Each year, many STEM students, postdocs, and faculty ask me how to find a job in industry. The discussion typically begins with perceived dissatisfaction of their academic careers: too little funding, too much competition, and/or not enough excitement. Each year, many STEM industry employees also ask me how to find a job in academia. The discussion again typically begins with perceived dissatisfaction of their industry careers: too much micromanagement and bureaucracy, and/or not enough growth potential. The least common denominator to each dissatisfied employee seems to be a false pretense that career change is the answer to improve his or her job satisfaction. Having been on both sides of the STEM career (Academia and Industry), I have found that answering the following question can oftentimes unlock the root cause of dissatisfaction in one’s STEM career.
Are you spending the majority of your time using your highly leveraged assets? Think of a fulcrum and a lever. Now recall some basic physics: the law of the lever as described by Archimedes, the ancient Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. One can compute the Mechanical Advantage (MA) as a ratio of forces on the near versus distant end of the fulcrum. The lever amplifies the input force when fulcrum is further to the point of input force. So now, imagine your job as a heavy box on the far end. Where’s your fulcrum today? Is your fulcrum close to you or is your fulcrum far from you?
Your highly leveraged assets are those personal strengths that you posses that position the fulcrum to maximize the mechanical advantage. There’s still work to be performed at the end of the lever (let’s assume the mass of the work doesn’t change), but that work is positively amplified by proper fulcrum placement. Just changing from academia to industry (or vice versa) doesn’t change the law of physics. You’ll still carry your same lever and fulcrum position to the other domain. Instead, focus on your strengths (highly leveraged assets) and ensure those strengths are being put to good use. Once you master that, you’ll be close to ruling in or ruling out whether academia or industry is right for you.