Finnish leading politicians were recently suggesting that researchers at universities should be encouraged to work temporary as private entrepreneurs. Also many international funding schemes demand close co-operation between the academia and the private sector, or that the funded scientists work a short period in a company. Even though I’m myself currently back full-time in academia, I believe that it is an asset for a scientist also to have first-hand knowledge on how the private sector works. However, for many who are working on basic research it is a practically impossible and also an undesirable option to take time off from research and jump to the private sector.
In my experience, the biggest difference between academia and private sector is how directly your working hours are exchangeable to money. In academia we use a currency called papers. Instead of by how much money you make in a year, your value as researcher is counted by how many peer-reviewed articles (=papers) you produce per year. We spend countless hours on preparing a fine-tuning each paper, and on top of that we are supposed to use our time for bureaucracy, teaching and outreach, which do not increase the paper-count. Researchers are also on a constant look for new funding to make more papers (in that sense many scientists already are self-employed). In a company each working hour is much more valuable, as it should directly profit the company.
This January Robert Wagner was doing his secondment at Airmodus, as a part of Marie Sklodowska Curie Initial Training Network, which is funding his PhD study on nano-particles and ions in the CLOUD project. “It is very important to get some experience in the private sector. Not only because I might want to work for a company like Airmodus some day, but also to understand how commercially distributed instruments, which I use in my studies, are developed and produced”, he says. It is still relatively uncommon (at least in physics) to do training outside the university, and I am hopeful that these kinds of actions help PhD students to get a glimpse of the realities of the work life outside the academia, but also encourages companies to actually hire PhDs and see how they can benefit from science.