what can industry do for academic education?

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what can industry do for academic education?

Postby PG » Mon Oct 12, 2015 11:05 am

On this forum we are often discussing topics that in different ways starts from that academia is not always very good at preparing students and PhDs for careers outside academia. Obviously one way of improving this is to expose students/PhDs for people from different types of careers. Ideally this exposure should be done in a way that benefits students as well as academia and the industry collaboration partner.

What would be the different ways that you can see this interaction occuring?

Something that we do sometimes is that we have students performing degree projects within our company. For these the student typically have a supervisor at the university and another within the company. The University then grades the report and presentation that the student creates. The student gets a project and company contacts, the company gets to test a potential future hire and the university gets helps with someone to supervise a student.

Are there more addditional and maybe more creative ways of encouraging collaborations beween industry and academia during the training of master/PhD students?
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Re: what can industry do for academic education?

Postby RBO » Mon Oct 12, 2015 11:34 am

Have students who have already secured positions through their internships or collaboration discuss their experiences.

Students tend to listen to students.
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Re: what can industry do for academic education?

Postby PG » Tue Oct 13, 2015 9:02 am

I will try to clarify. I think that Universities could do a lot of different things to improve the contact between their students and industry and what RBO mentions is one of these things.

What I was thinking of is what I as someone already working in industry could do. A little background. the company I work for is currently among the 5 biggest companies in the world in our segment if you look at sales. At teh same time we are virtually unknown locally and the majority of local university students taking classes within our field doesnt know that we exist. We have gotten plenty of press, TV and youtube coverage in the US, in Africa, Asia and in several other European countries for some of our products but not in the country in which I am active.

When I look a couple of years into the future we may be in the situation that we need a rather large growth within our research and development (remains to see if this becomes reallity or not) and to prepare for that and also to help our current recruiting I want to expand the company network with potential future hires.

One of the ways that we could potentially achieve this goal would be to increase our visibility vs students in our field of interest both at PhD and master of science levels. The purpose of this question was therefore to try to identify things that we as a company can suggest to the university that we can provide that would help us achieve our goal but at the same time benefit the university as well as the students.
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Re: what can industry do for academic education?

Postby Dustin Levy » Tue Oct 13, 2015 9:58 am

The skill I’ve seen most lacking in scientists transitioning from academia to industry is the ability to communicate technical ideas and information to non-technical audiences, which can include business managers, customers, and other peer coworkers.

When I was in graduate school, a collection of local research institutions would hold an annual research symposium and student papers and presentations would be judged by mixed panels of faculty and local industry representatives. Such a venue can provide:

1. A forum for students to practice communicating their research to an audience who is not directly involved in their line of work

2. An opportunity for feedback to be provided to the student on their presentation effectiveness, with particular attention on their ability to translate technical information to the panel

3. A venue where local industry makes contact with students that have both the technical and communication skills employers are looking for

I remember giving a presentation at one of these and a judge asked a question at the end that demonstrated that they were completely confused about what I had presented. My reaction was that the confusion was their fault, but I learned over time that it was my fault. It’s the presenter’s job to connect with the audience, and good industry-academia collaboration can help teach that lesson.
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Re: what can industry do for academic education?

Postby Dave Walker » Wed Oct 14, 2015 11:38 am

To PG's direct question: I think you should play to your company's strengths: sponsoring events/competitions, facilitating networking, and being an approachable face of your company would play well with students' interests. Even something as simple as organizing a field trip for PhD and Master's students can be a good starting place.

I'd like to piggyback on Dustin's suggestion, which is great. If it fits a company's culture, I think forming a relationship with local universities is a good way to "catch" candidates interested in moving out of academia. I see value in the extremely talented individuals who either don't show it or are on the fence about switching to an industry career. This would be one way for a company to get a leg up on its competitors.

(A question, possibly for a separate post: why is there so little involvement of companies in life sciences academia? Computer Science has heavy sponsorship and collaboration; finance has straight On Campus Recruiting. This may reflect a larger part of our culture that could be difficult to change...or that it is sorely needed.)

I also encourage student groups to position themselves as a resource for companies for exactly this purpose. When I was in school my student group sourced several positions for companies, mostly those within our ranks that we knew well. It baffled the non-motivated students, but it was a great tool to build a relationship and influence outside of the academic sphere.
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Re: what can industry do for academic education?

Postby T. Johnson » Wed Oct 14, 2015 5:50 pm

PG, I know personally I wouldn't have made it in science without having amazing mentors by my side. I don't just mean my PI, but I had a lot of mentors that I looked up to and went to for scientific advice, personal issues, the occasional graduate school melt down, how to handle lab/department politics, and career advice. They were someone who has been in your shoes before so they get it and has your best interest at heart and wants to see you succeed.

That being said why not start a mentoring program between your company and the University? This could be rewarding not only for the student but for the mentor as well. The time commitment is relatively minimal on both parties (maybe meeting for coffee or lunch every couple of weeks or so depending on the need). A lot of times students in graduate programs have PI's that are not as encouraging or just don't know because of lack of experience how to prepare their student for a career in industry because well, they are an academic! So having an industry mentor would be the perfect solution. It's someone who can help them revise their resume, identify unmet skills they may be lacking, practice for upcoming job interviews, and of course could be that potential networking link to a future job. You could open up a pool of vetted candidates to your company!

It also doesn't have to be pitched as a mentoring program. This forum pitches the idea of the informational interview as a way to get to know more about a field or position of a company you're interested in and a great way to network and make industry contacts for people on the job hunt. Maybe you can facilitate this between your company and the University by pairing the students with individuals in positions they are interested in and then having all the students come onsite for a visit, get a tour of the campus, meet with their paired employees and then have their information interviews over lunch or something. That can be the start of a mentoring relationship without forcing the word on people, and maybe if people have meaningful connections they will keep in touch.

I had a similar experience not quite like this but more so in a group setting facilitated by the PostDoc Association where I did my PostDoc. They negotiated campus visits to local companies every other month for ~15 people and these ranged from your Big Pharma to your small Biotech (I was located in San Diego so we had a fair amount of companies to choose from in the hub). I didn't get a mentoring relationship out of one of the campus visits, but what I did get out of one of the smaller company visits was this overwhelming sense that everything was going to be okay and eventually I would find my place in Industry. The VP and CSO of this particular biotech company that made flow cytometry instruments and equipment that monitored cell proliferation in real-time actually sat down and ate lunch with us ragtag band of PostDocs and a few grad students. They shared stories with us of how they got into industry and let us ask them whatever we liked. They also had a position that was open and said they were taking resumes and would happily take any that were on hand among us. It was the nicest thing ever and made a lasting impact on me. So what I think I am trying to say is that industry can sometimes seem like this scary place with golden gates that are hard to penetrate when you're on the other side until someone just reaches out and says hey, we all came from academia at some point just hang in there. You're company can be that for some lucky students at the University as well.

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Re: what can industry do for academic education?

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Oct 14, 2015 5:55 pm

There are some great posts here, thanks everyone! Thanks PG for the inspiration.

When visiting Scandinavia over a number of trips, I've always been struck at how nicely they work in industry/university collaborations. As already stated by PG, some have PhD programs where there are two mentors -- one on the industry side, one on the academic side, and these seem to have no requirement for a postdoc at the end because by the time you've done the PhD, you're already connected to an industry network!

Why can't a system like this be implemented everywhere? Just makes good sense to me. Perhaps in the golden halls of the finest universities, it scares them to have such a close cooperation with companies. That might be the reason.

The other thing I've always felt was necessary is an improved system of graduate internships. Not BS level internships, which you seem to be able to find more frequently. I'm talking about a 3-6 month stint for a fresh PhD, to get real, live experience inside an industry R&D lab. I know that one thing that scares off companies is intellectual property. They're afraid to lose something with short-timers who come and go as interns do. But we should be able to find a solution to that problem. It's just too important.

I recently interviewed a couple of very successful scientists, one Canadian (thanks Maryam) and one American (thanks Ryan) for an article I'm writing. They had little emphasis on postdocs in their career. They found internships instead. I think there's merit to this idea and we need more discussion about why it is so hard to institute.

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Re: what can industry do for academic education?

Postby Vincent L. » Sat Oct 17, 2015 7:39 pm

Not long ago I applied for a summer programme at a university in the U.S. It was a rare opportunity because it catered to southern hemisphere timelines. I only found out about this through word of mouth, though while asking one of my supervisors for a reference it transpired that not only were they aware of its existence but had met a member of the management team. This member had approached my supervisor asking if the programme could be promoted to our students. The answer was no, and fairly so in my opinion - the programme's intentions were clearly to attract foreign talent for PhDs. Our university is putting a lot of effort into retaining graduate students, and of course PI's want students for their own labs.

Take this anecdote as an example of why I find it hard to imagine fostering an industry-academia collaboration (supplementary question: is this even something a student can foster?). Granted, this story is about losing students outright from academia to academia - but it doesn't give me a great deal of confidence about how inviting they'd be to industry mentoring, tours, or promotions. My supervisor, also the head of department, is great, and I wouldn't say they are pushy - maybe passively protective at worst. Of course in the country I'm in there is absolutely no threat of industry encroaching on academic turf as of yet. As someone looking to get their industry card punched I personally find the industrial disconnect a real shame - and I agree with Dave; Chemistry has a long standing relationship with industry, engineers are practically taught to enter the workforce, as with geology and compsci, to name a few STEM areas.

To quickly touch on your point on communication Dustin - in my postgraduate (hons) year I feel like this has been a true strong-point of transferrable skills to be developed. I've been invited to do 2 presentations now at the departmental level, in both cases both of my supervisors have made it clear that walking the audience through clearly was paramount. Our lab does fortnightly 'journal clubs' and this is the opportunity to get up and use more informal lab colloquialisms, and put your critical thinking hat on.

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Re: what can industry do for academic education?

Postby Dave Walker » Tue Oct 20, 2015 12:27 pm

Hi Vincent,

I think you bring up an interesting wrinkle in a lot of the talk on this board (and in the press). The "international" angle to life science careers can have a big impact on those who come from non-US countries.

As a graduate student I noticed a time-honored trend of foreign countries giving their brightest students/postdocs funding to train at US institutions, sometimes with a stipulation of coming home for service, sometimes not. (Perhaps it was in lieu of a good education in their home country?) There was great encouragement to send a select group of trainees abroad.

Why is this, I wonder?

However, I think it's fundamentally different for "losing" students to industry instead of academia. There is an overabundance of PhD students in the US, and most postdocs get trapped in a holding pattern for much of their early careers. Eventually, they will either become non-tenured faculty, leave for the private industry or leave science altogether. In this case, a relationship between academia and private industry is sorely needed. In fact, I'm of the opinion we could stand to have fewer students and postdocs altogether.

The problem I guess is in the execution. Hence this thread!
"The single factor that differentiates Nobel laureates from other scientists is training with another Nobel laureate." -- Sol Snyder
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