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  • 1.  The interface between academia and industry in Engineering

    Posted 06-04-2019 01:34 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 06-04-2019 01:33 PM

    I'd like to hear about people's experiences or be pointed to interesting discussions and resources on the interface between the academical and consulting/industry worlds in the engineering field. I expect engineering to be different from some other theoretical academic fields, because it's an applied discipline. Here are some possible discussion points:

    • In addition to conferences, what are some of the mechanisms for collaboration between academia and the 'real world'?
    • What are some of the research needs you face in your field as a practicing engineer? Are there resources for aspiring Ph.D students, for example, to see where the most urgent research needs are in their field from industry's standpoint?
    • As a client, have you been frustrated with an 'answer' provided by academical research to your question (too vague, too complicated)?
    • As an academic, did you feel that the requirements/questions asked from your research by the industry client are too narrow or unrealistic
    • I've managed to have felt both ways. While working for a consulting company, I remember feeling annoyed when an academic consultant gave an 'it depends' answer, rather than something that could be used directly in the regulation we were helping to draft. This didn't stop me from feeling equally annoyed when I was a part of an academic consulting team, and a client wanted a 'number from 1 to 10'. It's human to feel right whatever side you happen to be on.
    • Or did you have a good collaboration experience that you'd like to share?

    Natalya Sokolovskaya P.E.,M.ASCE
    Wynnewood PA

  • 2.  RE: The interface between academia and industry in Engineering

    Posted 06-05-2019 11:27 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 06-05-2019 11:26 AM
    50 years ago, academics in engineering were very often practicing engineers also. So educators were more practical, and engineers were more collaborative.  As the years have passed, academia has become less practical and more theoretical resulting in a disjuncture between the two parties.  
    Like resolving any issue, definition of the problem and the desired result is critical.  This takes one on one communication. Each party must listen to the other.  An old trick is to restate the others words to make sure each item is understood by each person.  It may take several iterations in solving the problem to get the desired outcome.  Each party must work patiently with the other.
    And when the solution is gained theoretically, then it must be proven practically.  To many look for a quick answer to sometimes very complex problems.  
    Peter Fadden, PE (Retired)
    Member ASCE

  • 3.  RE: The interface between academia and industry in Engineering

    Posted 06-05-2019 11:17 PM

    Your questions and comments are very interesting. I recently completed my Ph.D. in Civil Engineering and now work in construction management. As you point out, the wants and needs between academia and industry seem to be misaligned; at least in construction management and engineering. However, in my opinion, these differences can be boiled down to time horizons. When I was in academia, the majority of the research projects I found extremely interesting described BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals, as described in the book From Good to Great). These are objectives with seem almost impossible to achieve in a short period of time. As an academic, I was encouraged and expected to think big. What is also found is that in the long-term (say 15 years), the industry adopts many of these BHAGs proposed by academics.

    On the other hand, most engineering businesses have and want to achieve their goals in short periods. After all, committing to a 10 or 15-year objective can be an overwhelming endeavor for an organization that is in business to make money, and ripping the benefits may take much longer than most professionals are willing to wait for.

    I went back to the industry to try to answer some of the questions you pose. Where is the middle ground between being an innovator and a dreamer while also understanding the day-to-day needs of most professionals in engineering? 

    I hope this helps to enlighten this topic.

    Carlos Zuluaga Ph.D.,EI,A.M.ASCE
    Columbia, MD

  • 4.  RE: The interface between academia and industry in Engineering

    Posted 06-06-2019 10:23 AM
    This is a great topic and bound to get some interesting responses. Carlos had a great response on the time horizon of the outcomes - his response aligns pretty well with my experiences. After about 15 years in construction management I decided that I wanted to contribute more to the future of the industry and a few years ago I completed a PhD in construction management. After spending a few years in academia as a full time tenure-track professor I decided, at least for a while longer, to stay in industry. I love to learn and I really embraced the "scholar-practitioner" concept as a bridge between industry and academia. The scholar practitioner concept gets a lot of lip service in academia as valuable but in practice I find hiring committees in academia tend to bias towards publishing and research. I was very honored to receive a job offer from an R1 university that I highly admire for their CM program here in FL but they were honest in the differences between a research based tenure track role and all others. Since there are many graduate students that have worked very little in industry but have mastered the art of producing journal publications, they were clear that those publications mattered most to the university and were clear the pay would never be the same. Research takes time and is very difficult to do when one is actively managing industry projects that demand immediate attention.  However, in an ideal world, academic research and industry go hand-in-hand. Industry informs research and in turn research informs industry practice. I have found a great bridge for a scholar-practitioner is to serve as a journal reviewer for the ASCE. If you have the training to understand what good research looks like and the experience in industry to know what matters for the greater good then you have a great opportunity to contribute to the future of the industry.

    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management

  • 5.  RE: The interface between academia and industry in Engineering

    Posted 06-08-2019 02:58 PM
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    It's interesting that all three responses note some disconnect or a problem. Aside from the question of educating new engineers, which is a  whole separate discussion, research is the other priority of academic institutions.

    Both Peter and Jesse noted that there are not enough actively practicing engineers in academia, and Jesse gave an illustration from personal experience of why this may be the case (difference in pay and status in the area primarily driven by journal publications).

    As Carlos pointed out, both time horizons and funding requirements are not conductive to research being supported by a single business. The results are also not necessarily directly and immediately applicable, although they may benefit industry as a whole. Something that I've always found contradictory, is that the articles published as a result of research by public institutions are often not available to public. Journal articles tend to be expensive, and one might need to go through a number to get something useful. Research institutions usually have subscriptions, but most small businesses don't, so the articles tend to be written for and read by other researchers, rather than practitioners.

    Natalya Sokolovskaya P.E.,M.ASCE
    Wynnewood PA