I am recently discussing an opportunity of joining a university as an industry-funded postdoc. Both the company (in the US) and myself do not have any experience about this so I would appreciate any help, suggestion or potential caveat you can think of at this moment.
I am currently in the final year of my PhD. A company reached out to me and mentioned that they are very interested in my thesis, and would like to explore it more with me. Given that the headquarter of this company is at a city that I do not want to live in, we've reached an agreement that I will start as a postdoc at a university and then company is willing to pay for my entire salary through the university (and therefore with overhead), which means that I will be a formal university employee. I have also found a professor that verbally agrees to host me and serve as the PI. The professor is currently negotiating this with the department.
I have some wishes as following but not sure whether or in what extent they can be fulfilled:
Though being a postdoc, I would like to get a much higher salary, ideally compatible with the industry. The company has already mentioned to me that they are willing to pay higher salaries to me as long as the university agrees. Would universities in general be ok if one of their postdocs earns exceedingly more than others (say 2 or 3 times more)? Is there any creative way so that we can initiate an industry-sponsored project to make this exception? The company is willing to pay for overhead costs. Would making up a new position, e.g. "Williams Kevin James Research Scientist", help make this happen?
Another main complication is that I am not a US citizen nor a permanent resident, so will need visa sponsorship to work in the US. Given that I plan to have a much higher salary, would the university still be willing to sponsor a cap-exempt H-1B, which is typically for non-profit employees? O-1 could also work for my case but I feel like universities typically consider it as the last resort.
To help make this deal work, the company already agrees that I can publish most of my research findings as conference papers or journal articles, so that it can be perceived that the university "owns" the IP of these publications. However, inevitably, there will be cases where I need to work with field data or realistic data that is owned by the company or third parties thus cannot be shared to public. Also, I might also spend a little bit time developing their software tools and infrastructure. Would there be an IP concern regarding these? Is this generally negotiable with the university? I know that there are academic consortia that produces software only accessible to the consortium members. Not sure whether the same idea can work in my case because right now there is only myself.
Although the company is very generous, they are paying because my current research interest highly aligns with their goals. Therefore, throughout this postdoc, my research ideas and focuses will be determined by them on some level. I can still do something "pure academic" but it cannot be completely unrelated to the scientific problem the company is trying to solve. Would this be considered as a conflict of interest? What is the best way to handle this?