In a recent ironic tweet, MichaelStal wrote “Got a solution. Need a problem where my solution is applicable”.
I’m afraid that this tweet describes a very common approach in research: the invention of research problems that nobody else (maybe except for our own niche research community) cares about. Often (unfortunately I’ve succumbed to this temptation many times myself) we just decide to tackle a certain topic because it’s fun or, even worse, because we believe we can achieve a publishable result in a short period of time.
It’s true that not all research lines should aim at immediate practical applications (nor that all research problems should come from the industry) but in a field like mine (software engineering in a broad sense) if what you do does not benefit any practitioner in a “short” timeframe, well, then maybe should start reconsidering what you work on or you may wake up someday realizing that you just wasted your (professional) life 🙂
Initiatives like this one are a step in the right direction but I think it’s even simpler than this. Just look around and count how many people from the industry is applying or at least interested in what you’ve been doing (regardless the number of citations you got from your peers) and then think about it.
Stop making me doubt!
I’m finishing my PhD draft, you *#@&”!!
This is the last thing I need to think about right now…
My gut reaction is to agree. But on second thought, I think that there are good arguments for pure research, and more so for people in universities doing it. I mean, if all we’re aiming for is solving people’s problems, why not go to industry in the first place, why even bother with Universities, undergrad students, courses, ceremony, admin, etc?? Wouldn’t independent research centers be enough?
In the European context, this also has to do with the mentality of the Bologna Process, and I’ve read some very salient criticisms of it, at least from my ideological perspective.
>> if all we’re aiming for is solving people’s problems, why not go to industry in the first place,
Industry only take care of solving problems that have an economical value (and I’ve the feeling some problems would in fact have a negative impact on the budget of some companies not interested in having new advancements in certain areas). But I’m afraid this is a different discussion…
I think this is actually the core of the discussion: what is the role of the university with respect to industry. If I may interpret what you just wrote, it is more or less that universities can afford to do the research industry cannot. Therefore the role of the university is “to go where industry doesn’t dare go” (yet). A similar argument is frequently made about the proper role of the State in the economy (i.e., doing the infrastructural investments (eg building roads and ports) that individual corporations would not afford to do so to create and facilitate the market).
That is a very sound argument, but it can also be made exactly for pure research as well!! It all depends on what we as a society want the universities to be 🙂