The strange dynamics between academia and the private sector in science


Since I started my career as a scientist, one of the most strange things for me was the way academic and private sectors deal with each other. It is an interesting dynamics because scientists in academia, especially in the universities and non-profit research institutes have some kind of “prejudice-type of thing” against the biotech and pharmaceutical sectors and vice-versa. However, I think the prejudice is more obvious in the academia. Scientists from academia are very conservative in the way they approach the private sector. It is awkward when somebody from an academic laboratory tells the boss “I am leaving to work in a company and/or I have founded my own company”. It is a relationship such as the democrats and the republicans have with each other in politics – different approaches, different way of thinking and doing things, but sometimes they change sides and that is what happens in science too. Academic salaries are low and the tenure-track and non-tenure track positions are still a black hole for me. Interestingly if you go to the research or non-tenure track you can’t go back to the other track – this hierarchal standard in academia is very conservative and old; metaphorically speaking it is like in the old years when there were kings and the lower levels. It is a system very similar to the political hierarchy. In the other hand, salaries in the private sector are higher and the focus is different – all research that you are doing is focused in generating profits for the company. If you found your own company using venture capital, then having profit in the first years is an obligation to bring revenue back to the investors. The most interesting fact in the dynamics between the academic and private sectors is that industry is always using the discoveries made by scientists in the academic “so to speak” laboratories and their R&D generates products based on these discoveries. Most of the time they use data that is publicly available to design products that will be in the end marketed to the academia. Isn’t it a very strange dynamics? Biotech companies and even pharmaceutical companies come to academic labs and ask “What are you guys researching?” and “Can you tell us more details on your research?”. However, when you try to ask what the private sector is developing and the products they are testing in the R&D department it is always confidential since they patent mostly everything. Academic scientists can patent discoveries and inventions that are important too, my point is the way industry approaches the academic sector. They come to academic labs to learn what they are doing, get the discoveries that are already published in scientific journals for free most of the time and then use this information to develop products that academia will have to buy – it is like a circle: Academic discovery > R&D of industry generating a new product > academia buys the products. And, most interestingly is that every time they come up with a new product and make advertising on it, they say “Our product is the best in the market for this specific purpose!” – if more than one company is developing a product with the same application they will tell you this, so be careful and test the products. There has to be a constant testing of the products that are being released before using them in large-scale, especially the new products. In conclusion, I believe that we are in need for changes in the dynamics between academic and private sectors – in the end the private sector always makes profit with their products and the academic sector needs their products. However, the academic sector has to stop with the prejudice against people that decide to leave the university and work in a company since the academic system is totally broken, specially the brutal way the tenure-track positions work. I am using this blog as a way to show the disappointment that most scientists have with the academic sector and the way the system works – probably this is why several scientists give up this old-fashioned academic system to go to the industry. Even loving science, in the end of the month we all have bills to pay and need some time to enjoy our lives! So, don’t ever say something like “I will never work in the private sector, I am doing science in academia for the love of my profession…”, because this could happen. Who knows…We are all in constant metamorphosis and life is like a circle, similar to the dynamics between academia and the private sector.

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