Monday, August 18, 2014

academics to consulting

A while ago, an academic ecologist posted an interview with an environmental consultant here. As a former grad student and as someone who has occasionally worked with academics as a consultant, I'm always interested in how the environmental biz looks to folks who have lots of experience in academia.

The consultant mentions a few cultural differences that I'd agree with:

1. The need to account for your time: you may have flexibility in your hours to a certain degree, but you also need to have a certain number of billable hours, and be able to justify those billable hours to project managers (and ultimately, to clients).

2. The level and direction of scientific inquiry is ultimately determined by regulatory requirements rather than scientific questions. I struggle with this at times. Although it would be nice to design a side study to figure out why, exactly, the contaminants are behaving a particular way at a site, I need to tie my evaluation to the ultimate disposition of the site. Are we collecting data that we will actually need in the future?

3. Reports and other deliverables (maps, etc.) are targeted to a much wider audience. You can't assume that the client or other stakeholders (local environmental groups/politicians/residents) will have a scientific background, so you need to make sure your arguments are well-reasoned and clear.

One culture isn't worse than the other; they just have different end goals. I do think that folks who transfer from industry to academia (and vice versa) will have a much easier time if they embrace those differences.

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