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Industrial R&D vs academic research

  1. Sep 24, 2008 #1
    I am aware of the job description for an academic professor: research, lectures, grants etc. but i am curious about the full job description of someone doing R&D in industry, and how the two compare. any insight?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2008 #2


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    Academia is mostly research with theory and solving theoretical problems and those problems that industry does not have time for.

    With industry it is less theory and there has to be more responsibility on how your research is going to work out in the production ... you have to be part of the staff that makes things work out at every stage , thus most of the research is short term and deals with the various reality of making the whole setup work. A lot of the time this type of research is more trivial and relatively uninteresting.

    There are more patent issues with research done at the industry. In short , it all depends on how impassioned you are about investigating a topic - perhaps you really want to contribute more than what we know to a certain topic - and how important is money to you and how much you are able to get with your talent from the academic sector.

    Someone who is not impassioned about a topic , isn't the most talented at research and thus is not able to make a good living in academia due to it - that is if he wants a nice house , great car , and a boat - may be more attracted to more trivial research with greater pay in the industry.
  4. Sep 26, 2008 #3

    I know that in academia you are given more freedom to explore topics that interest you. PhDs in industry typically make more money than in academia. For instance, the United Technologies Research Center nearby hires fresh PhDs between 75,000 - 85,000 depending on your skill set. Intel does a lot of recruiting in my dept and they start fresh PhDs at around 85,000. In academia, a fresh PhD may only get between 60,000-70,000. It really depends on the school.

  5. Sep 27, 2008 #4
    My experience in industry did not support most the above paragraph. I think GCT is right on when they suggest that industry tends to focus on smaller steps, and patent issues are more common (ranging from unimportant to all consuming).

    On the other hand the idea that industry is for (or attracts) people who are less talented is just ignorance and/or bias, and cannot be defended in any logically or statistically sound way.
  6. Sep 27, 2008 #5
    Don't be such a condescending a--hole. There are many smart people in industry, I would say that most (close to all, actually) are impassioned by their work, otherwise they wouldn't have gone through 5-7 years of graduate school to become qualified for their positions. And their research is far from "trivial."
  7. Sep 27, 2008 #6


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    My apologies to all who are in the industry that were offended by my original post , " trivial " was a poor choice of a word. If I had a choice I would edit some of the original post. I am actually a chemist in the industry.

    My experience in the industry is that there is more filling in of positions with people of relatively modest talent ; the awards are for work that is smaller in theoretical importance and thus the application of such work is not as wide ranging then that of a person distinguished in the academia but more relevant to one company.
  8. Sep 27, 2008 #7


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    Maybe this recent article from Science Careers section might help.

    http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2008_09_05/caredit.a0800131 [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  9. Sep 29, 2008 #8
    I'm still a PhD student, but I was an engineer in industry for a couple of years. I firmly believe that neither one is more challenging than the other. As to the differences in the level of theory goes. I believe your career is what you make of it. If you want to do theoretical work in industry go ahead and apply advanced theories to your research. There really is no one to stop you as long as your productive. Now if you want to do fundamental research that doesn't have any direct application; academia may be the way to go. Whether you are developing a new superalloy, drug, or toilet bowel cleaner nothing is more practical than a working theory or theories on all scales.

  10. Sep 29, 2008 #9


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    I'm not quite certain of how it goes in engineering ... it's not the same as with the sciences. Theory is used all the time in engineering according to a friend of mine.
  11. Sep 29, 2008 #10
    I concur. If you look at all the major technological achievements in the past 10 years you will see that the majority of them were created from industry or at least industry/academic partnership. Academic's do a lot of senseless research for tenure, boredom or what ever their motives may be. But industrial research projects are always for some good use, because if it wasn't, then they would be doing that project now would they?
  12. Sep 29, 2008 #11


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    Industry has money ... e.g. Kary Mullis' company did not want to do research on his crazy idea however they spent money developing it , this idea is PCR by the way. All applications that are conceived by academia are done by the industry , that is if they are worthwhile.

    Here's the short answer - industry does not like theory. Theory sounds contrived , theory is gradiostic , theory is narcissistic , and most of all theory takes time e.g. time for venturing into an idea - it is much more worthwhile to find and test someone else's results and usually this is academic research.

    If you ever go into the industry you are going to find that time is of the essence , a day spent applying existing research has more accountability than claiming to your supervisor or the board that you spent it pondering on theory.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2008
  13. Sep 29, 2008 #12
    I like this thread. Mainly because I am contemplating the PhD to nowhere route vs. the take my masters and run route.
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