Why the right type of scientific workplace culture matters

Why the right type of scientific workplace culture matters

You turn up for your first day at your new science job. But your casual attire doesn’t blend in with your colleagues’ expensive suits. Your clear backpack is a far cry from everyone’s leather briefcases. And your preferred way of working—listening to your favorite music—is simply “not done.” 

This kind of “fish out of water” scenario usually has a happy ending in Hollywood movies. But in real life, things can be quite different. And that’s why it’s so important to know what kind of workplace culture is right for you when you’re looking for a new job. In his article for Science Magazine, “For job satisfaction, culture fit matters,” David G. Jensen explains why your happiness and job satisfaction over the years will hinge on whether you’ve been comfortable in your employer’s culture. 

What is workplace culture?

Workplace culture—also referred to as “organizational culture”— encompasses the values, beliefs, and behaviors people share in the workplace. According to Susan M. Heathfield in her article titled “Culture: Your Environment for People at Work” for The Balance, it has an impact on language, symbols, stories, decision making, and daily work practices.  

It’s important to consider workplace culture during your scientific job search. Why? Because an environment where you feel welcomed, at ease, and encouraged to do your best is conducive to your overall performance and productivity, as well as your happiness. You have too much value to waste your talents where they are not appreciated. 

In contrast, if you feel like an outsider and don’t have the support you need, it can be detrimental to your performance and career—not to mention your mental and physical health. See an article by Krystal D'Costa in Scientific American, “What Do Companies Mean by Culture?” for more insight. 

The right scientific workplace culture: from academia to industry

More than half of the respondents to Nature’s 2017 Graduate Student Survey said that they would like to work in industry, and nearly one-quarter said an industrial position was what they most wanted. If you’ve often wondered what’s your best path, read their article: How to sail smoothly from academia to industry. To beat the competition today, be sure to highlight your skills in collaboration, teamwork, and meeting deadlines.

Every company has its own unique workplace culture. And size can matter, especially in the scientific realm, where differences between a major pharmaceutical and a start-up can be huge. But since almost all scientists begin their careers after years in academia—as Tavis Mendez, PhD, covers in his article, “5 Ways Jobs Differ Between Small And Large Life Sciences Companies”—leaving the university setting and culture can be a big transition. With the chances of landing a tenure-track position diminishing, and funding decreasing every year, you should know at least what types of options you have in the corporate world.

Ultimately, it’s not the vision or values written on the wall or website that creates company culture. It starts with living the values that are on the wall. See the Forbes article, Distinctive Corporate Culture In Biotech: Walk The Talk, for how that looks in a scientific company.

If you’re not sure about a company’s workplace culture during the hiring process, simply ask the recruiter or hiring manager for more insights. Then, by combining what you’ve just learned about the different types of culture with your knowledge of your own values and beliefs, you’ll be in a better position to accept a job in an environment where you can thrive. 

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