Industry funding

I wrote up a quick proposal to a VP at my old company proposing an idea that is relevant to the group he leads, however, it’s too early to result in a product in the next few years. But it should be able to result in a few patents and maybe some good animal studies. I had a call with him after he had a few weeks to look at it and he’s totally on board.

It’s enough to fund one of my students for two years of salary/fringe, experiments, and development. The student that will be working on this has an NSFGRF though so I’m going to hire a lab-tech. The only caveat, is that I can get my names on the patents, but my old company will own all of the IP.  The only way University of Phindustry agreed to that was to charge a massive amount of overhead.  I remember going through this same exercise when I would fund academic research, but being on the receiving side is no fun.

I brought the VP by to see the lab and show him the equipment, talk ideas, and introduce him to the students.  Now, whenever I had to meet someone important I dressed semi-professionally.  My students came in shorts.  One had a sleeveless shirt. I jokeingly gave them crap about it, and now I’m thinking that I’m not in the casual mindset of an academic yet because a lot of people are telling me it’s no big deal.


Peer pressure

It’s no secret that part of the reason I was recruited is because funding is extra tight these days and an industry connection can only help (unless that industry connection is Bernie Madoff).  I’ve secured one small local grant from a nonprofit, but more importantly, a rather sizable (not R01, but pretty nice) chunk from my old employer (I’ll talk about this later).

There wasn’t any direct pressure on me before securing this money: the other faculty and higher-ups didn’t ever mention it, but they always dropped semi-subtle hints.  Now that I have the money coming in they’re asking all sorts of questions about institute and student sponsorship.  This is on top of other faculty members (my pseudopeers) pitching this or that idea to me hoping I’ll come on board and relay them to my old employer.

My concern in all of this is that if I don’t deliver the money as a co-PI for some other faculty members they’ll lost respect for me.  My pedigree already isn’t that of my surrounding colleagues and I’m certain some of them are thinking I was only brought in because I did reasonably well in industry.  So if I don’t deliver on the flood of cash for everyone, then maybe they will care for me even less (there’s some upspeak in that sentence as I read it to myself)?  I don’t really give a shit, because if I constantly cared what people thought then I wouldn’t have time to be so awesome.

I kind of wish it would’ve been more difficult to get this first round of industry funding so I could just say “Look, I barely got it, and they know me.  So don’t get your hopes up.”

The broad degree

I got my BS, MS, and PhD are in three different fields. My PhD is in a field that people refer to as broad, unfocused, and relatively non-engineering-like. But with the PhD you learn a lot of detail about your project so the broadness doesn’t matter as much. Plus, I have work experience before my MS, and my BS and MS are in pretty well respected disciplines (physics and a traditional engineering).

In industry, when I would hire, if someone had a “broad degree” for a BS, unlike more focused fields like electrical or mechanical engineering, they would come in and not be able to answer any of the technical questions I asked. Each person with the broad degree (I don’t want to mention it by name for fear of directly insulting people) had a little bit of knowledge in a bunch of topics, but not enough to be remotely useful. I’m talking about a criminal lack of basic math and physics. I never offered a job to any of these people.

So, I’ve been having a few first-year grad students coming to my office because they want an advisor that can help them get into the medical device industry. They come in with BSs in a broad field of engineering and when I ask them basic math and physics questions I’m learning the same things I learned in industry: they don’t know anything. This broad degree wasn’t originally a BS up until recently when colleges realized that kids wanted to get BSs in this field. The colleges are doing a huge disfavor to these students by allowing them to get a BS in this crappy field. I think this degree is fine once you have a solid foundation to build an MS or PhD upon, but the BS in this field is hurting students. I’m guessing, this is all to make some extra money off of these students. I understand there is a demand for a BS in this broad field, but if the students wanted a degree in drinking and road tripping to the beach does that mean we have to give it to them (I would’ve majored in that)?

I’m turning away every student that doesn’t have a solid math and physics background, but I’m concerned that good students are turning away from tradition engineering fields and physics to go to this broad degree and we’re going to end up with a bunch of incable engineers. I may get to the point where there aren’t any traditionally trained students to recruit.

That being said, so far I’ve recruited two students that I love, but these two have very solid foundations. Like building on wet soils versus solid rock. Terzaghi would have a field day with this.

My background

My name is Phindustry, I used to be a spy (I loooooooved Burn Notice).

Well, actually I was someone with the mind of an academic that accepted an industry position. I never ever wanted to go into academia when I was in grad school. I hated the grants, papers, mentoring, etc. But as I got into my third year I realized I have a lot of fun in doing that stuff. But I had tuned everything I did to get into industry. So I decided to go into industry to get practical experience prior to getting back into the ivory tower.

I was undercover; learning everything I could about industry’s culture. I moved up pretty quickly, eventually controlling my own group. But as soon as I realized I was too deep: focusing only on the bottom line, not really putting as much effort into mentorship, etc. I knew I had to leave and make my way back to academia. A couple years ago I started applying and here I am in my cushy office with grad students knocking at my door and the semester about to start. My previous blog about some of my thoughts about industry can be found here (

Bottom line: until I get tenure…I’m not going anywhere.

(If you don’t get the Burn Notice references, sorry. It’s not as good as some other shows I like, but the spy thing seemed to work for this post…)