I have always thought of myself as an academic person: somebody that would never leave the university research environment for Industry, and would try and climb through the ranks, aspiring one day to become a researcher and eventually a Professor.
This idea is what made me decide in the first place to study for a Bachelor in chemistry a Master in chemistry of biological molecules and finally a PhD in biocatalysis.
Science and teaching were my passions and all I wanted was to be an academic researcher. But life does not always smoothly go the way you planned it: let me show you why we should be grateful for that!
Soon after my PhD and a brief experience as an assistant lecturer in an Irish Institute of Technology, I felt a bit tired of the academic environment. I had, after much effort, failed to find a postdoctoral position in the States, as I had originally planned and, discouraged, I was not so sure anymore that academia was the right place for me.
Around this time, a very interesting job advert came to my attention. They were looking for a research scientist to fill in a position in a start-up company in London. It felt just the right job for me at the right time. It turns out it was, as they ended up hiring me.
This was the best choice I had made so far. In industry I learnt so much of a scientific reality I knew so little about (you can read more about my experience here). My year in the company supplied me with the skills and knowledge that would have allowed me to become a more organised, goal-oriented and practical scientist.
Nevertheless, after some time, my old feeling for a university-based career resurfaced. I was missing teaching and writing papers very much, and I found myself wondering if academia would have me back. With my greatest surprise, academia wanted me more than ever! The main trouble turned out to be deciding which job to choose among the ones that had been proposed to me. My friends were in disbelief particularly when I turned down a couple of positions in the States, my original dream.
Since then I worked as a research associate at the University of Manchester and in Université de Montréal, in two of the most important laboratories in the world for biocatalysts. My experience in industry did not damage me at all, in fact, it made my profile more appealing not only for other industrial roles but more unexpectedly, for academia, too.
If you are wondering if you should take a leap of faith and try what it means to work in industry, maybe even in a start-up company, my advice would be: yes, definitely. The only drawback that I can think of is that in industry you often are not allowed to publish your findings, and this means that you might have a publications gap during the time you are away from academia, but let’s not forget what you traded this for. If you decided to go back to the university environment, you would bring with you an interesting experience package that helped you become a more aware, organised, team oriented and collaborative, ultimately better scientist.