This is a special week for me. In a couple of days, I will celebrate 20 years in this country and take my citizenship oath. Yep, I will become a US Citizen and promise to defend the Constitution. I will attain the last piece of the American Dream and what a dream it has been! I came to this country dreaming to become a scientist and help cure diseases. As I look back, it was a bit idealistic and naïve to some degree, yet I have been able to pursue that dream and build a life in the process.
So what does that have to do with industry, you ask? Well, working in industry is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This past weekend, I was having coffee with a young postdoc who is looking for positions in industry and we were discussing the issue of intellectual freedom and whether a career in academia or industry provides more freedom. I was explaining that the freedom you attain from each is different. It is true that in academia you set your own path in terms of research interests, but once a pathway is established, it is rather difficult to change fields quickly. Let’s face it, if you have been doing cancer research for the last 10 years, what are the odds that the NIH will fund a grant in neuroscience just because you want to enter that field?
Industry gives you the freedom to explore different fields; you can readily go from oncology to immunology or neuroscience. There are also many different areas of science, from drug development to technology to diagnostics, and many different functions, such as discovery, clinical development, medical affairs, business development, etc. As I was explaining to this young mentee, there are two types of people (humor me on this one, will you?): experts and generalists. Experts are those extremely focused individuals who can spend a lifetime doing the same thing: think surgeons, baseball players and hairdressers. Academics frequently fall into this category as one can spend years studying the same disease, molecule or signaling pathway.
Generalists are those individuals who are always changing subjects, but in the process gain a little bit of expertise in each subject and then apply it all to something else. Patent attorneys are a perfect example as these are professionals who combine science and law. Generalists thrive in industry because it provides an opportunity to try a little bit of everything. For example, I have colleagues that started in pharmacology and then moved on to clinical and business development. I, as a generalist, have been in immunology and oncology, and am currently exploring drug development and diagnostics. The advantage of such an approach is that I can bring everything together to develop “companion diagnostics for adaptive immunotherapy in cancer.” How cool is that?!?!?
So, if you are someone who gets bored easily or who finds too many things that interest you, you should consider a LIFE in industry where you have the LIBERTY to explore different career paths and PURSUE your HAPPINESS!