-born recipients is dropping. It is why many companies and research institutions have to hire foreign scientists. That is my point. And so far, in 2 replies, you have not been able to dispute that.

    And this clearly shows that you haven't read my essay on this very topic, even though I and several others (Astronuc was the last one to mention it in the other thread). So in case you are too lazy to read the whole thing, or to find it in the Sticky, here it is:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=51406&page=8

    This is not something that I've dreamed up just yesterday, or even recently. It is something that I've thought about for a long time, and have seen at least a dozen people who went on this route. As far as I can tell, their experience matches in general to the AIP statistics regarding how difficult and easy it is to (i) stop at the B.Sc level and (ii) seek jobs in a different profession other than physics.

    Based on these two sources, it is IMPERATIVE that a student that intends to not pursue graduate school should know what he/she is facing, the SAME way students who intend to pursue graduate school and the physics profession should be made aware of what lies ahead. The ability for a B.Sc-only holder to work in physics is extremely limited. It is not based only on my observation, but also on the most complete statistics obtained by the AIP year in and year out. For you to paint a rather rosey picture of it is highly irresponsible.

    I'm sure we would, since we both are passionate about what we believe in. However, I don't drink beer.

    :biggrin:

    Zz.
     
  18. Apr 14, 2007 #17
    I wouldn't doubt at all that a BS in physics has extremely limited options when it comes to finding employment as a physicist. The point of this thread was the fact that with say something like a BS in physics, employment in industry is still possible. With a BS in physics and a set of skills like being good at using a computer, speaking another language, good written and oral skill employment is very possible. I would also think that having a those set of skills would make one more easily employable no matter what field of science they were in. That is what I was trying to do with this threadt, come up with a set of skills that are universal that would make one more employable in industry no matter what field of science or engineering they were in. This is definitely doable, and too often science students have little or none of these skills at all when they graduate from college. Too many science student graduate from college without ever having taken a course on something like economics or a writing intensive English class.





    I don't dispute it, but have you ever wondered why the number of US born students might be dropping? For those that wanted to work in industry, maybe they may be discouraged from pursuing a science degree based on what they are observing. The fact is many many of our universities are not preparing students who want to work in industry for the real world. They are only training them with knowledge of the science, but this isn't good enough! Many universities and many doctoral advisers, simply refuse or don' even bother to train scientists with skills that are marketable.



    The point of this thread is the fact that I believe that you can talk about science in general and how you can find employment as a scientist in industry. It doesn't take a genious to figure out what is necessary [other than scientific skills] to find employment, but plenty science students ignore the need for these skills. That is what the whole point of the articles I posted in Nature were about. Many employers in industry can't find the right candidates among a plethora of PhDs because they have 0 marketable skills, but all the scientific knowledge in the world. Competition of PhD positions in industry is intense because of the sheer volume of applicants. Those that find the PhD jobs will have those skills mentioned above.

    You might not like the fact that I advocate getting a master's degree. However, I was simply offering up and alternative suggestion to getting a PhD for someone who wants to work in industry. After all, employers equate a master's and plenty of experience with a fresh PhD. That, you simply can't deny.
     
  19. Apr 14, 2007 #18

    ZapperZ

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    But that is why I asked to you compare your claims with the AIP statistics as far as physics is concerned. You never did. For example, look at Figure 9 of the most recent 2007 report. What you claim does match the data being collected. Is it possible for someone with a B.Sc to work in physics? Sure? Is it LIKELY? NO!

    I see a complete disservice to sell something that isn't likely to occur. You are giving a false impression to students that such a thing is common and widely attainable. It isn't. Can you find a job with a B.Sc in physics? Sure! Can you work as a physicist? Not very likely. The scenario you painted cannot be applied across the board, and certainly NOT with physics.

    Zz.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2007
  20. Apr 14, 2007 #19
    this thread should be renamed 'how to argue your opinion on employability and the job market in scientific careers'
     
  21. Apr 14, 2007 #20

    ZapperZ

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    The only problem with that is that it isn't just my opinion. I haven't seen any other more extensive data on physicists as the AIP data. If someone has one as extensive with a different conclusion, and as recent as that data, he/she is welcome to present it here.

    It is based on those data that I argued why what has been presented here is NOT accurate, at least not as far as physics is concerned. If all we care about is arguing "opinions" based on anecdotal and personal observations, then we might as well argue about favorite colors. It would be THAT futile.

    Zz.
     
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