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.