Working in both industry and academia has helped me understand some major differences between academic and industrial research. For instance, in industry some goals of a research scientist are profitability, efficiency and novelty. If a product or method is novel but not profitable, it will not find a home in industry. In academic research, however, novelty will at the very least produce a paper regardless of how profitable or applicable the science really is. Applicability will generate public interest and hopefully grant money, which also must be a goal of a research scientist in academia, but it may or may not be the main goal.
Often times (but not all), the scientific discoveries that industry fuels are eventually patented or kept as company secrets in order to hold the monopoly in that given area until some new invention replaces it. Many people look adversely on this process and believe scientific discoveries should be public knowledge so that all can benefit. Without industry, however, those scientific discoveries would most likely never reach a consumer market as academia hasn’t the manpower nor the machinery necessary for large scale operations.
On the surface it may seem like industry prioritizes money while academia prioritizes the simple pursuit of discovery, but in reality both are looking to make a buck, its just not as obvious in academia. If a research group in academia is not attracting grant money, it will cease to exist. Much of a graduate student’s life in research is spent learning the art of selective wording so that they can present research in an alluring way and tell the truth of a project’s shortcomings without making the errors seem unintentional so they may receive funding. In other words, a graduate student is trained to be a skilled illusionist, and a Ph.D. means one has mastered it. Is the practice deplorable? Since the goal is to tell the truth and still come away with a grant, I suppose not. Constantly teetering on the edge of a lie may make it easier to wander a little too far, and many certainly have fallen off the edge and have found themselves in worlds of trouble for it… at least those who were caught.
You will not find the same song and dance in industry, as the science simply must work. The goal in industrial research is to make a profit, and weak science will not produce this result.
More clout tends to accompany a scientist in academia as opposed to those in industry, and the only solid reason for this is that scientists in academia publish their findings and receive public attention and credit for their discoveries. A scientist in industry may produce hundreds of more useful ideas and discoveries in contrast to his academic counterpart, but the world will most likely never know it.
The greatest lure for any lover of science is the ability to create freely and have ownership of his or her work. Academia answers this where industry most often cannot. Sometimes, though, it is more important for a scientist to have a greater impact on the world and facilitate the development of more scientific achievements than any individual could hope to accomplish on his or her own. Industry answers this where academia most often cannot.
Who is to say which is more important?