Sunday, June 7, 2015

More Credentials

As if the Ph.D. weren't enough... well, it isn't enough.  I'm now leafing through catalogs of different programs in the business world.  The one that seems to have the most merit, at least, in terms of increasing earning power according to Harvard, is the MBA.

It's weird to think of going back to school.  Part of me says, "Seriously?  Are you seriously considering this after 11 years of post-graduate study (not to mention the post-doc)?"  Not to mention it would be part-time and completely consume any resources I have outside of actual work.  And the other part sees it as a necessary evil to gain credibility in a world I was not primarily trained for.  The funny thing is, it's not like I don't have the skills or couldn't learn them in the job I currently have.  It's just that, if this job isn't forever (what job is?), I'll need to be job-searching sometime in the future, and experience without a credential is somewhat flimsy.  Or at least I think it is flimsy because I've never tried to look for another job after this one.  Sigh.  Me and my ridiculous search for the best credential.  I wonder if it is all in my mind.  The jobs I want to take all have people in them with J.D. (no thanks, I'm not going back for 6-8 years for part-time Law!) or MBA or a business degree with Accounting, or at the very least (still a long slog) a project management accreditation.

I guess the struggle now is - do I build solely experience and worry about the next job when I need it?  Or think closely about improving how I look on paper in addition to real experience?  I know when I got in two years ago after academia, it was all about the experience.  But now, I actually need to compete with people that went to school for this.  Seems like MBAs are all over the place.

At any rate, this is so much more of a first-world problem, which differs vastly from where I was two years ago trying to make ends meet and get out of the postdoc!  I suppose that is a victory in and of itself.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How are you faring?

It's been a long time...

A really long time...

I'm still pressing on in the job that I first got when I left.  It's good and bad.  It's nice that it isn't a really big company so it's not like you have to steer a supertanker to effect change.  It's not so nice that it's a small company that is lacking a lot of procedure.

I'm all about efficiency lately.  It's crazy to come full circle from academia, where efficiency is rarely talked about (other than profs that are pushing out the Least Publishable Unit) to industry where operations are currently being tweaked to increase efficiency.  Each hour you put in during the day should be motivated by, "How did you make money for the company today?"  Sometimes, it's too short-sighted, as I talked about on the last post, but it really puts into check how you spend your time.  I really like that part.

I've moved up the ranks into a managerial position. People problems consume a large part of my time.  Why can't that person work with the guy in the corner?  What's the backstory?  How much do we play politics to keep people engaged and motivated and how much do we just say, "You know what?  We're paying you so get your fricken job done."  It's pretty weird to consider where I was two years ago...

And the degree itself?  Well, I guess I have come to terms with it a bit more.  It's nice to say that I have a Ph.D. In some respects, there is a bit of credibility there too.  Does it help me in my current position?  No, other than it built reasoning capacity, which is important, but probably could have been picked up along the way.  So I guess I would say the intangible things I developed during my Ph.D were good things.  Would I do it again?  Never.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hectic pace

The nice thing about being in academic circles is the ability to take your time and think things through.  Generally, when it comes to papers, I found there was one relatively large problem that needed to be solved.  Solving the problem took time, and it was up to the author (me) to take the time and thoroughly investigate the problem, and ensure the solution made sense.  Of course, it was important to solve the problem relatively quickly to get the paper out, but in the end, solving the problem correctly was dominant.

In my experience, that isn't the case in industry.  There isn't time to reflect on the problem and investigate multiple scenarios.  You generally pick your gut instinct and go with it.  Granted, the problems in industry are solved quickly and you can tell immediately if it works or not, but the 'laid back' atmosphere of problem-solving from academia is non-existent.  You just need to make things work.  And when they work, it's time to move on.  That problem is ancient history - no longer present to be criticized by a panel of scholars during peer review.

This is good and bad.  Good:  any single problem is not important enough to piss and moan about for months.  Bad:  you no longer have time to fully employ your reasoning and evaluate (and re-evaluate) the solution.  It's hectic.  It's a madhouse.  But at the end of the day, you can forget about it.

The slow pace of academia was already not in-line with my personality.  I would procrastinate and throw away days/weeks working on minute details.  So I was already prepared (in a way) for a quicker atmosphere, and I would assume that most people leaving academia would have a similar mindset.  It is a bit of an adjustment though...

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On the Dark Side...

When considering Industry, I was always apprehensive about Challenge.  I figured that Industry jobs would be mundane and tedious, performing the same tasks day-in and day-out.  When we think of Academia, we are inspired by the never-ending pursuit of knowledge; the cardinal rule of applying a new technique/method/analysis to an unsolved problem.  During my graduate and postdoc studies (to a certain extent), I believed I was advancing human knowledge by my research (how vain it sounds!), even though it was pertinent to a small applied field.  How could Industry possible compete?  Industry relied on Academia to forge new methods in order to combat prevalent problems in society.  Industry took a backseat to the innovations produced by Academia.  Industry merely applied 'old' solutions to problems that were conceived and solved in Academia.

Being on the other side, I realize this is still partially true.  Industry is not solely concerned with solving problems that have been otherwise insoluble.  The kicker is, Industry is concerned with applying (and developing) solutions that actually matter.  Though Academia may rejoice in its laurels as a producer that upholds unrestricted freedom of research, I now subscribe to the mindset that Industry manufactures the real test of whether or not a production of research really matters.

The problem with Academia, in my opinion, is that it does not care how the innovation can be applied, or if it can be applied.  In a certain sense, this is ok - we don't necessarily want to restrict the scope of research as new innovations are often found from obscure methods.  However, I feel strongly that there is too much 'research for the sake of research' going on.  (Think of how many PIs you know that solely care about the amount of papers/grants they can publish/obtain).  Though I haven't the time nor the inclination to provide due diligence on the subject, I often wonder how many researchers there were at the time of Einstein or Pauling compared to the modern era.

Two points:

1.  Do we really need this much investment into research? and,
2.  Industry is not tedious, mundane application of proven methods, but rather a justification and proper application (with appropriate research) of solutions to problems.

It's been a long ride, but I am truly enjoying Industry, and I don't miss Academia for a second.

Monday, December 30, 2013

How do things look now?

It's been a few months since the last update...

The reason being, I didn't want to 'jinx' myself.  It's not that I am superstitious, but I wanted to wait until things had cleared a bit.  What is going on now?

I have left academia.  It's gone.  Although it hasn't been too long (roughly 5 months), I think I can safely say I am done with it.  When I came back to the city I wanted to live in, the first jobs I looked into were academia based at a university close by.  Everything looked quite good - there was funding for a five-year position and it needed to be filled soon because the time on the grant was ticking.  I talked to quite a few profs that were very interested in what I wanted to bring to the university.  However, a number of factors needed to be in place before any formal position would work out.  Part-time seemed to be ok (although later didn't work out at all because the profs couldn't figure out what part-time meant), but for a full-time position, a few different funding sources needed to come together to produce the entire package.  And, as we all know, university funding is the slowest procedure out there...

In the meantime, I was in contact with a group since last January (outside academia) that seemed to be slow on the uptake.  Additionally, I contacted everyone I knew in my field and also in fields completely unrelated to anything I had ever done.  Everything was looking bleak.  I even put my application in to several grocery/stationary stores and temp agencies because I knew the university would take forever to figure it out.

I ended up dropping in personally to the company I had been in contact with since January a couple of times, and landed an audition.  Everything seemed to go well, but I was still a bit cautious as I knew (after 100s of applications to industry jobs, seriously I think I counted 110) that things don't seem to work out.

I landed a really good job with that company.  They were interested in applying my background to some of the projects they had on the table, and also furthering some of the skills I had learned in my Ph.D./postdoc studies.  It worked out incredibly - the day that my old checks ran out (vacation pay) my new job started.  I definitely felt 'looked after' by God, and I know that that may not strike a chord with several of you, but I know what happened and the circumstances behind it.

What happened to the university job that looked so great?  Even though I have been in contact with them for the last several weeks, I have heard nothing.  They are still tripping over themselves trying to figure it out.  Not to mention that they need to post the position internationally for three months (it is a full-time academic position...).  Basically, I don't know if they will ever figure it out, and at this point, I am glad that they didn't figure it out in time for me.

How does it feel?  In one word - incredible.  The job I am doing has real deadlines.  These deadlines benefit the company, are short-term, and my future career is not at stake (well, it is in a way if I did crappy work, but not in the way of 'I need more papers; I need more grants').  Usually, during the holiday season, I am pretty stressed and I plan out the next year of how many papers/grants I will be submitting, and I always feel bad about not doing enough during the previous year.  But guess what?  With my new, non-academic job, I am fulfilled knowing I did the best I could and that my future is not riding on how many papers I get in the future.  I actually enjoyed the break, in contrast to having a break where I need to re-motivate myself so that I can get more crap submitted.  Not for one second do I miss the old academic routine.  Since I have quit, I have had several past supervisors wondering when I will submit such-and-such a paper, and it is an incredible relief to just say, 'I'm sorry, but I won't be doing that paper anymore, unless it is contract work that you are willing to pay for'.  Of course, they never get back to me after I say that - they are just trying to get as much as they can for as little effort as possible.  Cheap academic bastards.  It is so refreshing to see it from a different viewpoint, and not feeling the underlying guilt of not finishing a paper.  Granted, at this point, I still feel a bit of allegiance or something to my past supervisors, and when they came 'a-calling', I even felt scared telling them to politely 'screw off', as I don't feel entirely free of the academic vice grip, but at the same time, the feeling of a true industry job as a foundation to stand on is indescribable.

To all those looking to make a break:
If you know deep-down the academic life is not for you, it is time.  Regardless of what you do, you will probably make the same or more money than you did as a postdoc, and the work will be no less challenging on your brain because of your skills.  You will get to interact with real people.  You won't be doing goofy non-essential research on something that will never be used/read, because that would be left on the chopping floor long before it is undertaken.  Looking back at it now, I would never have completed a postdoc or the Ph.D., and I would even change my B.Sc. to focus on more mindful industry areas prevalent in the region that I wanted to live in.  Definitely do not move somewhere foreign to do a postdoc.  Take it from me, it is not worth it.  I don't know what it is like to be a superhuman researcher like Dr. Einstein or Dr. Hawking, so if you are in those leagues, obviously this doesn't apply.  But, if you think you are smart, have the 'right' amount of papers/grants, know the 'right' people, have graduated from the 'right' university and also undertaken the 'right' postdoc (i.e. excellent pedigree - ivy leagues), and things still seem messy, GET OUT NOW!  It won't get better.  The last four years of my six-year postdoc life were hell on earth (obviously, this is hyperbolic) which I wish I could get back.

I wish you all the best.  I'll keep updating with interesting things from a postdoc who has left academia.

Yours truly,