Ben Kraal on moving from academia to industry

Dr Ben Kraal recently started working as a User Experience Consultant, having chosen to leave a contract research (and teaching) position after 9 years in academia for a position in industry. He talks about his early career, doing a PhD and then working for 9 years on time-limited university contracts. He reflects on the challenge of being legible within an academic system when you are not in control of your own research agenda. And he talks about making the decision to leave academia for industry and how he is now able to be more present and engaged at home and he gets to do all the parts of his research job that he loved in his new industry role. I encourage you to also look at Ben's blog post on academic burnout and the Guardian article below that happened to also come out today.

“It’s a job that doesn’t ever stop. That’s ok if you are enjoying it and I think I’d gotten to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. And my family had long stopped enjoying that fact that I had ever enjoyed it.”

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:20 From degree to industry to a PhD position

05:16 Going back to academia, doing a PhD at Uni of Canberra

09:20 Moving cities to take a post-doc research position

12:46 Working on research projects

15:20 Moving into more teaching work

21:15 Publishing interdisciplinary work, boundary crossing, and using an editor for papers

23:15 Working on soft money, shorter contracts when soft money runs out,

26:30 Being an illegible person in the university system

28:52 Making the move into industry, making the choice to stay in Brisbane

31:08 Talking at a practitioner conference, taking students along, making connections, framing his expertise to be relevant to industry

35:40 Telling the university, he is leaving

36:53 The family’s reaction to his leaving, and getting to the point of not enjoying the work, the increasing pressure of meetings and impact on working at the weekends

39:00 Now much easier being engaged, being present to the family at weekends

40:25 Breaking the news to his students, colleagues, tying up final research work

43:14 What he is enjoying about his new job; doing all his favourite bits from being a researcher; and the long commute

48:15 Not doing email on weekends, “which is fantastic!”, because the firm doesn’t! Not doing email when he gets home; being told he looks so much happier when he comes home

50:50 “The pace is faster than the university but the rhythm is more consistent.” … as an academic having multiple plates in the air, “and if you can keep them in the air someone gives you an extra plate”

53:00 Will probably miss teaching - “Better at being a teaching academic than a paper producing research academic”

54:40 “Because I’m illegible in the university system, I’m actually interesting in the commercial world”; Discussing the way the academic system looks for people going deeper and the challenges of being cross-disciplinary

57:25 About Tom Rodden’s experience not being his experience, as Tom was able to be in charge of his own research and able to tell a coherent story, being legible into the wider system; And Marcus Foth also being able to tell a legible story; and being able to tell his own story in a way that is interesting to industry

65:00 Lucky to have had long term contracts compared to others not employed for more than a year at a time “so the university can keep them in a box”

67:07 End

Related Links

Ben on researching the airport of the future: an interview with Gerry Gaffney:

Ben’s blog post “On Academic Burnout”:

Ben's review of 2016:

See also a 2 Dec 2016 Guardian article on experiences with casual/short term contracts: 

Symplicit: Customer-Led Innovation Consultancy - where he is now working:

People he mentioned:

Inger Mewburn:

Helen Purchase:

Vesna Popovic:

Previous interviews he mentioned:

Tom Rodden interview:

Marcus Foth interview: