Written by Greg Ruchti, Ph.D., Senior Analyst
I come from an academic background in astrophysics. There’s a lot to like about academia: I had flexible hours, and I had the freedom to research the topics I liked however I wanted. However, the pressure is relentless to produce “hot science” that might have a higher likelihood for grant funding in an environment of ever-dwindling funds. Thus, competition is fierce, which can certainly be draining after multiple failures to acquire funding. For this and other personal reasons, I decided to start looking at industry, and I am very glad I did. By letting go of my academic comfort zone, I found an amazing opportunity in the private sector.
I’ll be the first to admit, I was definitely scared to make such a large change so late in my academic career. I had been working as a researcher in academia for so long, I was not sure I would be able to sell myself to industry. Did I have the experience and skills the private sector requires? Would I feel comfortable there? Would I have freedoms similar to those I had in academia? All of these questions and more kept boiling in my head. Well, it is safe to say that my fears were unfounded. Veracity has turned out to be a great fit for me. But let’s dig into those imposing questions a bit.
Did I have the experience and skills to work in industry? At Veracity we offer decision support to customers, and the work involves the analysis of large data sets––just like in astrophysics. In both academia and industry our job is often to make sense of large data sets, which at first glance appear to be just a massive conglomerate of noise. We must mine the data for trends and correlations. Basically, I’m using the same analytical tools and techniques in my new job that I used as an astrophysicist. However, instead of using our findings to explain an astronomical phenomenon, we use the data to help our customers make real-world, cost-saving differences in their operations. I like how tangible this feels.
What about my freedom to do whatever research I desired? At Veracity, I’m given the same freedom as in academia to approach a problem through different analytical avenues. We are asked to answer specific questions important to our customer, but how we go about answering those questions is up to us. We take pride (and enjoy intellectual challenge) in tackling the problems using all methodologies available to us. Thus, we can be confident that the results are the best possible outcome for our customers.
What about the satisfaction of collaboration and teaching? It turns out that a collaborative environment is the norm for successful companies today. At Veracity we often work in teams comprising a range of experience and skill sets. But everyone has a voice when it comes to how we approach a problem, and we all learn from and teach each other throughout the life of a project. I feel very much at home in this environment.
The answers to these questions helped me learn that working in the private sector is not all that different from working in academia. What I thought would be a big, scary career change ended up not being such a massive change after all. I have valuable experience and skills that transferred well, and my new working environment allows me to be happy and excel without grant-chasing pressure. So, my final answer about leaving academia is this: no regrets.