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Conducting research is also possible in industry

By Birk Grüling

Conducting research in a university setting has long ceased to be the only option for a postdoctoral career. Industry also offers young scientists and scholars numerous opportunities to apply their skills and qualifications, a fact that Dr Peter Kupser has learned first-hand.

Conducting research is also possible in industry© RocheWorking in industry gave postdoc Dr Peter Kusper the opportunity to pursue his research without restraints regarding feasibility or financing
"When I was completing my PhD, I decided that in the future I would work on projects whose results could be implemented quickly and directly. In order for this to be possible, you have to consider not just your own research goals, but the feasibility and economic viability of your work as well. After successfully completing my doctorate, I therefore made the transition into working in industry," says Dr Peter Kupser. This decision did not, however, mean a complete break or change of direction in Kupser's work. After studying physics at the Freie Universität Berlin, Kupser completed a doctoral dissertation on the methods of understanding protein structure at the Max Planck Society's Fritz Haber Institute. Today, the 33-year-old is conducting postdoctoral research in at the pharmaceutical company, Roche. "I found a job advertised at Roche as part of the Management Start Up (MSU) programme that suited my previous work and my personal vision to a tee. With my background in biophysics, joining an important player in the healthcare industry was a natural fit," explains the physicist, describing his entry into industry.

In principle, also basic research

The research focus at the system technology department where Kupser carries out postdoc work also does not differ greatly from that of a research institute. "We are essentially working at the stage prior to the development of the actual products and are therefore also conducting a form of basic research. We collaborate very closely with universities in the process and are constantly communicating with other scientists," explains Kupser, admitting that "at the beginning, I was surprised at how much 'real' research was being conducted here." His team is also highly interdisciplinary: in addition to physicists, it includes chemists, biologists, laboratory technicians, and engineers of various stripes. But then how does this actually differ from working as a postdoc at a university? "My work and my findings are not documented in publications or articles in high-ranking journals, but rather, are directly incorporated into products," says Kupser, a fact that could make transitioning back to a university position difficult for him. Moreover, cultivating a network of colleagues in the field of physics is extremely challenging under the circumstances. "In the engineering sciences, switching back and forth between industry and the university is certainly somewhat easier," acknowledges the physicist. "Nonetheless, I am engaged in a daily and positive exchange of information and ideas with my colleagues."

Long-range research projects are also essential to industry

For their current project, Kupser's department is also collaborating with university partners, including the University of Freiburg. The project involves research on new high precision methods for dispensing a large heterogeneous menu of reagents calibrated to microlitres and nanolitres. The results of this research are expected to one day ficilitate work in large-scale laboratories. "We are researching techniques today that will only be used to develop new products a few years from now. Those of us working in technology are at the very beginning, as it were, of a long sequence of research and development that starts out with the concept and ends in the finished product. Basic research, which also requires a great deal of time, is particularly important in the healthcare industry," explains Kupser. "As far as my working conditions and the challenges I face as a scientist, I really must say that I don't have to make any compromises working in industry." An observation that carries considerable weight, given that Kupser was, after all, previously a doctoral student at the prestigious Fritz Haber Institute, a leading scientific institution. There were other considerations that also made the decision to move from Berlin to Mannheim easy for him. "The long-term prospects and pay were determining factors for choosing a career in industry, of course. For me, it was important to combine research with a certain degree of security. I would make the same career choice again."

Information on careers at Roche can be found at: www.careers.roche.com/en/global-job-search.html

In addition to postdoctoral opportunities, Roche also offers Management Start Up and Expert Start Up programmes.

academics :: May 2012