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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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August 9, 2005

Differences Between Academia and Industry, Pt. 4

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Posted by Derek

You hear an awful lot about teamwork when you're in industry. (Personally, my fist clenches up whenever I here the phrase "team player", but perhaps that's just me.) But there's a bit of truth in all this talk, and it's something that you generally don't encounter during graduate training.

As a chemistry grad student, you're imbedded in a chemistry department, and most outside groups will either be irrelevant or there to service things for you. Getting along with people outside your immediate sphere is useful, but not so useful that everyone makes the effort. But pharmaceutical companies have a lot of different departments, and they're all pretty much equal, and they are all supposed to get along. You've got your med-chem, your pharmacology, the in vivo group (or groups, who may be stepping on each other's toes), metabolism, PK, toxicology, formulations. . .as a project matures, everybody gets dragged in.

These other folks do not see themselves, to put it mildly, as being put on earth to service the medicinal chemistry group. They are very good at detecting the scent of that attitude, and will adjust theirs accordingly. (Some of them already have filed chemists in the "necessary evil" category.) For the most part, no one is supposed to be able to pull rank on anyone else, so in order to get things done, you'll have to play nicely with others.

Not everyone figures this out. I watched someone once whose technique of speeding up the assay results for his compounds was to march down to the screening lab and demand to know where his procreating numbers were, already. No doubt he thought of himself as a hard-hitting, take-charge kind of guy, but the biologists thought of him, unsurprisingly, as a self-propelled cloaca. His assay submissions automatically got moved to the "think about it until next Tuesday" pile, naturally.

Earlier entries in the series can be found here.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Academia (vs. Industry) | Life in the Drug Labs


1. Utenzi on August 10, 2005 12:40 AM writes...

I'm not sure that's a difference between academia and industry, Derek. I'm in an academic lab and things run that way with us also.

If someone comes in demanding I make extra Ab or do some custom microarrays for there use you know it's not going to get done in a timely fashion --unless my boss is fully behind that action. Passive aggressiveness lives on everywhere.

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2. Lou on August 10, 2005 8:07 AM writes...

Even in academia, it sure makes life easier for you if you are respectful of the other person. If you're nice, friendly, and appreciative of the help you are receiving, people will be willing to help.

I know of so many people, not just students either, who are arrogant and self-centered (just as mentioned in your blog) when asking for help from another person or department. And I certainly "don't have time (*wink wink*)" to help someone like that.

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3. Derek Lowe on August 10, 2005 9:50 AM writes...

It's true that you find these people all over the place, and it's also true that it'll make your life easier if you're not one of them (whether you're in industry or not.)

But I think that several academic factors (tenure, anyone?) allow some personalities to persist and even thrive that wouldn't make it in a different environment. Most of the "headstrong, impossible to deal with" stories I have, or have have heard from the sciences, are academic ones.

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4. Tim on August 10, 2005 10:03 AM writes...

My fave academic story concerns a chemistry prof who has his own parking space which is labeled "Distinguished Research Professor." Of course, he never parks there. Oh, my, no. He parks next to the chemistry building in a "No Parking" zone. One day, he was actually towed and then went around trying to find the culprit who called the tow truck.

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5. Larry Fertel on August 11, 2005 11:02 AM writes...

I had a I slide show that I gave to local colleges years ago on entitled "What you don't learn in grad school". It covered a lot of the points you mention. One slide showed that in grad school, time = infinity: Money = $0. In Industry, time = 0, money = infinity.

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6. Larry on August 11, 2005 11:02 AM writes...

I had a I slide show that I gave to local colleges years ago on entitled "What you don't learn in grad school". It covered a lot of the points you mention. One slide showed that in grad school, time = infinity: Money = $0. In Industry, time = 0, money = infinity.

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7. steve on August 16, 2005 7:59 PM writes...

I think you want to distinguish individual personality problems from professional and departmental subcultures. Derek's post talked about the different groups and how they perceive their relationships with one another. That goes a lot deeper than who's a jerk or a saint.

One group may genuinely perceive that the other groups are there to service them (or be subcontractors for them). It's a matter of problem definition. If a group looks at firm problems as medicinal chemistry problems--i.e. with their definition of what is a problem and what is a solution--and expects other groups to supply inputs to solve those problems, then there are likely to be organizational frictions, to put it mildly. In an academic environment, that discipline-centric attitude is more likely to be highly functional.

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