Not a Proper Job

That’s what I found out when I was trying to land a new job after my time in the army : a job as a researcher at university is not considered to be a “proper job” by someone working in industry. Even when professor Dilewijns’ laboratory had close ties with Sidmar, and some of my work (such as the examination of welds on steering columns for Volvo Trucks) would be the type of job carried out by a “proper” company if they had bothered having their own testing facilities.

The strange thing is that, when the shoe is on the other foot, you can’t but help but harbouring the same kind of thoughts about people working at nearby universities. From the British Steel days onwards, there’s been a close cooperation with Swansea university on the EngDoc scheme which for many EngDoc students meant the start of a career at British Steel or its successors.

And still you have this image in your head of professors and other people employed at a university as being somewhat other-worldly and slightly mollycoddled against the hardships of the real world. Why, when I’m half aware that this is at best an overgeneralisation ? And why, when I know from firsthand experience that some worthwhile work often goes on at universities for which industry just doesn’t have the patience or inclination ?

Maybe it’s because some of the work does not always lead to practical outcomes – after all, that’s often the name of the game with open-ended research : unlike the targeted research in industry, it can happen that your research tends to prove to be a dead end.

Also, there’s also the feeling that people’s jobs are not on the line if someone’s activities don’t ultimately add to the bottom line. So in a way, rightly or wrongly, academic jobs are considered to be not in the same league as the hard world of industry. I’m very much aware that these are caricatures, but if that is the idea stuck in an interviewer’s head, then there’s very little you can do about the bias that follows from it.

In practice, what it meant for me was that I was seen as on a par with students fresh out of their studies, only just a few years older. In the end I had to be rescued by the same people whose experience had been rubbished in my failed job search.


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