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I have been working for a year and a half in a lab doing research in applied computer science. Ever since I was a kid I had dreamed with being part of a lab and do research. However, I have now experienced what I believe a great majority of research is like. Particularly, I feel that everything is about funding and the "publish or perish" thing. It seems to me that the scientific community is too influenced by doing what funding organizations conceive as favorable just to get more points from evaluation committees to eventually obtain more funding. I get the feeling that this situation only degrades the quality of the research performed, and eventually, the reputation of the authors, while also keeping researchers completely focused on hot topics (e.g. big data before, now neural networks) instead of what their curiosity leads them to.

These reasons have motivated me to believe that maybe academic research is not for me, and that I might should try to move to private and applied research (such as working in research departments at private companies). My impression on private research is (also based on some articles I read, in particular "The effect of government contracting on academic research: Does the source of funding affect scientific output?" Goldfarb, 2005) that the goals are oriented to get results (i.e. carrying out the actual research), whereas in academic research the only goal is to get the article published (and thus spending eventually more time on writing the article and/or applying for grant calls than on real research).

Is this just my impression? Are all labs like mine? Is applied research in private companies the way I am picturing it in my mind?

Thank you for your time!

(Remark) I have managed to get an article published in a good Q1 journal, so it is not about internal presure from the advisor, nor bad relationships with the team - I actually feel very confident and have good relationships with everyone

  • "It seems to me that the scientific community is too influenced by doing what funding organisms conceive as favorable" Very few researchers are fortunate enough to be given a blank check to pursue whatever problem they feel is important. Academic researchers are usually given support to pursue specific questions that are compatible with their funding sources. They have "academic freedom" in that they can pick and choose which funding sources most closely align with their interests, but that doesn't mean that they get to set the research agenda. – David Dec 14 '16 at 22:35
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Funding priorities

It seems to me that the scientific community is too influenced by doing what funding organisms conceive as favorable just to get more points from evaluation committees to eventually obtain more funding.

This can certainly be the case if you allow it to. As John Baez puts it

The great thing about tenure is that it means your research can be driven by your actual interests instead of the ever-changing winds of fashion. The problem is, by the time many people get tenure, they've become such slaves of fashion that they no longer know what it means to follow their own interests. They've spent the best years of their life trying to keep up with the Joneses instead of developing their own personal style! So, bear in mind that getting tenure is only half the battle: getting tenure while keeping your soul is the really hard part.

Governments fund a vast range of research. Presumably you are funded by a grant whose proposal was written to fund the research that you want to do, and doing that research is what the funding organism will "conceive as favorable".

Funding priorities are largely determined by input from academics, who serve on the funding panels and write the national reports that influence them. For these two reasons, "doing what funding organisms conceive as favorable" is often the same as "doing the research you want to do."

Goals of research

My impression on private research is that the goals are oriented to get results

This is very true. Industrial research is not (with rare exceptions) curiosity-driven. The end goal is to sell more products, create them more cheaply, etc.

whereas in academic research the only goal is to get the article published (and thus spending eventually more time on writing the article and/or applying for grant calls than on real research).

I would say that in academia you have more freedom to spend time writing up the results of your research. I think it's true that some academics become so focused on publication that they lose the joy and curiosity that initially led them into research (see the quote from Baez above). But writing is an important part of academic research, so if you dislike encapsulating what you have found and making it understandable to the rest of the world in this way, then an academic career is probably not for you.

The concern about time spent applying for grants is a very legitimate one, and this is something you will not generally need to do in industry.

Getting more information

I recommend talking to someone who has a Ph.D. in your discipline and has pursued a career in industry. Your professional society may also have useful information. For instance, in applied math there is the SIAM careers page with a lot of interesting perspectives. Let me quote here from someone who worked in academia, industry, and government research (source):

As an academic, you select the problems you work on, while trying to pick those that will interest your peers. In national labs, the problems you work on must fit somewhere into the needs of one of many ongoing projects; a fit with your own research interests is certainly possible. In industry, there is usually one (or very few) projects, and you will probably spend your time learning about someone else's problems.

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In the US labs that require funding to operate, tend to have PIs that are pretty focused on keeping the funding coming in. Most PIs tend to worry keeping their post docs, Students and RAs employed. Depending on the field and the interests and techniques used by the lab, this pressure can change the research focus. The need to publish in order to keep obtaining funding to do research is also an issue and a lot of effort goes into determining the "best" way to disseminate the results. In other words, your description of academic research is pretty accurate.

In private research the focus is more on results. Instead of having to convince other researchers your results are worthwhile, the people judging your work are in the marketing and finance department. Further, when the Marketing department says that low powered devices are the thing of the future, then there is no chance of doing work that uses high-powered devices.

In general, academic research has much more freedom than industry research. This increased freedom often comes with a much lower salary.

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It will depend on the vision of the research project and the visionary leading the project. While theoretically one would think that a research project for business purposes would be more productive than academia, the truth is it can depend on who and what is driving the research project as well as who and what is driving the participants. There are professionals professional at looking busy but not actually getting anything substantial done.

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