SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?
Before you quit your postdoc, rent huge offices and hire a staff of twenty (and likewise, before you dismiss out of hand any chance you would ever look to commercialise your research) it’s a good idea to consider all your options.
Let’s start by looking at the three most common routes for delivering impact from your research:
ROUTE 1 – UNIVERSITIES AND FUNDERS LOVE ACADEMICS WHO CAN ACCESS INDUSTRIAL FUNDING AND DELIVER IMPACT
It’s entirely possible to stay in academia, and work closely with industry to deliver impact from your research. Links sought by companies range from commissioned services, consultancy projects, collaborative research and development (R&D) projects to joint PhD studentships. R&D-intensive companies also monitor patent activities in academia and sometimes licensing arrangements can lead to interactions if support is required from academics in further developing the inventions created by them.
ROUTE 2 – WORKING IN A COMPANY AND SEEING THE DEVELOPMENT OF NEW PRODUCTS CAN BE VERY REWARDING
You could join an existing company as an employee and apply your knowledge to support the development or commercialisation of solutions. You could join a newly formed young company (start-up), a Small and Medium-Enterprise (SME), or a large company. We have fully-commercial for-profit businesses in agri-tech but lots of social enterprises too. Whichever way you go, it means leaving behind the academic life. Your work will very much focus on delivering tangible benefits to customers willing to pay for them. Depending on the position you take in industry, the majority of people you come into contact with won’t be scientists.
ROUTE 3 – BECOME YOUR OWN BOSS - THE RISKS ARE HIGH BUT SO ARE THE POTENTIAL REWARDS…
Finally, for early career researchers who enjoy a fast-paced environment, like driving their own ideas forward, and enjoy managing people, there is a lot of support from universities for academics to set up spin-outs to start-ups. Whilst this may bring the biggest shift away from academia in terms of the day to day work, and also carries the greatest risk, it’s also potentially the most rewarding. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be the boss of their own financially successful company?