SM
Seismology

Jumping out of Academia

Jumping out of Academia

Permanent positions in academia are extremely rare and not everyone wants, or gets the chance, to stay in science after pursuing its Master, PhD or even PostDoc. As probably many other young researchers, we have been asking ourselves: how does life in the “real world” work? To gain insight into the pros and cons of changing to industry, we talked to Prof. Martin Käser (LMU Munich, Senior Consultant for Geophysical Risk at MunichRe).

 

After five years of studying and 11 years of academic career, what made you go to industry?
Well, first of all I was always very interested in real world applications. In fact, after finishing my studies in geophysics in 1999 I joined Schlumberger, WesternGeco, as a Seismic Engineer mainly working in off-shore seismic data acquisition and processing. One year later I returned to the academic world working on my PhD Thesis, however, within a European research network where Schlumberger was directly involved as a coordinator. Over the following years with the typical career step of PhD position, postdoc-position, and researcher with temporary contract I felt the need of more stability, meaning that I was looking for a permanent position. As I also was about to start a family and my wife had a permanent position in Munich, Germany, I was geographically less flexible than before. That was when MunichRe had a job-opening in Hazard and Risk Assessment for Geophysical Risks, which sounded really interesting. And as I was mainly working on seismic wave propagation simulation and earthquake scenario modeling in the academic world, I had a good basis for what was needed in deterministic and probabilistic seismic hazard and risk assessment in my new job. So in summary, it was my desire to finally get a stable and permanent position, if possible, in a field that is closely related to my expertise and interests.

Prof. Martin Käser has been working first as an Earthquake Hazard and Risk Analyst and then as a Senior Consultant for Geophysical Risk at Munich Re since 2011. During his scientific career he had several points of contact with industry. Since 2019 he is additionally Professor in Geophysics and numerical modelling at LMU Munich.

This is some text!
This is some text!

What are the main positive and negative points about working in industry compared to academia?
Let’s start with the negative points. You are definitely not as free as in academia as far as your work topics are concerned. Usually, in industry there will always be some kind of hierarchy, i.e. different levels of management and bosses that have to report to each other and therefore define the most important work packages to get finished in a fixed amount of time. Furthermore, if you are directly exposed to clients of your company, the pressure of providing the best service possible and in a timely manner is often crucial to not lose this client to a competitor. So the main disadvantage is time pressure that in turn does not often allow for spending a lot of time investigating a potentially new topic in the same depth as you would do it in academia. So some solutions that you are going to propose might be not really on solid ground, as there was not enough time to test it sufficiently and make it bullet-proof and based on profound scientific investigation or knowledge. On the other side, the main positive aspects of working in industry is that typically a lot more team-work is required, while academic research often pushes you into a direction of extreme specialization and the number of people you can talk to on your level of detail becomes small. Another, to me very satisfying point, is that you often get thankful feedback as you might have solved a problem or at least contributed to its solution that somebody further down the project- or product-line urgently required. And last but not least, in comparison to academia, salaries in industry are typically higher, economic security due to a permanent employment is better, and usually you can climb up a career ladder in rather short time intervals, if you want and take your chances.

This is some text!
This is some text!

Are you still expected to publish on your work since you left academia?
In my case, publications are not required at all. In many cases, it might even be difficult to publish about your work due to issues of intellectual property or data confidentiality, especially, if you work with client data. However, as my particular job is still very close to scientific research in hazard and risk modeling, earthquake engineering, and statistics, our team is publishing some of our work once in a while. This happens, especially, when there are collaboration projects with universities or specific PhD-projects that we support in order to investigate some topic in detail. As proper scientific research requires extensive time and we rarely have such time resources available due to our daily, operational work load, we carry out that type of research via such collaborations with academia.

This is some text!
This is some text!

Is there still the chance to be in contact with the scientific community and to attend conferences?
Similar to my previous answer, my job might be somehow special in that respect, as we indeed have still a number of contacts to scientific research institutions and universities. This has two main reasons in my opinion. The first one is, that historically our company had its own research group on “GeoRisks” in general and therefore always was in contact with academia and presented our view on risk topics on various international conferences. A second reason is, that many of our team-members have a rather long university career themselves and therefore might still have good contacts to diverse researchers and universities. Therefore, yes, we are still in contact with the scientific community to some extend and for specific topics. And yes, we still are attending conferences, sometimes just to get state-of-the-art information, sometimes also to contribute our recent developments and approaches that include methods to overcome very specific challenges that the academic world might not even be aware of.

This is some text!
This is some text!

Have you ever thought about going back to academia in the future? Is it possible to do that?
After I joined MunichRe at the beginning of 2011, so more than 8 years ago, I have to admit that I never seriously thought about really going back to academia. However, again I have the feeling that I am in a somewhat special situation, as I am still tightly linked to the Geophysics department of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU) in Munich since I left. In fact, after my habilitation [*], I tried to continue some research work in my spare time and mainly served as a lecturer offering a course in the Masterprogramme on “Introduction to seismic hazard and risk assessment”, where I teach the interested students the basics of probabilistic risk modeling as used in the reinsurance industry. Just recently, the LMU appointed me as an associate professor, which facilitates the work with Master- and PhD-students on scientific research topics, as I can also act as supervisor from academia for them. So for the moment, I kind of unite industry and academia in my work, which makes me really happy, especially, if I see young and motivated students working on challenges from our world with scientific approaches. Therefore, I do not feel the urgency to fully go back to academia. But you never know, how things might change and look like in the future.

This is some text!
This is some text!

[*] Habilitation is the qualification to conduct self-contained university teaching and it allows the access to a professorship in many European countries.

This is some text!his is some text!

This interview was conducted by Michaela Wenner
Revisions: Eric Loeberich and Nienke Blom

Marina Corradini
Marina is an Italian PhD Candidate at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris. In her work she investigates the relation between the rupture complexity and the high-frequency seismic radiation through the use of a back-projection technique. When she is not in her office, she works as a science communicator at ‘Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie’ of Paris. Marina is the Editor of the EGU Seismology blog. As ECS-reps she would like to promote gender equality in geoscience and explore how the society currently supports postgraduate and postdoctoral female researchers in their career progression. You can reach her at corradini[at]ipgp.fr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*