Finding the Right Fit

Paul Carter was a professor at the University of Wisconsin before jumping to his current position as director of global agronomy sciences at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, in Johnston, Iowa.

Theresa Tamkins(
Jun 5, 2005

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Paul Carter was a professor at the University of Wisconsin before jumping to his current position as director of global agronomy sciences at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, in Johnston, Iowa. He's now spent half of his career in industry and half in academia. "I worked 11 years at the University of Wisconsin." Both the university and Pioneer, he says, are "tremendous."

"I certainly didn't leave the university because I was frustrated or disappointed. I felt great about what I could contribute there, but a job came along at Pioneer, an opportunity I didn't want to miss," says Carter. Pioneer, which ranked second on the list of Best Places to Work, "was absolutely the only company I would have considered leaving the university for."

Carter's choice was not so much between industry and academia; rather, it was about choosing the right job at the right institution. He misses some things about academia, such as interacting with students, but he's found advantages to working in industry as well, including the teamwork. Collaboration is much more the style in industry, he says, where fewer things can be done as an individual scientist, unlike in academic settings.

"There's a tendency in academia to be individual entrepreneurs, because that's kind of the way it's set up. You get a salary, an office, and in a lot of cases, not much else. You're expected to raise money through grants. At a company you can really rally around a mission," he says.

Ellen Filvaroff, a senior scientist at Genentech, says her research is more streamlined and efficient in industry compared with academia. Other employees now do some of the work that she conducted as a postdoc, including animal tests and PCRs. "It's very efficient, that you have people who are experts ... to do that," she says. She notes that academia is following industry's lead, and universities are now more likely to provide facilities for sequencing and transgenics to streamline research.

Industry has its problems, too. Companies can have maddening bureaucracy, according to some of the scientists who responded to our survey. "A problem observed in big companies and also my company [is] too much red tape and bureaucratic hypertrophy, and too many middle and semi-high-ranking managers, who are only focused on their own job promotion and personal success image without a real interest in sustainable research or business progress," says one Berlin-based employee of a Big Pharma company.

And as a company's fortune goes, so does its employees' morale. High-profile drug withdrawals or controversies can affect employees. "As with all large pharma, Merck is currently experiencing some cyclical pressures that have been made worse by recent issues, such as Vioxx," says one scientist about his employer. Merck was 6th on our list of large companies that are considered Best Places to Work.

Cynthia Robbins-Roth, founding partner of BioVenture Consultants, San Mateo, Calif., notes that not all corporate environments are the same, and understanding the environment is key to choosing the right job. "Corporate culture is such an important concept to grasp. Every company ... has its own personality, and that personality is driven by the people at the top of that organization. If you find yourself in a setting where you are really unhappy, don't assume that you hate whatever that entity is. It could be you just hate the personality of the people running it."

"What makes work satisfying is being in a place where what you love to do makes a contribution to an organization, and the people around you recognize that contribution, and you recognize their contribution," says Robbins-Roth. "We're talking complex cascading networks, just like lymphokines – think signal-transduction networks."