In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, there’s a land that’s fair and bright,
The handouts grow on bushes and you sleep out every night
Where the boxcars all are empty and the sun shines every day
On the birds and the bees and the cigarete trees,
The lemonade springs where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
Big Rock Candy Mountain by Harry “Haywire Mac” McClintock (Warning: this site plays the music)
To some inhabitants of the ivory tower, industry looks like paradise.
When I was a graduate student and my husband first started working in a biotech company downtown, sometimes I’d visit his lab. Wow! The labs were clean and bright with light bulbs that got replaced! They had regular janitorial services, beer on Friday afternoons, free coffee, weekends off, vacation pay, maternity leave, and all the things that make industry look pretty good. Plus there were far more women working as scientists and lab directors in his company than there were in the University.
Biotech was new and shiny then, and things are never as simple as they seem to someone on the outside. Some view the biotech and pharmaceutical industries as an unknown world, and a dangerous place for scientists to venture. Presumably they will be locked away and never allowed to do interesting science again.
Myths and misconceptions abound on both sides but sometimes there’s a bit of truth at the bottom of the misconception. Some scientists do go to industry and do other things. However, the reason is more complicated. Some people in industry do other types of work because there are many niches where analytical skills and an understanding of science are valued.
For those of you who are wondering about the sorts of things that you can do in industry, even if you have a Ph.D. in biology, I found a wonderful series where the author does a fine job of describing some of the different types of roles that people play in companies and what people do in those roles. If you’re wondering how things look on the other side of the fence, you may enjoy taking a peek.