What Would Entice Them?

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Jordi Cabot recently wrote:

Wondering how many of the 10K Microsoft layoffs or the 18K ones from Amazon…will even consider spending some time in #Academia. Or what would entice them to move to Academia for a while. It would be for sure very interesting to have some of them making the jump and helping us to identify and validate some of our research ideas. If you want researchers to work on more “interesting” problems try to change us from within :-)

I moved from industry to academia in 2007. In the three years that followed, all five of the grant applications I submitted to NSERC were rejected: despite people in academia saying, “We want more collaboration with practitioners,” the academic system as a whole had what was essentially an immune response to someone whose background and interests didn’t fit within very narrow parameters. I don’t think it was just me—I know several other people with similar experiences—and I think that until that’s fixed, most people in industry will either stay there or have only short, unsatisfying stints in universities.

As a footnote, the two things that NSERC decided weren’t worth funding turned into Software Carpentry and The Architecture of Open Source Applications. I think both would have produced a host of useful insights if they’d included significant self-study/evaluation components right from the start: that’s what I wanted NSERC to fund. However, that’s not the timeline we’re in…

And as another footnote, I really miss working with students—so much so that I run ad hoc programming classes for lab scientists where I work and write books like Software Design by Example in my spare time. But the last time I said, “Maybe I should think about giving university life another try,” my wife’s reply was, “Look, if you want a divorce, just say you want a divorce.”

See also Thoughts from a Not-So-Influential Educator.