I'm a scientist/engineer at a startup, one year out of a PhD program (finished while working), have been working about 1 year, 3 months. Prior to last month, I had been working on many different aspects of product development including UX, writing code for microcontrollers, prototyping algorithms, designing new product features. Now the company has raised a lot of capital and brought on half a dozen heavyweight 20+ year experienced engineers and coders. As a result, I don't do any of the things I used to do and now work on difficult, at times seemingly intractable research projects to develop advanced product features we haven't quite figured out and would, no matter the outcome, give us valuable knowledge.

To be quite honest, I'm not too happy about this. I've expressed how I'd like to have some role in product development outside of pure research, and the line I've been given is "you are best equipped for this task and the company needs you to do this." They are probably right, but I'm having difficulty wrapping my head around the changes.

How do you suck it up in this situation and make the very best of organizational changes and role changes, particularly in a startup environment? I do think leaving, while an option, would be a really bad idea given the potential for the product and the company and the great stuff I've been able to learn. I'm just a bit frustrated and feeling a little pinned down in my role shift at the moment.

  • Not to be snarky, but why did you get a PhD if you aren't interested in difficult research projects? If your company helped pay for the degree, they would certainly expect that you'd be applying what you learned to the job.
    – John Feltz
    Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 16:33
  • I got a PhD because I was interested in learning and innovating. It seems like this post was made ages ago, and I am much happier in my research-oriented product development role in a much healthier company!
    – panthyon
    Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 20:12
  • P.S. 1) the company had nothing to do with paying for my degree or my PhD research, it was a pie-in-the-sky silicon valley startup, and 2) I wasn't just working on 'difficult' research projects...I literally had a former hollywood producer telling me to invent Star Trek technology with no time or resources (i.e. alone) (e.g. universal speech recognition and translation schemes, high frequency broadband active noise cancellation, blind sound source identification). There are hard problems, and there are crazy-making hard problems. I have no regrets about leaving that company.
    – panthyon
    Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 20:17

2 Answers 2


Just ask you manager to "throw you a bone" once in awhile and let you spend an hour or two a week working on some of the old stuff. It will probably allow you to focus more on the difficult R&D work in the long-run.

One of the reasons managers are reluctant to allow people to try certain things, is they feel they won't be able to take them back if things don't work out. Ask for a trial-period of a couple of weeks and let the company know that if your other work falls too far behind, you'll stop and work on the difficult stuff full-time.


The company has to look out for itself, just as you have to look out for yourself. You yourself agree that the company's decision to shift you back into research - that decision makes managerial sense.

Nothing you can do about your role change back to R&D, at least as long as you stay with the company. Unless you find yourself a hostage to take your place, you are chained to the position.

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