Industry employees versus grad students

So another faculty member was complaining that they only really get four years with their students to get good progress. Chalk a year to training and really we would only get three years of productivity. In industry, my average employee stuck around for five years, and this is about the industry average from my experience. But what I demanded from the employees was WAY more than I demand of my students. So I started thinking about my students and seeing if they’d cut it in my old fast-paced industry group. In general, the answer was maybe (with some serious upspeak). Predicting success is difficult. It could just be that the environment wasn’t suitable, or maybe that the person matured (or immatured) quickly. A few things I notice though:

Theoretical knowledge:
These students are fresh from their studies. They know their shit. At least in their fields. I’m in an interdisciplinary studies type of department and a lot of these students came in with a broad degree, and correspondingly they know a little about a lot. I’ve stopped recruiting these students. I want students that can set up a PDE related to an experimental phenomena we’re observing, then be able to solve it and compare their models to the experiments. A lot of the broad students can’t do this. But that’s unrelated to my students. My students came from a traditional field in which they know their shit. The academic infiltrators on the other hand know the business and know how to make things. Professors like to think they know how to design things, but they’re wrong. You lean to design and really build from practicing in the field. These are the students I put on projects related to equipment (if that’s what they’re interested in). They take a little longer to get back into the idea of basic science, but I give them tests before they can join the lab (ooooh, posting the questions here would be a fun post).

My industry employees are similar to the infiltrators: a decent amount of lost theory, but they can build. It’s crazy how quickly so many of them lost their theoretical knowledge though.

Work ethic:
The students work 30 hours a week in the lab. Maybe they work from home, but I am passing some kind of ethical boundary by following them home to check. I have one student that is a single mother. I give her a pass, but she’s more computational so she can do her work while breast feeding, which again, I won’t check, but she’s made comments alluding to it.

My industry employees were crazy dedicated. When you’re getting bonuses and stock options based upon performance, that’ll keep you motivated. They were always nose to the grindstone and they worked so quickly you could actually see their progress day-to-day.

I have these BBQs at my place a few times a year for all my students. The students are cool, but we’re so different. I will play the occasional board game or video game and we get on kind of the same level, but it’s painfully obvious I’m not on the same level as them.

In industry we were all around the same age. We had a lot in common, including life and work interests, and the comradery was definitely there. I still text and talk with all of them. Next to the giant pay cut, I miss the comradery the most. It is definitely lonely in the tower.

I love my students, but even with weekly meetings, not much gets done. I know academic research is slow, but this is painful. I don’t like to micromanage, but I need to find a way to hold them more accountable, and make sure things are happening.

With monetary incentive my employees worked hard. Very hard. We got so much done. They easily got in two years, what one of my students takes four years to do.  Maybe if we paid students more and were allowed to terminate if they’re bad?  That seems like a slippery slope though.  But maybe that’s just the businessperson in me talking. Ultimately the colleague that was complaining to me shouldn’t be whining about the time they get, but the quality. I just have no idea how to light a fire under these students. Again, these students are awesome, I think I just have to figure out to to wind down from my past life.


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