[Interview] – Transitioning from Academia to Industry – Piotr Matyba

[Interview] – Transitioning from Academia to Industry – Piotr Matyba

In part 3 of this 4 part interview we talk to Piotr Matyba, a Senior Laser Development Engineer with Coherent Scotland who we recently placed, about the challenges of transitioning from a career in academia to a career in industry.

Piotr: Hi, so my name is Piotr Matyba. I have a wife, Sandra, we are both academics and we have two daughters, Helena and Ingrid. They are two and five, so an exciting time.

I have a Ph.D. in physics from Umea University. My major is in what is called Organic Photonics. During my Ph.D., I worked on sorts of light-emitting devices. After my Ph.D. we moved to the US, and then I took a little bit of a change in my research profile. I worked with laser development at JILA. It’s an Institute at the Colorado University and the National Institute of standards and technology, (NIST).

That was for four years then we moved back to Sweden. I have recently started working as a Senior Laser Development Engineer for Coherent in Glasgow.


Benet:   Right. So, if you think about your own career, are there any challenges that you’ve had to overcome to get to the point that you’re at now?

Piotr:   I made a transition from academia to industry and I think for a long time I thought that it would be a big challenge, because you’re told academia is different and industry is different. I think after all there are some differences, but if you feel you are with the right people and if you understand really what you want to do, then there is not a problem. I think, for me, it was a little bit of a challenge but, what is important, is to be convinced that what you do is the right thing and then just be patient and keep doing your thing.

Benet:   It’s interesting you talk about the transition from academia to industry, because it’s something that we get faced with quite regularly when we present candidates to companies that maybe are moving from academia. If the hiring manager hasn’t been through that transition. if they left university at undergraduate level and then went into industry, the perception often is that there’s some sort of extra challenge that might cause difficulty for somebody that’s maybe been in research for a number of years to move into industry. It’s often not been borne out by the reality.

Piotr:   Yeah. I more than agree with that. I know a couple of my colleagues that decided to also go into industry, so it’s nothing wrong with you if you leave the academia. The thing is, that academia is extremely, I would say, …it’s like a triangle and it’s extremely steep. There are many Ph.D. students, there are many post-Docs, but once you want to go up into a faculty position, it’s fewer and fewer, and then you reach a certain point and you realise that actually you have to do lots of administration and so on. Some people just tend to quit, because they see that they are more into engineering. I actually had at least, let me see, four of my colleagues that, after Postgrad – after quite successful academic paths – decided to go over to industry, and it took a lot of time for them to find the right place.  The problem is, that we are taught to be overqualified to do a normal job.

I think there’s this perception that people that come from academic background lack practical expertise and tend to work very slowly. It’s not like that; I think the people that leave academia actually are not fit for academia and that’s why they leave. As I said, four of my colleagues went for a very similar career, two or three years in the US and they came back and it took them a while, but then usually they’re very successful.

Benet:   Now that’s a good point to make, because I’ve seen it numerous times where people have moved from academia into industry and they have done really, really well and they’ve had very, very successful careers in the industry. So I’m always slightly surprised that industry has kept this opinion that there’s a challenge to move from academia into industry.

In part 4 of this interview we talk to Piotr Matyba, about some of the developments in the Photonics industry that excite him the most.

Part 1 of this interview – Moving to a new company right as the entire country goes into lockdown. What has happened, and how things have worked out. 

In part 2 of this interview, Piotr discusses his experience of moving to and working in different countries and what he has learned from these experiences. 

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