More tales from the recruiting committee

While I may not be the most experienced person on the faculty search committee, I definitely know what I think the students want and what we need.  I explained previously how I would like another industry ex-pat because they can help bring some more connection to the jobs the students want, and the money the faculty members need.  I want to be alive to see my research realized, and I know that industry has the greatest motivation to build stuff, use them, and sell them.  I understand that some research is very conceptual and it can be many decades before the usefulness is realized, but for a department that claims to be applied science then I feel they need to show some of the ‘applied’ side of things and bring in someone else with industry contacts and motivation.  I’m not saying the other PIs here are unmotivated, but I feel they definitely are unmotivated to get the fruits of their labor to appear in anything more than a publication.  The publications are great to disseminate their work and share with others that may build upon it, but without pushing the research further (again we claim we’re highly applied) the research will ultimately just sit in the archives collecting digital dust.

One person told me off the record that many don’t want this turning into an industry department that’s solely motivated by money.  I get that.  I left industry partially for that exact reason, but federal funding is dwindling, the public often makes fun of academic research, and people are starting to believe that nothing good comes out of academic labs.  We need to be creating collaborations not only across departments and schools but also with companies.  If you have research that could make flying safer, treat a disease, or eliminate our dependence on oil, let’s find a way to take that publication and turn it into reality.  And whether it’s right or wrong, we’ll need industry’s money.  Or at least someone from industry’s know-how to turn that concept into a tangible object that can help society, regardless of whether we’re turning a profit from it.  We need other people that have done “practical” design work, to contact the proper vendors, and get the research into the hands of subject matter experts or customers.

I know this is a contested topic and I’ve been accused of being less interested in science and more interested in ruining the sanctity of academic research.  I’m wildly interested in science!  I understand that science can do amazing things.  But ultimately money keeps our labs going, and the vast majority of our students will go into industry.  If I could just have one other faculty member on my side that has experienced something beyond the tower I would be grateful.  Funny thing in this is the faculty members that I’ve had on my grants to a couple private companies used to be anti-industry, but in these arguments, they’re on my side.  I’ve definitely converted them that industry isn’t so evil (though trust me, they are evil…kidding….mostly…..).  What do I have to do, fund every one of these prof’s labs to show them that more connection to industry, the better?

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3 thoughts on “More tales from the recruiting committee

  1. I think this is a slippery slope and a matter of scale. An individual preference for industry collaboration is not much of a problem. If it fits your research agenda and you love to create more tangible results than a publication list, that is fair. However, as you scale this approach you may reach inflection points. The first inflection point is probably where support staff is hired specifically for industry collaborations – an office manager, a sales person, or a lawyer, for example. This creates a liability: the support staff needs to be funded and so it becomes necessary to continuously bring in industry money. The second inflection point comes when, under this growing pressure, someone reverses and begins to look for research to make money with rather than for money to do research with.

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  2. I personally have had nothing but bad experiences with industry collaborators. They were insufferable, condescending, treating us as dimwitted penniless peasants, always withholding information to a ridiculous degree while trying to milk us for all we’ve got. There were far too many strings for the very modest amounts of money. They showed no understanding of the fact that we work with students who have coursework, that we cannot and will not work ridiculous hours and whip our students into overwork, and they generally treated us as serfs for a pittance of the money they were giving us to do research. I am also in an applied department, but to me industrial collaborations are totally not worth it.

    I went to academia so nobody would boss me around. I am not going to be condescended to by some corporate drones. They don’t work for the society; they work for the shareholders. And I don’t fuckin’ work for them or answer to them.

    I am going to do whatever work I can with whatever federal funds I can get and I will get my work broadly disseminated so that the most people can have access to it (I don’t file patents on principle and share most of my codes freely). Taxpayers funded the work, everyone should have access to it.

    I am not taking (pittance of) money or orders from corporations. Fuck ’em. They can rebuild their own research labs and boss their own employees around.

    I am sorry I sound so negative, but these have been my experiences. I would not be surprised if some of your other colleagues have similar stories. I would work with industry if they wanted to treat us academics as worthwhile colleagues who operate with different priorities and timescales, and not as their serfs who have to bend to their wills.

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    • I definitely agree with both of you. And I’ve mentioned in past posts how I’ve had my fair share of problems in collaborating with industry, and also intend of dialing back the collaborations. The reasons you’ve mentioned about the control and negative experiences are the reasons I don’t mind being the one doing the collaborating directly. What I want is another person to help me from a different industry sector. We’ve also had a problem the past few years of placing undergrads in good industry positions. And from the horses’ mouths: the students are lacking relevant experience for a department that has in the past prided itself on being heavily applied. Overall though, the problem kind of stems from one main area: getting what I’m doing into patients to cure their diseases. I don’t want industry bossing everyone around. You’re right that academics can not be sullied. I don’t mind being a buffer. I’d just like one more person to help buffer, sponsor some senior capstone projects, and help us get my research into the patients that could use it.

      Regarding patents, I had this idea that I would only publish when coming in, but my very first year I published a paper on some clinically related work. This past year I noticed a pending patent (they become public after two years even if not granted yet) that was nearly a direct copy, and submitted a week after my paper was published. Part of the reason I left corporate America was the profit motive, and doing anything necessary to make money happen including strategic copying of IP. I think the patent system is incredibly broken. But this made me realize that the best way to fight the evil corporate overlords is to beat them to the punch. I’ve been calling it the “patent and publish” approach. If I think a company will steal it to make a profit I submit first. Part of it is that I’m still young (academically) so I need to develop my name. Part of it is that I have a slight disdain for corporate America and this is a way of fighting back. Unfortunately, if I want to get my research into operating rooms, they’re the best way to get it there…. And if academics want to use my patents, they are absolutely allowed to without license according to patent law – so long as they don’t make a profit from it. That’s the one part of the law I like.

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