For the individual, the pros of working in an academic setting are that you get to ask your own questions, questions that are interesting to you personally. No one is telling you what to do, how to do it, or for that matter keeping track of your time in any way. As long as you are moving forward.
In contrast, in a company, you may have to work on a project that doesn’t interest you much. You may have to work on a product that you don’t actually believe is a good idea. You might be told to get something to work that really does not work and no amount of tweaking will get to work well. It really depends on the company, but it is likely that you will have several projects, and one may be interesting but the others may be something you wish would go away. For sure you will not have the time complete your work to the level you know you can with enough time and resource.
And so what is the picture of academic and industry collaboration? In Ireland and the UK, it seems that such collaborations, while not unusual, are not the bread and butter of the functioning technology economy. From my experience in R&D Life Science companies, leading mechanical engineering development, I could see the higher level math modelling being contracted in from specialist consultancies and rarely directly from academia. From conversations I’ve had with local R&D leaders at industrial sites, academic assistance is not required, especially where a large hammer is believed the most effective solution to hand. During one particular discussion, I was extolling the trend within those specialist consultancies, for the increased use of math modelling as a core ingredient in all stages of the development process. My interlocutor interrupted me with a question. Whether I spent most visits to the lavatory accompanied by a large book on maths. At this point I could see the gulf that exists.
I was chatting with an academic colleague on the subject of industrial and academic collaborations and I was relating my experiences as someone from medical device industry. As an advocate of math modelling and its use in solving some of industries more intractable puzzles, I was taking the position that there is far too little going on.
My colleague, who had worked in academia in various European countries during his career, told me how he had met academics, who were embedded in Universities and at the same time employees of private companies. As I thought on this, I started to realise that this was not so unfamiliar either.
I am therefore left with the idea, that the picture given above is probably the same wherever one goes!
Simon is a PhD student in MACSI working with Professor Stephen O’Brien and Dr. William Lee (University of Portsmouth)