Friday, 6 October 2017

07 - Academia or industry? Academia and industry!

One particularity of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie ITNs is that the Early STage Researchers (ESRs) are 'obliged' to conduct their research with the collaboration of at least at one academic and one industrial partner. Some of us stay most of the time at a University and go for a secondment to a company and some of us do the same but vice versa. My host is Phimeca Engineering in France but I often go to UCD and I actually stayed there for 5 months starting from November 2016 for my secondment. But which one is better? And better for what? For your PhD? For your personal development? For the research itself? I don't promise to give you proper answers in this post, but I will try to spotlight the good side of both.

Let's start with the good things of being in an academic environment. The facilities are simply invaluable. After all there is a tuition fee for which you get a lot of services. To be honest in Hungary you don't have to pay tuition fees at the university if your grades remain good enough throughout your studies (well, later they added some other conditions and that was one of the reasons I decided to continue my studies abroad, but I am not going into politics here :) ), and during my Master and for this PhD as well I got scholarships that fully covered my tuition fees. Unfortunately this sometimes makes me forget how much these studies actually cost... But let's get back to the topic in hand. You have free access to (almost) all the literature, you have the online access to articles and you have the access to the library if you need some books and this is great, really. Then you may also have a laboratory with (almost) all the equipments you may need to conduct physical tests for your research. I have not conducted any tests for my research but for example ESR1 made some pretty nice braided  fiber reinforced polymers (FRPs), when I was in Dublin :) For me personally, during my 5 months stay at UCD probably the best thing was the gym, the free access to the gym. It's close to your office, opens early, closes late, there are different classes you can register to and so on. When you are overwhelmed with work but you need to lose your mind a bit, you can just go for a class at lunch time or directly after finishing your work or basically any time. I miss so much the HIIT workouts (even if I died there every single time). Because that's also a good thing in academia: the flexibility. Usually you may have 'advised' working hours,  but if you have to go to the doctor one afternoon: no problem, if you oversleep a day (and you don't have any meeting fixed, because according to Murphy's law this will be the exact day when you do have a meeting at 9 am, sorry...): no problem. On the other hand, if you have to work late, or have to go to the office on Sunday: no problem either. Moreover I can assure you that on any Sunday you will find someone there, so you don't have to drink your coffee alone :). And so we arrive to another important point: there will be always a lot of other people in the same situation as you. In generally speaking, there will be other PhD students, of course, but also more specifically, there will be always someone who is having the exact same troubles as you and (which might be even more important) someone who already had before the same problems that you are having at the moment. 

However staying at a company has also it's great advantages! For example you work with people who are having a totally different point of view. They have practical thinking, which is particularly valuable for me as (a confession is coming, watch out!) I have never worked (except for a one month internship) in the industry before! And to be honest, although I believe that the theoretical knowledge I gained at BME during my Bachelor was extraordinary, the practical side could be improved. For example I really like that most of my colleagues here did 2-3 internships during their studies (regardless if they studied at University or Engineering school*), in France and/or abroad and from 1-2 months up to 6 months. I think it's a great thing and it's indeed missing from the Hungarian system. So I really enjoy being at the industrial environment now and working together with engineers, even though my research is a kind of 'lonely work' here. In addition, it is not only good for me personally but (I hope) for my research as well, because after all the main objective of (almost) all research is to help the industry, which is much easier when you actually know and understand the needs and problems of the industry. This is kind of evident but I often have the feeling that people (including myself)  forget about this from time to time. There is another thing, which may be a bit company-specific, but my experience is that here at Phimeca we act more like a group, like a team. I mean that doing a PhD can sometimes be a very lonely job speaking about the everyday work (and not about the conference season...), but here I feel to be part of a team, where I can ask basically anyone if I have  a question and I know they would do their best to help me.  And of course I would do the same. I'm pretty sure there is some 'healthy' rivalry within the company but I feel much more the willingness for cooperation. And I really like this, even though it seems to be logical as the ultimate aim is common for all (again I'm a bit of an exception but I try to adapt :) ).

All in all, I think it's really great that I can experience both, and probably if I had to choose, I would choose exactly this: sharing my time between industry and academia :) 

Fun fact: Today is 6th of October, which is a day of remembrance in Hungary. We are remembering today the 13 rebel generals who were executed at Arad (martyrs of Arad)  in 1849 after the revolution was crushed. (OK, this was the 'fact' part, now comes the 'fun'.) The legend says that during/before/after the executions, the Austrian generals/soldiers were drinking, toasting and clinking loudly with beer, so Hungarians made a pledge not to clink with beer for 150 years from then. However, some people don't believe in this time limit and they may still find it offensive if you are clinking with beers in Hungary, so remeber this next time you travel to Hungary... better safe than sorry :)

*In France if you want to study engineering you can choose between University and Engineering school. But I can't explain it because I still don't really understand this system - it's too French for me :)

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