Social Sciences: Academia & Industry – On the Edge of Two Worlds

Academia and industry are are often defined as two conflicting worlds. However, these two worlds can complement and learn from one another. In this article, I will present my experience working on the edge of academia and industry and enjoying both equally.

In addition, I will focus on the social sciences and the career prospective of the young bachelor or master graduates while taking into account the broad international context.


In order to talk about working in academia, we must agree on a common definition. I assume that it means – doing research on daily basis – i.e. going through the stages of literature review, hypotheses deduction and testing, writing and communication the results. Invariably most of the time, the researcher must also teach and supervise, peer-review others work, write grants applications and present their findings (e.g. at the conferences). However, I believe that the one, most distinct characteristic of working in academia is carrying out the research activities for the sake of advancing the knowledge in one particular area and making it accessible to other researchers and the public without receiving direct financial remuneration. It is widely assumed that the currency in academia is number and quality of publications, grants and supervised students.

Usually, to get into academia, one must poses a research doctorate – equivalent of PhD in most countries. It is rather a difficult task, for example in the USA in 2009-2010, there were around 3.03 PhD degrees awarded for every 100 Bachelor of Arts and around 1.2% of the USA population holds a doctorate. In social sciences it takes usually 7.7 years to complete PhD, so in total almost 12 years if taking into account studying for the B.A. first. Moreover, in social sciences, a post-doc position would earn an annual salary of 40’000$ which compares rather poorly with an average salary of almost 60’000$ for someone with 5-9 years of experience.

However, from my experience and from what my colleagues say, academia offers benefits that many professions do not enjoy. Usually, it is easy to follow one’s interest and work on the problems that seem most interesting; there is little external pressure to succumb to what the institution wants. For example, at the beginning of my projects I have received 250 words of a general framework on what the project was about, but I was free to come up and embark on testing my own ideas (which I did, ending up with a proposal of 3’500 words). Moreover, the academicians have rather liberal attitude toward their working hours and are quite flexible to when they start and finish their work. I have worked as a researcher (or assistant) in Poland, Spain and the Netherlands and I have seen the same patterns everywhere. It seems that none cares, as far as you come to teach the class and publish now and then (e.g. in ASCoR it is two publications / year, from a post-doc position on). From what I see, nevertheless most people work Mon-Fri, 10-18, but academia gives an amazing flexibility and ability to work when and wherever one chooses.


            For the purpose of this post, I define working in industry as doing everything (and being paid) where the main goal is not to advance and spread the scientific knowledge by mostly publishing and teaching. It seems as it is rather difficult to define working in “industry” but the most prominent examples would be sales representatives, managers, liberal professionals, engineers, manual workers etc. However, in contrast to academia, which usually forms part of the public sector, the industry mostly operates in the business/private sectors.

            It seems industry is performing well; most people in the workforce have a job – with unemployment rate in EU of 12.2% (April 2013) and 7.6% in USA (May 2013). However, the recipients of the PhD in social sciences go on working in academia more often than for industry. For example, in USA, 60.6 % of the doctorate recipients stayed in academia and as little as 13.8 % went to work in industry or business. However, those who earned PhD in social sciences and went to work for industry could count with an average basic salary of 80’000$ – a striking contrast to above mentioned 40’000$ for a post-doc position. It seems that this trend is similar in other fields, for example a doctoral graduate in business or management earns on average 108’000$ in industry in comparison to 48’000$ for a post-doc position.

            If money was only concern, it seems that working in industry it is better choice than setting on the career in academia. Earning more brings obvious benefits; many graduates strive for becoming independent of their parents’ support, moving in with the girlfriend or boyfriend, travelling extensively, buying a car, or just simply not worrying about how much they spend. However, in my opinion, the industry has some more benefits to offer too. Most importantly, it seems to me that it adopts the best practices and discoveries fast and eagerly. If you are not using the latest techniques, developments and technologies in the company you work in, you are likely not doing something right. In the industry, the projects must be planned rapidly, executed thoroughly and the results are expected “for yesterday.” Moreover, the PhD holders working in the industry may enjoy substantial opportunities to manage people and projects, helping in making evidence-based decisions and resourcefully employing the reason and critical thinking. For example, in the company I work, I strive to contribute to all the parts of the above-mentioned processes through such projects as developing other modes of delivery of our software, coming up with robust and efficient measures of performance or developing research projects from scientific and business perspectives.

Academia & Industry

            The academia and industry both have many benefits to offer. One provides freedom and flexibility to dwell into one’s interests and other a fast-paced environment with substantial financial remuneration. In this section, I would like to showcase a set-up of my Marie Curie Initial Training Network (MC ITN) that brings together five partners – from public (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Utrech Univeristy, INSEAD, LBS, ESMT), seven partners from private (full -Tobii, VicarVision, Philips, associated – BCG, Deloitte, Rogil, Tribal) and one from non-profit sector (BEUC) – to study together an emerging concept – consumer competence. The consumer competence might be defined as “broad set of abilities, intuitions, knowledge and skills consumers need in order to make decisions that help them navigate successfully in the economic environment” European Union in 2011 decided to give €3.76mln to train 14 Early Stage Researchers – Marie Curie Research Fellows and develop the concept of consumer competence until 2015. It turns out to be an astonishing amount of almost 270’000€ per fellow, so they can finish their PhD in one of the top-ranked universities and receive training on the skills ranging from consulting, knowledge management and grant writing from the top business partners – opening doors for the academia and/or industry. This MC ITN is called CONCORT, which translates to The CONsumer COmpetence Research Training, provides excellent synergistic opportunities between the academia and industry. In the next section I will write how it has worked out for me until now.

            After graduating with M.A. in Psychology in English, from University of Warsaw in summer 2012, I subsequently have been hired by VicarVision (full name: Vicarious Perception Technologies, B.V.), located in Amsterdam as a research fellow, however I think that proper name would be something along lines of scientific consultant as my job is to do research with the automated facial analysis software we develop, in order to improve it for the academic research. In my case there was a small issue though, in contrast to other 12 fellows I was hired by a private company (and not university) and I wasn’t automatically admitted to a PhD program. I had to work my way through, writing a research proposal (for more tips on that – see another JEPS Bulletin article here), providing my grades and CV and going through a selection process in order to be admitted to the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR), the research institute in Communication Science at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. However, the entire procedure was within the spirit of the CONCORT, as it is written in its outline “(…) in the real world jobs are not granted, they are won…” Thanks of the support of the VicarVision CEO, in December 2012, three months after being hired, I became officially a PhD Candidate in ASCoR  – Europe’s best institute in the Media & Communication Studies (QS Subject Ranking 2013).

            Since then I have been splitting my time between ASCoR and VicarVision working on my thesis that encompasses consumer behavior, emotion regulation and facial expressions, all possible thanks to the arrangement between the two seemingly distant entities – social sciences academic unit and an small-medium enterprise, research and development, artificial intelligence company. For ASCoR my work means they will boast more publications (the unspoken rule is about one or two papers published in ISI-ranked journals and a couple of conference proceedings before defending the thesis), and for VicarVision it means that their software is meticulously tested within academic environment and the publication applying it goes through the rigorous double-blind peer review process. In addition, I would identify those additional synergistic opportunities, which would be otherwise very difficult to create if not placed on the verge of the academia and industry: (a) the quality of the projects is assessed through both peer-revision and commercial potential; (b) the research must be both meticulous and swift – taking into account different, but complimentary needs for quality and the speed; (c) the same project should aim toward developing theory and have practical applications; in addition, for a fellow the benefits are (d) remuneration is increased but the freedom and flexibility are preserved; (e) the projects focus aids in developing scientific, writing, entrepreneurial, management and transversal skill-set; (f) higher chances for prospective employment through ability to move through sectors (private and public) and the type of work (projects management and research process).

In this article, I haven’t mentioned such concerns as the common assumption that most of the businesses are the predatory machines created to bring the profit (sometimes skipping the ethics parts) and that the universities are accused of being unable to cross the so-called “valley of death,” where the basic research is rarely translated into real-life applications with societal impact. This is because, I believe the shortcomings of both worlds might be mitigated through for example the arrangements as mine, in VicarVision and ASCoR under CONCORT. Fortunately, the trend is spreading, for example European Union has launched, a pilot scheme, of so-called European Industrial Doctorates (EID), funding around 100 researchers until 2013 to work 50/50 in both academia and the industry. The only real potential down-side I find in working for both academia and industry is the timing concerns, it theory I should be spending 0.5 FTE in the company and 0.5 FTE in the university, but often times it adds up to 1.5 FTE for both. But I think it is only due to how much opportunities are present and one’s desire to go for most of them. None expects you to work more than 1.0 FTE but the work is simply so exciting that it is hard to resist. All in all, I think that the European Union is keen on projects like MC ITN or EID and all the positing of the jobs you may find are on the Euraxess webpage. I found my inspiring job right there, and, who knows, maybe you will be the next lucky one?

Peter Lewinski

Peter Lewinski

Peter Lewinski is Marie Curie Research Fellow in The CONsumer COmpetence Research Training (CONCORT) and in Vicarious Perception Technologies B.V. He is a PhD candidate (2012-2015) in Persuasive Communication at Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) - University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He studies facial expressions and advertisements. He was at the EFPSA Executive Board and Board of Management in 2011-2013.

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