A career in industry

Career in industry

How about a job in industry as a young researcher? Why not: German companies spend a lot of money on research and development, pursue international activities, enjoy worldwide success and have labs and R&D departments that could hardly be better equipped. Now research-based companies are recruiting young researchers by offering them well-paid jobs and special funding programmes.

Facts and figures

  • 236,000 researchers work in R&D in companies
  • 5% of doctoral students are employed by a company
  • A further 5% of doctoral candidates receive third-party funding from industry

A doctoral student in industry

Planning a PhD after your master’s degree? If you would also like to gain some practical professional experience and find out what it is like to work in a company, there is one option that you may wish to consider. Research-based companies are increasingly cooperating with universities – not only on research projects but also when it comes to training doctoral students.

One such researcher is Patricia Haremski. A young physicist, she is doing her PhD at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) while working at the industrial company Robert Bosch. For her this was the right choice: “Because of my degree course I was already familiar with scientific work at the university – but not with everyday life in industry, which I was keen to get to know.” Although you can only take a PhD at a university, roughly one in 20 doctoral students also works at a company.

Dr. Ghislan Mouil Sil talks about writing his doctoral thesis at Robert Bosch. (The video offers optional English-language subtitles.)

BASF and many other companies invite doctoral students to apply to work on their planned research topic. And, like Bosch, large research-based companies such as Volkswagen, Audi, Infineon, Porsche and Siemens use dedicated programmes and special funding to attract potential doctoral candidates. Patricia is on a doctoral programme at Bosch. “The programme won me over immediately – particularly because of the large number of doctoral students who work at Bosch. So I knew I wouldn’t end up on my own there.”

A PhD is always supervised and assessed by a professor, however, as only universities can award a doctoral degree. Consequently, doctoral students are supervised in close cooperation with the university.

Where and how you will end up researching and working can differ considerably. Patricia Haremski studies the microstructure of fuel cells and tries to find ways to make them last longer and be more efficient. To this end, she spends a lot of time in the company’s lab, as well as in the research department at KIT.

Some doctoral students who are funded or employed by companies have a workplace only at the university. Others, especially those in the engineering sciences, work mainly in the research labs of their company.

For Patricia Haremski, doing a PhD while working for a research-based company is the ideal choice. Looking back after a year at Bosch, she feels extremely positive: “An industry-based PhD was the perfect fit for me. I find out what everyday life in a company is like, while at the same time engaging intensively with a topic on a scientific level.”

  • You can finally work on something practical
  • Normally you will earn more than at a university
  • You can gain professional experience and find out what it is like to work in industry
  • You can take advantage of the company’s infrastructure
  • You will acquire additional qualifications and soft skills
  • You will have good (international) networking opportunities
  • Your career prospects are better, also if you return to your home country

A postdoc job in industry

How about a postdoc job in industry? For many that’s an attractive option: it is all about finding solutions that really work, and then putting them into practice. You will be working in a team and establishing a new network. What is more, your career prospects will also be good – even if you decide to return home at a later date.

One aspect that makes research in industry so attractive is the excellent equipment. For Christjan Knudsen, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Boehringer Ingelheim, it is quite clear: “Our postdocs benefit from the well-funded research environment we provide, as it is equipped with all the necessary resources. This gives them the chance to gain deep insights in the field of discovery research.”

In globally active research-based companies like Boehringer, you will have the opportunity to acquire international experience and make contacts around the world. This may well be of interest to international postdocs in particular, as the company may have a research centre or contacts in their home country.

The young researchers are supported by special programmes: “Our postdocs are part of a global postdoc community and can take advantage of our extensive scientific partnerships”, explains Knudsen.

Christjan Knudsen, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Boehringer Ingelheim, sees no reason why working in industry and pursuing a subsequent academic career should be mutually exclusive: “We give our postdocs the best possible preparation for launching their career, either at a university or in the pharma industry.”

As longstanding HR director Knudsen adds, the necessary springboard for postdocs is in place: “Our postdocs are given the optimal conditions – also when it comes to publishing their own research findings. What is more, they can attend expert lectures and scientific conferences.”

There is nothing to prevent them returning to university, in other words. In the engineering sciences, industrial experience has traditionally been an important requirement when applying for a professorship. And universities of applied sciences also expect their future professors to have relevant professional experience outside the academic world.

So how does one become a postdoc in a research-based company? Is a good PhD enough? Christjan Knudsen, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Boehringer Ingelheim, explains: “When recruiting postdocs, we don’t look only at conventional research qualities such as inquisitiveness and persistence, but also at their ability to think and behave like entrepreneurs. To successfully ready our products for the market, we need genuine team players who stand out on account of their innovative ideas and persuasive communicative skills.”

  • You will gain professional experience in industry
  • You can acquire additional qualifications
  • Your career prospects improve, even if you return home
  • You achieve the qualifications necessary for a professorship at a university of applied sciences
  • You pave the way for a professorship in engineering
  • You will have (international) networking opportunities

Interview with Christjan Knudsen

Boehringer Ingelheim Interview

Christjan Knudsen is Senior Vice President and Head of Human Resources at Boehringer Ingelheim Germany.

What do postdocs need, in addition to their specialist expertise, to successfully develop their qualifications in industry?

In the future, the most important drivers of innovation and growth will be the commitment, creativity and competence of our employees. When we appoint postdocs, we therefore pay attention not only to traditional researcher virtues, such as curiosity and determination, but also to entrepreneurial thinking and action.

Successfully preparing our products for the market require real team players who inspire others with their innovative thinking and win people over with their scientific expertise and communication skills.

What are the advantages for postdocs who take their next career step after a doctorate in a company?

Postdocs at our company benefit from a research environment in which they get all resources to create and deliver on new therapeutic modalities. 

Here they have the freedom to drive unbiased science for a value chain and play an important role as they explore in their environment avenues and opportunities, which result in new research projects or implementation of cutting-edge technologies. As they publish their own research findings, they add value through innovation for themselves, for Boehringer Ingelheim and the scientific community.

Our postdocs grow in their role as they collaborate and develop a global network with other researchers inside and outside our company. Finally, we support their personal and professional development by providing experienced mentors, and by supporting their participation in internal research seminars or relevant international research conferences.

What career prospects do postdocs have in your company?

Our global postdoc programme ensures our postdocs are ideally prepared not only for an academic career, but also for a career in the pharma sector. Basically, postdocs who excel through top performance and have published extensive scientific research findings have outstanding career prospects.

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