Last couple of months I’ve been quite busy with writing PhD thesis and few other projects, but also I was trying to start an open project balancing between academia and industry. This balance sounds like an opportunity, but in fact it was an issue instead. The issue wasn’t in the money – I was lucky to find people willing to help me in getting funding. The issue was rather in what I need to give away in exchange for the money – openness, control over the project or all intellectual property rights. Being already established scientist or a business person would solve such issues immediately, but I am still PhD student, so I need to face it. And while I have still plenty of people to talk to (I think it will take another month or two), that left me thinking about career on the border between industry and academia.
On both sides, in academia and industry, career path (and I’m not talking here only about having a job, but also about starting a business by yourself) is somehow clear and one can get a significant help along the way, but I haven’t found such clear path on the border between these two. Open source business model seems to work well mostly for very established players (such as Apache or RedHat) – growing in such model looks much more difficult than on either of sides. Probably Antony Williams from ChemSpider (who was one of the people that inspired and encouraged me to follow this path) would say much more in here, especially how easy (is not) to get a financial support for working on a project like ChemSpider.
I don’t think about working in one or the other environment anymore. Being freelancing scientist has a lot of good sides and growing wouldn’t be an issue (for example I have enough collaborations and ideas to cover financially next 3-4 years from grants; publications would follow). But, as I wrote before,some of the projects I’d love to work on are unlikely to be funded in academic system. On the other hand, openness is too important for me to give it away, so only a merger of these two sounds interesting. There are few examples of successful merging industry and academia, but they all seem to operate on different principles, compared to my recent attempts. Craig Venter’s model was as far as I know most of the time double-sided – he had a non-profit search unit and a company that commercialized its discoveries. Pretty similar has also David E. Shaw. So I have started to wonder if sticking to borderline is actually the very best idea. Being involved on two fronts at the same time sounds pretty overwhelming, but so far these are the only examples when this whole idea seems to work. Are you aware of any others?
My other hope is that new ways of growing on the borderline will very soon emerge. There’s quite a lot happening right now on the front of supporting innovations (including open models), so maybe over there I will find my niche. We’ll see.
(The image above is not my desk. While I work in a home office, mine doesn’t look so clean.)