Monday, June 8, 2015

Interesting comment on new research and the need for jobs

Also in this week's C&EN, a cover story on carbon nanotubes by Matt Davenport, including this interesting line: 
Phaedon Avouris also worries about young scientists entering materials research. Avouris, who was Collins’s postdoctoral adviser, performed some of the first experiments characterizing nanotubes at IBM. “It’s very hard to tell young people to ignore the hype,” he says. “We have too many people that follow fashion and patterns rather than their own passions.” 
Today, when scientists focus on studying a new material, there is a rush to characterize it, publish papers about its properties in prominent journals, and then move on to a different material, Avouris says. “We’re left with a lot of unfinished work and unproven claims,” he tells C&EN. Researchers develop a fundamental understanding of materials but not how to use them. “Few people are willing to work on the hard problems that will bring applications.” 
Avouris adds that many students are drawn to this brand of “novel materials” research with the perceived promise of a high-profile paper, which would look great on a résumé. “You can’t blame them,” he says. “They need to get jobs.”
Don't we all?  

5 comments:

  1. “Few people are willing to work on the hard problems that will bring applications.” Could this not also be because applications necessarily involve other professions/skills/trades rather than straight materials science? How welcome are people who generally develop second or third lines beyond the narrow confines of their jobs?

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    1. Thought of another way, maybe it's a bit like deciding to be in the business of raising racehorses rather than going to the track and plunking your life's savings on multiple bets on the same racehorse.

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  2. I think it's less that "Few people are willing to work on the hard problems that will bring applications" and more that few institutions are willing to FUND work on the hard problems. I was always told to go after low-hanging fruit in grad school...

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  3. “Few people are willing to work on the hard problems that will bring applications.”

    Uh, isn't bringing about applications IBM's job?

    There was a time when corporations did their own R&D and didn't lean so heavily on academia. (The integrated circuit, believe it or not, wasn't the product of a thesis.) It's ridiculous that someone coming from TJ Watson, one of the best-funded, best-staffed corporate labs in the world, is whining about underfunded research conducted by trainees not giving them the secret sauce they need for the next big thing.

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    1. This is so true. At the start-up where I worked on the west coast, the so-called "inventor" spent most of his time trying to steal IP from academic labs. But maybe the cash-crop-company is the new US-American model?

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