What are the prominent differences between conducting research in industry and in academia?
We have asked several proofreaders with multiple years of experience in proofreading academic research work authored by both researchers from academic settings and researchers from industry settings, and this is what they had to say.
Based on my experience of carrying out academic research in both academic and industrial settings, these are the core differences I found:
Approach to Funding
Several months of pay are covered by teaching obligations for a professor. Occasionally, a graduate student may work as a teaching assistant. If the professor wants to be compensated for the remaining months, or if the graduate student wishes to devote their time exclusively to research, or if they choose to purchase any equipment, these expenses must be funded by a grant. Whether writing a PhD thesis, or working on journal papers for submission to top-tier journals, funding is generally covered by the institution.
Academics submit proposals to grant-making organizations such as the National Science Foundation in the United States or perhaps commercial firms. Professors and other academic staff apply for grants to pay the cost of equipment as well as the salary of graduate students and research workers. These grants have a set duration and may include reviews and formal deliverables, among others. The requirements vary; for example, DARPA specifically values large demonstrations.
Grant applications describe the extent of the research, the anticipated outcomes, and the significance of the work. Varied grantmaking agencies have different policies, but the majority incorporate some element of peer review, in which funding bids are examined and rated by top-level practicing scientists in the field. The top-scoring ideas are then discussed, and a program manager determines funding decisions.
Specifics and size of proposals that are likely to be financed vary significantly; part of a professor’s job is to be an expert in this discipline or field. Consider raising venture capital, but with lower amounts of money and the result being a tenfold addition to global knowledge, rather than a tenfold return on investment.
Industrial research entails the researcher being a full-time employee of the company, usually at the research and development department. The corporation pays the researcher a 12-month wage directly. Industrial researchers are generally not required to apply for external financing from grant agencies to pay salary, travel, or equipment costs, but they are permitted to do so at some schools.
Apart from that, funding arrangements differ in every company. There may or may not be “internal accounting” that indicates a researcher is “supported” by a certain project or division of the corporation, and there may or may not be explicit regulations dictating the percentage of time a person should spend on various projects. In any case, the researcher will likely need to raise funds from within the organization in order to get “additional” resources.
My time at an industry based company was reimbursed through a distinct “Research” budget. Additionally, the research budget covers the costs of a set number of summer interns, a desktop and laptop computer for me, and a small amount of miscellaneous spending. If I require additional resources, I approach senior researchers or, more usually, members of product groups.
The structure of the research group.
Professors, especially newly appointed associate professors, often have between one and ten graduate students. One of an assistant professor’s initial objectives is to seek grad student advisees. The professor serves as the manager of the research group, supervising the students. While these students rarely work on the same project, they frequently share research interests with the professor. Professors may form teams of two to four to work on large-scale projects (e.g. sensor networks). Professors lack someone who can say “no,” i.e., they lack a management per se, especially after tenure. (However, they must earn tenure and must constantly fight for grants.)
Typically, a new industry researcher (such as myself) joins an existing group within the research organization and contributes as an individual. Certain industrial researchers work for the duration of their careers without ever managing anyone. Others advance to oversee multiple tiers of research managers beneath them, each of whom is responsible for a distinct area of research. Industrial researchers work under the supervision of a manager, engage in annual performance reviews, and are not eligible for tenure.
Academics generally build the majority, if not all, of their research infrastructure from the ground up using open source software. There are some limited exceptions, but the academic environment does not reward infrastructure development or upkeep. Grad student code has the option “it worked once.” (Exceptions are permitted.) This is not entirely negative; if you are an academic and wish to utilize Github, you are likely to have little or no established processes that bind you to subversion.
Industrial research can (but is not required to) exploit the company’s infrastructure. The most glaring divide between academics and industrial researchers is one of data. Due to the difficulty of disclosing data outside of a corporation, researchers working for a company with large scale data have a “unfair advantage” over others in the field. Individuals join industrial research groups in order to conduct studies on their made-up data sets.
Path to Impact
Both organizations submit manuscripts for peer assessment. Both inform the public about incredible new ideas. Both engage in peer review within their communities. Academics instruct students, advise doctoral students, and form businesses. Typically, graduate students initiate the venture and the professor advises. Certain academics enter governmental service, such as working on electronic voting machine security or serving as the FCC’s chief technology officer. None of these are insurmountable obstacles for industry researchers, but they are out of the ordinary.
Industrial researchers help their firms improve existing businesses or develop new ones. Traditionally, this has taken the form of goods. I see people these days concentrating on developing new business models and refining existing ones as well. There is a procedure called “tech transfer” in which the researcher collaborates with various departments within the organization to move an idea from a theoretical one from a laboratory to the a real-world app in the workplace.
Additionally, there is “internal consulting,” in which a researcher answers inquiries from members of the organization. Additionally, researchers may assist companies on technological policies or advise individuals on the state of the art in a given area.
On paper, they are not that dissimilar; for an academic, the institution frequently formally owns or co-owns scholarly ideas. When it comes to industrial research, the firm owns your work.
In practice, I rarely see academics concerned with intellectual property issues except when they are a) founding a business (and the institution requires a cut) or b) collaborating within industry. This is different from the concerns about getting snatched up in research. I rarely see academics registering patents or be overly concerned with open source code usage. I rarely see academics concerned about who owns intellectual property created in partnership with others.
Due to the fact that industrial research organizations are typically associated with larger firms, they take this more seriously. Collaborating with colleagues at other industrial research companies presents a few additional challenges, but they are surmountable.
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