Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The importance of teamwork

One of the major reasons for the existence of KGI is to span the gap between the academic and corporate views of life science research. We all tend to focus on the nature of the output, i.e. basic vs. applied science. However, as our students discover during their yearlong projects with companies, the way work gets done is also very different.

One area of potential culture clash is the real world importance of teamwork, as highlighted by an article earlier this month in Nature Bioentrepreneur. A few excerpts:
From academic solos to industrial symphonies
Gwen Acton, Alicia Gómez-Yafal & Emily Walsh
Published online: 17 May 2012
Academic researchers often need to stand out to advance, but the corporate world calls for team players. Moving from one world to the other can be a culture shock.
Individual project ownership is often encouraged and rewarded in academia, yet this approach in industry downplays the contributions of the team and inhibits key communication required for the success of highly multidisciplinary drug development projects. ... Over the years, we have seen many scientists undermine their careers by trying to do too much on their own.
Individual project ownership, and the recognition that follows, is the pillar on which careers are made or lost in the academic arena. ... Competition is indeed the name of the game in academia, and it is arguably not a bad thing. In industry, on the other hand, rapid, nonlinear career evolution is business as usual. Competition is reserved for external parties and has no place within your team. Development of the product, which will bring benefit to the patient, is central. Individual contributions routinely take a peripheral place, and any meritocracy is team based, because drug discovery projects are among the most multidisciplinary projects of all scientific endeavors.

Going solo in this atmosphere is at best a kamikaze approach and definitely career limiting, in our experience. ... Scientists who are not team players are often passed over for roles in startup biopharmaceutical companies. This is because industrial R&D is as much a team- and people-oriented effort as one that relies on an individual with particular expertise. As one venture capitalist (VC) puts it, when selecting startup management, “choose attitude over aptitude”. These views are likely shocking for scientists in academia, but they are widely held in industry.
I am going to recommend this reading for our entering students, particularly those in our PPM program (the world’s first post-PhD master’s program) who have chosen to leave the world of academic science in hopes of finding a corporate position. A graduate professional education is as much about developing norms and expectations as it is imparting specific technical or business knowledge.

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