Friday, December 16, 2011

Behave According to Culture!

By Joe Z. Sostaric, Ph.D., Manager
ACS Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Office

Hi all! I hope you enjoyed the December issue of the Bulletin and the feature article. I’ve tried to expand on some ideas below. It is important to note that the article generalizes between academic and industry cultures. It would be wise to recognize that different companies will themselves have differing cultures (the same is true for different academic institutions too!) Although not as extreme as the differences between academia and
industry, you need to be able to research and understand cultural differences at different companies as you start your job search and launch your career. You can gain some insights from annual reports and experience. But investing more time in career preparation and networking NOW should be high on your agenda. The time you spend doing these types of activities can really pale in significance to the years you might spend in endless postdoctoral positions, or in a directionless career.

So, back to the December 2011 feature article, what does it look like when someone behaves appropriately in an industry culture? Take a closer look at three scenarios where the way you behave in academia might lead you to modify your approach in an industrial workplace.

•Would potential industry employers be looking at your ability to work independently? Yes! You have a Ph.D. But distinguish this kind of independent work from pushing your own independent research agenda without informing anyone. If you consider the accountability chain discussed in the article, you can see why that tactic would not get you far.

If the soccer analogy in the article was difficult to follow, maybe listening to a moment of music will clarify the importance of the way each individual works to a successful team in industry:


•Are industry employers interested in your leadership qualities? Sure! Maybe they need to build a pool of scientists to fill future supervision and management roles. Here again, distinguish that scenario from improving the qualities of a new compound on your own, then sending out a memo to the team, and doing it all without discussing any of it with your project manager or the senior scientist that you report to. That could seriously disrupt the research agenda for which your superiors are answerable.

•Is a company interested in your ability to collaborate with other researchers and company units? Of course. Yet once again, distinguish the type of collaboration a company is looking for. For instance, you would be well-advised not to pressure your manager to start collaborating with units on projects and in directions that you personally feel would bring the best scientific outcomes. Remember, there are several senior-level people higher up the chain of command who are paid to make research decisions in a context where the company’s goals might outweigh pure scientific research!

In considering the differences between academic and company culture, how much weight should you give to preparing to respond to behavioral questions when interviewing for industrial positions? I vividly recall the interviews I had for industrial positions: meetings with Marketing, Product Development, and Human Resource managers. Questions commonly included:

• “Can you give me an example of when you communicated research to a nonscientist?”
• “Would one pound of crude compound that sold for $10 or one ounce of high-quality compound that sold for $5 give us a bigger profit margin?”
• “Tell me about a time when you faced a difficult situation with a colleague. How did you deal with it?”

To be honest, I did my homework, and I had expected and trained myself to respond to these types of questions. However, I didn’t feel as prepared to answer questions from the scientific staff at these companies. They asked:

• “Define the word ‘collaboration.’”
• “Give examples of when you were innovative.”
• “Explain how you would work in a lab with all of these junior scientists in your way.”

Clearly, when industry people talk about the type of “fit” that a candidate is for a position, they are not just referring to scientific knowledge, and research and presentation skills!

Have you interviewed for industry jobs? Please share your experiences and tell us the following:

•What types of questions were you asked by the different people you met at the company?
•Was it a big, mid-sized, small or start-up company?