Academia shouldn't be a trade school?

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Academia shouldn't be a trade school?

Postby Nate W. » Tue Jul 07, 2015 10:36 pm

Recently, I was talking with an academic professor with many industry contacts. The conversation steered towards issues about funding and alternative careers for postdocs and graduate students. Given his collaborations with industry, I thought he would be open minded about these topics. However, this only seemed to upset him. His response to the thought that most students will be seeking alternative careers was that graduate training in academia is "not a trade school." Further, he added that "we are not here to train students or post-docs to read patents, sell reagents, or initiate clinical trials as a MSL, or whatever industry endeavor."

Boy, I misjudged this guy. I am wondering what your thoughts on this are; Should graduate training in academia prepare students for scientific endeavors outside of academia? Cheap labor?

Why would an academic professor think this way when the NIH funding rate is below 10% and about 80% of all PhDs will be unable to land a tenure track position?
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Re: Academia shouldn't be a trade school?

Postby Yandorio » Tue Jul 07, 2015 10:53 pm

"Why would an academic professor think this way when the NIH funding rate is below 10% and about 80% of all PhDs will be unable to land a tenure track position?"

Because he's been brainwashed by the Procrustean system.
I remember telling my Thesis committee after my PhD defense I was going to go to Law School and change the world and the look on their faces was priceless. Grad schools should have Career Day once a month
and the C-word should not be taboo; we don't need slaves we need
free thinkers and movers and shakers emerging from graduate school.
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Re: Academia shouldn't be a trade school?

Postby PG » Wed Jul 08, 2015 3:30 am

I have been working in industry since before my PhD and I believe that the responsibility of academia is to train PhDs for a continued academic career. On top of this they should inform the students about the options available outside academia and give information about how the skills that they have learned can be applied in those areas. Alternative careers should be encouraged. I also believe that Academia would benefit from learning from Industry and that having increased collaboration also during training (industry collaborations, having lecturers from industry as well as academia etc) woudl be beneficial.

Having said this I dont think that academia as a part of the PhD training should provide sales and marketing training (more than training in making presentations and grant applications that have similarities), extensive training in patent law (except for showing patent databases as a possible source of information similar to publications) etc.
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Re: Academia shouldn't be a trade school?

Postby John D. D, » Wed Jul 08, 2015 10:06 am

I think concrete skill development shouldn't be shunned, but it shouldn't be specifically required either. One looks for expertise in a certain area, excellent thinking skills (critical, analytical, reductive), and the ability to solve a problem, write about it, and defend it. Everything else acquired along the way is style.
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Re: Academia shouldn't be a trade school?

Postby Dick Woodward » Wed Jul 08, 2015 10:14 am

I am pretty much in agreement with PG. While academia should be training PhDs in the discipline of scientific research (which applies both to academia and industry), it would be nice if they recognized that there are other opportunities out there. The problem is that most of the profs have spent their lives in academia and are truly unaware of what is out there (this is less true in chemistry than in the biological sciences, as chemistry has always had a long relationship with industry).

This rather reminds me of a prof where I did my graduate work. When I stated that I planned to go into industry, he said "Woodward, if you had a shred of personal integrity, you would resign from this program. Our mission is to train scientists for academia, not [prostitutes]for industry!" I will leave it to you, dear reader, to guess the real word that was in the square brackets.

Some things never change...

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Re: Academia shouldn't be a trade school?

Postby Dave Walker » Wed Jul 08, 2015 10:54 am

If we're talking in the absolute technical sense, then I guess I have to agree -- academia is not set up to be a trade school. The job description is to do academic research and pump out papers.

But this is not a typical job by any means. A PI is a "mentor," not just a boss. Furthermore, this is exactly what academia is set up for: helping students and postdocs grow. Hence the absurd salary for the technical skill required, and the zero career advancement opportunities until after training is over.

I know it's shaky ground with scientists, but I believe a PI has a moral responsibility to help their trainees. Furthermore, if they have specific plans for them or are unable/unwilling to help, they should at least be upfront about it. Help the trainee decide early, instead of dancing around the issue for the next years of the trainee's career. It's a sensitive conversation, but it will need to be had eventually.
"The single factor that differentiates Nobel laureates from other scientists is training with another Nobel laureate." -- Sol Snyder
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Re: Academia shouldn't be a trade school?

Postby John D. D, » Wed Jul 08, 2015 12:32 pm

I wouldn't be too heavy-handed about it. Even people
who might know you really well, can misjudge simply
because they are not sensitive to the issues that
really matter to someone. In other words, the student
decides what motivates them, and gets assistance any
way they can even if it is not from the person who
was hired by the university for their knowledge in a
certain area, ability to complement the faculty (pun
tolerated), and get research funding.

This way heavy-handed mistakes aren't made, but it
also means that heavy-handed help in principle
shouldn't happen, and we all know it does. I think
without help/luck from somewhere, and the willingness
to accept it, no one would go anywhere there would
so much in-fighting for positions.

Not legislating for everyone - just my personal opinion.
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