“A Change is as Good as a Rest”

Chris Burt

In the latest Monogram story, Chris Burt shares his experience of moving from academia to industry. We hope that you enjoy the post! Chris Burt is a former winner of the Monogram Early Career Excellence Awards (MECEA) and we hope his blog will inspire current PhDs and early post-docs to apply for MECEA 2015. Remember that applications are currently open and close by March 27th.


Before...

You are happily working away on your trait, your genetic regions, or even your candidate genes. You are actually starting to build up some expertise in it. However, there is a problem looming on the horizon... Your contract is coming to an end, and you are faced with the grim reality of applying for yet another short term contract, writing a speculative fellowship proposal or giving up science to work in a supermarket (I flatter myself that I would stand a chance at getting into Waitrose rather than Asda). I found myself in this position towards the end of 2013, and many of you reading this will be familiar with this situation. However, another opportunity raised itself and to cut a long story short I found myself moving from the John Innes Centre in Norwich, to the position of ‘Cereal Molecular Geneticist’ at RAGT Seeds, based near Cambridge.

So, nearly a year down the line, what are my top 5 differences between working in academic and commercial research?

  1. Diversity. At JIC I was working on perhaps 4-5 projects. My current list is more like 50 projects. This means that I know a lot less details about many of these projects but my cereal ‘general knowledge’ has improved massively and I’ve picked up a few additional research skills along the way.
  2. After
    ...After
  3. Travel. I travel a lot more. Meetings at head office in the south of France, project meetings in Paris, lots of conferences.
  4. Genotyping. Much easier to get data when there is a specialised genotyping lab round the corner. No more inexpert pipette wielding for me.
  5. Publications. In some ways I miss writing publications. The act of writing always helped me to think about my data and get more out of it. Quickly drawing a graph and dashing off a few bullet points just doesn’t give you the same thinking space.
  6. Environment. I moved from working at a site with 100’s of employees and lots of students, based near the numerous real ale pubs of the fine city of Norwich, to a site with 10’s of employees based in a field in rural Essex. Inevitably the social mix is different, but still I’ve managed to get to the pub a few times.

Overall, the move has been a good one. I’ve learnt a lot, and really appreciated the opportunity to see research translated directly into a breeding programme. I still miss the JIC Friday bar though...

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