When I think about my time in industry, the first thing I remember is the excitement I felt when I received the phone call from the CSO (Chief Scientific Officer) telling me that they would love it if I joined their team. In the job advert, they said they were a synthetic biology start-up company, and they were going to change the world: now I was on board!
The feeling of accomplishment never left me throughout my time there, and beyond. They made me feel important and very much part of their team from day one.
The company was small at that time, and even though the roles of everyone were very established, we had one goal in common: the success of the company and we worked united towards it. In any scientific, industrial start-up you will usually find that the enterprise is divided into at least two defined sections: the business-oriented one and the scientific team, with the CSO bridging the gap. We were very lucky also to have a fantastic computational team at work.
Life in a start-up is frenetic but very satisfying. The pace is fast, and the stakes are high. And, if compared to academia, the pay is better, too. Teamwork is central and when your teammates are as passionate as you are, the moment you accomplish something important together, it is the most rewarding of the feelings.
So profoundly different from the slower, somehow less focused, but also freer academic environment, working for a start-up is hectic at all times, and you need commitment to the cause. You can expect days of great joy and days when you are so tired you think you will not have the strength to get home.
But believe me when I tell you that I would never trade my start-up experience for anything in the world. There I learnt to be highly organised, to defeat procrastination, the effectiveness of collaboration and the importance of team-play.
Furthermore, I had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented and visionary people in the field of synthetic biology.
For all these reasons, my decision to leave was one of the hardest. At that time, I had to go with the flow and academia had been calling me back. Nevertheless, I brought back with me everything I learnt during my time in the company and the experience deeply shaped my future attitude towards science.
I would encourage everyone, even the most academically-oriented of you, to spend at least one year in industry, maybe in a flexible and challenging start-up environment.
The experience will almost certainly be tough, but it will enrich you from a personal and scientific point of view and it will open your eyes to a world that you might have not even started to imagine, yet.