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To be an academic or an industry brainiac? :P

  1. Sep 7, 2007 #1
    This semester I've pulled out alot of hair over my 'microprocessor design' course and was thinking. These R&D industry leaders must be damn smart - but what made them choose to work in industry rather than being an academic and pursuing research in that sense?

    I have many professors that spent years in industry developing the unthinkable and came back to teach. Yet some stay back and end up joining R&D teams the continuously push the technological threshold.

    Obviously besides the salary, how does one choose to remain an academic or wish to stay in industry and contribute to research that advances technology today?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2007 #2


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    First ignore some assumptions:

    Industry doesn't pay more than academia - for new graduates junior lecturer salaries have gone up a lot in the last 5 years, industry has got tighter.

    You don't have more freedom in academia. In an academic job you are constantly fighting for funding for the next bit of research, if you work in most areas of experimental physics your work will be part of a huge international collaboration with contracts and areas of research handed out with pork-barrel politics. Or you will work on short term contracts waiting to get funding for a project.

    In industry if you work for a small company/consultancy you will get to do everything, all parts of the design and manufacture. If you have an idea which is likely to make money you will very likely get funding to at least try and prototype it. Large companies have better research facilites and experts than most universities and are often even more likely to fund new ideas which might lead to new markets.

    As you get older a move back to senior academic post is quite pleasant but I believe that industry is a better enviroment for junior scientists.
  4. Sep 7, 2007 #3
    thanks for that. I'll get my feet dirty with industry first - but i think academia is where i belong.
  5. Sep 10, 2007 #4
    Hi mgb_phys,

    Do you have a reference for this? Last I checked the difference was substantial and I find it hard to believe it has changed that much.

    I also haven't witnessed these increases in pay for academia you mention.

    Thanks in advance.
  6. Sep 10, 2007 #5


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    This is certainly not true in the US. Also, nearly half of all experimental groups in physics work in or around condensed matter - and most of these groups are tiny (certainly not like the kind of international collaborations you see in high energy). Besides, if you want to do fundamental science, there are but a very small number of places in industry that will give you a chance.
  7. Sep 12, 2007 #6


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    First physics postdoc listed on jobs.ac.uk
    Academic Research Grade 7/8 £27,466 - £32,796 or £33, 779 to £40,335 (depending on qualifications and relevant experience)
    I don't make the high end of that in industry in the UK!

    True, there are very few places in industry that will do fundemental science - but there are a lot of places that will do spare time / few weeks-months developemtns that will improve the process or lead to a new product.
    Personally I find a lot more satisfaction in building a prototype of a new product that solves a problem for a customer that no-one else has ever solved - rather than applying for another 9 month grant to do more feasbility modeling on a new instrument that needs 100x as much to actually build.
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