The recession has affected many institutions in this country: Maybe not the government yet; but certainly with academic institutions. Colleges and universities are feeling the pinch. In North Carolina, for example, the expected layoffs of thousands of professors are making news. The state university is cutting whole degree programs in an effort to reduce the red ink. Where are these professors going to go? Wherever they go, the road is going to be a totally new experience.
Many will no doubt go into some kind of consulting. Some will even try to move to another university in the hopes of keeping a pay check. I am hoping most will attempt to (finally) use their talents to bring innovation to practical reality. Nothing would be better for this country than to free thousands of Ph.Ds from the welfare of government research grants and public funds for this study or that study. The thought of these capable individuals having to bring commercial sense to innovation keeps me hoping that the country can effectively compete in today’s global market.
The current situation is much too comfortable for the average research scientist. We all know the deficit situation and we all know the antidotal accounts of wasted spending. We know that the patchwork of government agencies doling out money is out of control. We all know the rising contribution of government as a percentage of GDP and we know that the more government squeezes out commerce the less competitive the country. You may or may not agree with this assessment but you must agree that the more capable individuals on the commercial side the better. I say: DEFECT NOW! Come to the commercial side. Leave the dark side where success is measured in patents and attaining the NEXT grant; where the university surrounds you like a favored celebrity, protecting your (i.e. their) interests and supplying you with all the equipment you could desire. Come to the commercial side where success is measured in SELLING SOMETHING and generating REVENUE. Come and build your own equipment if it is necessary to get the job done; where patents are actually leveraged into something that impacts people, rather than simply trading them like baseball cards. Come to the side where you are contributing to the improvement of the population and not living off their taxes.
Sure, you might not be in agreement because you think that pure science is absolutely necessary for the well being of the world. I agree. But let’s not mix pure science and commercial science within the university. I refer the reader to a great but forgotten book written by Jennifer Washburn called UNIVERSITY INC., the Corporate Corruption of Higher Education. The place to do commercial science is in the harsh reality of the marketplace and NOT under the protective shield of the leveraged financial model of the government as Venture Capitalist.
Think of the positive impact. The lonely Ph.D toiling away at science, and then having to think of how Mr and Mrs. John Q Public would buy the stuff. I can’t wait. Innovation with purpose is more interesting to me (I am a business person after all) than pure science; and the more the merrier!