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The academic spawning ground August 10, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.

Graduate school does not turn you into a good research scientist. It was originally designed to create more research professors. But even at that, graduate schools are poor incubators because they rarely teach the really needed skills of administration, of communications, and of people management. As a source of scientists for industry, the biggest employers of its production, graduate schools are abyssmal.

Research plans and schedules are pretty rigid in contrast to the constant flux and reprioritization of industry. A day may be a project’s duration, but that day has it being everyone in every lab’s numero uno priority. You might have priority conflicts in industry of two or three high-priority tasks conflicting and the organizations fostering them are so removed that you have to set your own priority and face its consequences.

Graduate-school research is aimed at longer-term projects, Each is at least a year in duration and can span up to five or six years. Deadlines and milestones are fuzzing. Some professors do require written updates on progress and problems, but that is not the norm in academic labs. Academic communications are most often formal presentations at conferences and manuscripts for submission to journals. Industry has more varieties of each since the communication suits the need. Formal presentations or manuscripts are rare. They are too much effort and time to justify that level.

Academic research rarely puts a graduate student in a role of budgetary responsibility. Some postdocs might have this over a project, but even they seldom go through a capital item request – a core in both industrial labs and in what a professor does in running a group. Issues of safety and environmental operations are finally gaining a hold in academic labs, but the complexity is still nowhere that required in industrial operations.

In industry, a scientist must value diversity – no jokes or comments on gender, ethnicity, religion, et cetera are tolerated because companies are regularly suited for “hostile work environment” situations. An industrial scientist who supervises people gets training in this, in other people skills, and in more effective communications. Universities rarely offer anything in this vein.

An industrial chemist spends up to five years unlearning what was taught in academia and learning how things are done in industry. That is a long time for re-education.



1. AlchemX - August 11, 2009

Definitely agree. I’m stuck “learning” a lot of dumb habits in academia. I saw real efficiency (lab wise) at the company I interned at. I’ve only seen one professor repeat that, and it payed off big time for him.

2. AlchemX - August 12, 2009

Why does industry value the PhD so much anyway? It’s very frustrating to see industry chemists come back to academia and work in the lab next to me. They think the whole process is bull, but they have to do it so they don’t get stuck training fresh PhD’s to make 2X more than them.

Why haven’t scientists applied their own non-academic standards? Combine continuing education with work experience and achievement so scientists can become more valuable while making real contributions? Japan does that with it’s “ronbun” policy. Academic PhD’s in Japan face huge amounts of unemployment because their industry already knows the truth about academic experience, which you have laid out concisely in your post.

3. fetzthechemist - August 12, 2009

THey do it because it is required. Industry values it because they think it proves that there is potential for creativity and versatility – but that is still a weak supposition. Academia does teach you about how to mine the literature, the basic research-level lab skills.

AS far as why no change? The science organizations and especially the chemistry ones like the ACS are also totally academic oriented and dominated. Look at their awards system as a clue, one or two for real industrial work, several dozen for academics.

4. AlchemX - August 12, 2009

The ACS is definitely a big problem. The academic pipeline creates a large amount of surplus PhD’s. It doesn’t allow anyone with a BS/MS to advance in their career without going through the process of indoctrination. Undergraduates sense BS and don’t go into physcial science.

Society actually loses out by producing so many PhD’s. Why? Because they are so specialized, they don’t have many other skills and take a lot of resources to produce. They face limited employment opportunities. The companies I’ve talked to say the PhD is a dime a dozen in med. chem. Many are underemployed, further draining society’s resources.

What’s another weird side effect of academics? Outsourcing I believe. By putting so much emphasis on a degree that is conferred only to those who adhere to a strange standard, lots of PhD’s can be generated in other countries.

If we had an independent standard based on real experience, achievements and continuing education in a real world setting, we would not be outsourced so easily. As any chemist may know already, the quality of scientists can be very low in other countries.

Academic science programs are not all they’re cracked up to be. I sense they are on borrowed time now, they can’t go on forever, just like newspapers finally succumbed to competing formats, academia may have to eventually (University of Pheonix Chem program?).

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