Written By: Jeanette McConnell, Ph.D.
Right after I submitted my PhD, I got a job at a large-chain coffee shop.
Needless to say, I had lost sight of my value, and had no idea what I wanted to do.
But, I couldn’t afford to be unemployed.
So, I took the job at the coffee shop while I looked for other work.
Quite unexpectedly, I learned a huge lesson while working at this coffee place.
I learned about corporate structure and what it’s like to work for a big company.
When I was working in the lab, I set my own hours, I made key decisions about my research, and I could really do whatever I wanted to (within reason).
This was SO different from working at the café.
At the café, they had very clear rules about everything, including: how to clean the dishes, how to upsell, who you were allowed to talk to, and when you could take a break — just to mention a few.
Now, I realize this it totally normal.
Many companies are like this.
But, it was a shock to me.
Up until this point, I had complete autonomy over my daily actions and I was struggling to conform to the rules and regulations of the job.
So, I rejected the structure.
I didn’t stay at the job for very long, and I knew that I needed something else — I needed to work for a smaller company.
I needed to work somewhere where I could have more control, or at least more input, into what happened in my day-to-day.
I set out to learn about the other types of companies that were out there.
Because I knew that, as a PhD, I deserved a job that I enjoyed and that fit with my own personal values.
I really didn’t expect that working at a coffee shop would teach me so much.
But, it really brought home the importance of understanding the type of company that you are going to work for before you sign your contract.
Why Working In Industry Is A Great Option For PhDs
The “traditional” career path for PhDs is fading.
An article published in the Scientist reported that only around 15% of US postdocs secure tenure-track jobs and that the unemployment rate for postdocs is increasing.
Lack of opportunity and low pay have made PhDs realize that there is so much more available to them outside of the ivory tower.
And, PhDs in these industry positions are happy with their careers.
Recently, Nature published a large-scale survey that examined the salaries and job satisfaction levels for PhDs and MSc holders.
Overall, the survey showed that respondents were satisfied with their industry careers across the different types of organizations in industry.
The survey found that 73% of respondents working for non-profit organizations were satisfied with their jobs, followed closely by 71% respondents working in public and private companies, and 68% of respondents working in government.
In addition, those who were working in industry were more satisfied with their work-life balance than those working in academia: 79% versus 68%.
The data is clear: PhDs are finding opportunities outside of academia and they are happy.
There is no need to stay in a dead-end postdoc and hope that you will get a professorship.
You can find fulfilling work in industry where PhDs are in high demand.
5 Company Types And Why They Might Be A Good Fit For You
There is a place for you in industry.
A place where you can doing meaningful work and enjoy your life.
PhDs are often unaware of the huge variety of careers available to them.
There are different industry sectors and different organization types in industry.
It’s just a matter of finding the place that is the right fit for you.
Here are descriptions of 5 different types of companies found in industry to help you decide what might be a good fit for you…
1. Private companies: small, flexible, relatively flat hierarchy.
When a company is private, it means that the shares (or stocks), that denote ownership of the company cannot be freely traded.
And, this has a few consequences for what it’s like to work at a private company.
In most cases, private companies are small and it’s likely that everyone at the company will know you.
The smaller size means that you will probably know and be able to speak with upper management.
So, if you have an idea, you can bring it to the upper management.
Then, if you pitch the idea well and they think it’s good, your idea could be implemented within the company.
This is unlikely to happen at larger public companies.
The same is true for new projects.
If your team wants to switch gears and work on something new, the odds are in your favor because at a small private company, getting new things approved is usually possible and not too time-consuming.
There are drawbacks to working at a private company, though.
First, the company is usually more stretched for cash than a public company.
The private company will have limited funds so, as an employee, you will likely receive less benefits than an employee who works for a large, public company.
It is also unlikely that there is a set payscale for each position in the company.
So, when you come on board at a private company, there is room to negotiate your salary because there will probably not be any company-wide policy about what a person in your position gets paid.
It’s good to realize that the majority of companies fall into this “small, private company” category, and they are huge drivers of the economy.
Overall, working at a private company offers good salaries, smaller teams, and the ability to influence decisions made by upper management.
2. Public companies: big, highly structured, good benefits.
The shares or stock of a public company, unlike a private company, can be publicly bought, sold, and traded.
Usually, when a person thinks of a public company, they are thinking of these big businesses.
Companies like Google, Microsoft, Toyota, Amazon — massive companies that employ hundreds of thousands of people — are public companies.
So, needless to say, when working at a large, public company, you are not going to know everyone who works there.
You might not even know everyone in your building.
There are also going to be clear processes and guidelines that drive how things are done at the company.
This creates a much different “feel” to the company than when you work at a small, private company.
And, it highlights the importance of investigating the culture of the company before you decide to work there.
At a smaller, private company, you might meet the whole team when you have your interview and can get a good idea of what it might be like to work there.
But, at a larger company with more processes and regulations, your interview process might not be enough to tell you about the company culture.
So, make sure you are doing informational interviews, because company culture can range from highly competitive and long work hours, to highly collaborative and focused on work-life balance.
Working at a larger public company does come with one big perk — there is usually more money to go around.
This means that you are likely to have better benefits than you would if you worked at a private company.
Additionally, since public companies are large, they will have many departments and sell many different types of things, so there is room for you to grow in your career while staying at the same company.
It’s possible to switch into a completely different career track while staying with the same company — but, this isn’t really possible at smaller companies.
Overall, working at a public company has great benefits, brings you into very large organizations, and provides a place for your career to grow and change within one organization.
3. Government organizations: stable, slow to change, large impact.
The government provides key services that are not provided by public or private companies.
These services include: defense, emergency, justice, social security, health, infrastructure, education, and consumer protection.
This is a huge range of services and, as a government employee, you could be involved in any one of these areas.
The governmental organizations are often tasked with taking on huge, complex problems and situations that affect an entire nation.
Your expertise and intellectual ability as a PhD are a great fit for these situations, and your work will have a large-scale impact.
Often, government projects will be very long-term focused, and you could be working on a project that will take decades, or even generations, to come to fruition.
But, when these large projects are finished, the impact is massive.
As a PhD, feeling that your work is impactful is key, and a government job can satisfy that need.
One of the major differences between government jobs and corporate jobs is the rate of change.
Change happens much more slowly in the government.
In general, government employees can expect their organization or department to be around for decades, while public and private companies are almost constantly restructuring and undergoing mergers and acquisitions.
Government jobs are well-known for their security.
Another unique feature of government jobs is that they are driven by the political climate.
Each electoral cycle, there is the potential for funding situation changes, or the focus of a particular department can change based on who is elected.
Overall, government jobs are stable, long-term focused, and slow to change.
4. Nonprofits: varied, mission driven.
A nonprofit is really just another type of company.
Like other corporations, a nonprofit must also bring in a profit to survive, so the name is a bit of a misnomer.
The key difference is that with a nonprofit entity, its profits are used to advance a cause, rather than to pay shareholders.
The people who work at nonprofits are still paid salaries, and it still costs money to run the company.
Nonprofits range in size from huge, like the YMCA or Feeding America, to very small and localized to a certain community.
One thing to realize is that with nonprofits, the mission of the company is very, very important.
When you decide to work for a nonprofit, the mission of the company should be aligned with your own personal values.
There are nonprofits in a range of industry sectors, so there are many opportunities for you, as a PhD, to find positions that are well-suited to your talents.
Many times, people are drawn to a particular nonprofit because they feel very strongly about the cause that the nonprofit represents.
If there is something that you care deeply about, and want to merge your worklife with that passion, working for a nonprofit can be a great option.
5. Startups: small, requires hard work, potentially massive impact.
Working for a startup is hard.
Most of the time, you have no idea what you are doing and you are trying desperately to do it before the money runs out.
Startups are very small companies, usually in the technology sector, that have an idea which they think fills a gap and is commercially viable.
Often, startups create products or services designed to disrupt the market.
The founders will have this idea, and then they will usually look for investors to back the company financially.
Once a startup has funding, they are often really fun to work for.
The offices are known for being very laid back and informal, with free lunches and foosball tables.
But, this doesn’t mean that they are not working exceptionally hard.
Long hours are normal at a startup.
It’s hard to build a company from the ground up, but it can be very rewarding.
You have the potential to build something revolutionary, impact a large number of people, and if the startup is ultimately successful, you have the opportunity to make large amounts of money.
However, at the beginning, startups will often have lower salaries than larger companies.
You will likely be offered equity in the company as a part of your employment contract, but it’s important to be realistic about what the equity is worth.
Overall, working at a startup is hard, but it is usually very thrilling and rewarding, with the potential to learn a ton and, in some cases, make a lot of money.
There are many options for you as a PhD in industry — different sectors, different positions, and different types of companies. To find the most career success, it’s important that you find a position and company that are the right fit for you. A great place to start is by learning about the different types of companies in industry and what they are like to work for. This includes private companies (which are small, flexible, and with a relatively flat hierarchy), public companies (which are big, highly structured, and offer good benefits), government organizations (which are stable, slow to change, and have large impact), nonprofits (these are varied and mission-driven), and startups (which are small, require hard work, and potentially have massive impact).
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