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As a postdoc, my research is funded from a grant that's 70% government and 30% aerospace industry.

I work in collaboration with experimental groups and these groups have the collaboration with industry. The part of the industrial funding was acquired by the experimentalist PI working on the project. My PI who works on only modeling/theoretical research, doesn't have direct industrial contacts.

How do I know if my research skills is valuable in industry if majority funding is from government and the industrial funding is predominantly acquired by the experimentalist group?

I like what I do. My research and predictions is commended by experimentalist and since it's very applied, it gets published in experimental focused manufacturing related journals.

But I don't see my skills directly being used or sought after in industry. This would be a problem if I plan to move to industry in the future or in a tenure track position apply for my own individual research grant.

2

While I am no expert in material science, I know that a lot of people leave academia and very few of them do exactly what they have done before.

So I would not worry too much, especially as you are already on the applied side.

2

If this makes you feel better, I'm yet to see an engineering Postdoc or PhD (myself included) of the many I know currently in the industry that were hired to do what they did in their research, instead of something loosely correlated with it. You can be sure that your skills are broader and more valuable than you think. That said, here are a few suggestions that worked for me during my PhD to make sure I didn't spend too much time on completely pointless topics:

  1. Attend talks in conferences given by people from the industry. Also be sure to talk to them about your work after their talk and ask them about the usefulness of your work. At the end of the conversation, get the person's card and be sure to send them an e-mail every six months or so to remind them of your existence.
  2. Attend talks in your school given by people from the the industry and follow the same approach as above.
  3. The best option but maybe the hardest one to find: find a lecturer in your school with 20+ years of experience in the industry not necessarily in exact your field to be your mentor. Higher-ups in the industry know where to fit all sorts of talent, including yours. I got a PhD in civil engineering working with water infrastructure and found a lecturer in the school of public administration who made a career working with transportation engineer. This guy saved my in various ways: giving me career advice, introducing me to people from areas connected to my industry, reviewing the e-mails I sent to these people, teaching me how to talk to higher-ups in the industry, and offering me his guest apartment after I graduated and had no stipend to pay rent.

In the end it all boils down to one or more mentors in the industry. The higher their position, the better. Given that most students and postdocs are too shy/awkward to go out and just talk to them, by just saying hi you'll be doing a lot better than everyone else..

0

Even in industry, significant funding can come from a government source. Especially if your industry happens to align with areas of defense technology. I currently work outside of academia. About 90% of my funding is somehow sourced from the federal government.

Even companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon have funding sources that are government backed. (See for example the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure [JEDI] contract in the U.S.)

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Yes, if your work is on the applied side (as previously mentioned) it should not be an issue to move over to industry. Also, my impression was always the PhD is about gaining skillsets (i.e. technical basis and how to perform research) not necessarily something in a very specific research area. This may not be true for material science but I know most of my friends in computational science who went into industry work with different data than they did in their PhD. It is expected you learn new skills/gain new knowledge and the familiarity with the specific area is just considered a plus.

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