Why work in a university?

Deep-learning research

I found this article interesting as it’s something I’ve discussed with many people over the four years since I finished my doctoral thesis

Million-dollar babies: as Silicon Valley fights for talent, universities struggle to hold on to their stars

The focus of the piece is on Artificial Intelligence (AI) but I think it’s more broadly applicable:

The firms offer academics the chance to see their ideas reach markets quickly, which many like. Private-sector jobs can also free academics from the uncertainty of securing research grants.

It may be different from the outside, but right now seems to be a particularly bad time to work for any kind of institution, especially an educational one. Universities, in the UK at least, seem to be in crisis, unsure of the reason for their very existence, and hampered by league tables, research grants, and government reporting. 

The problem with academics being poached and exfiltrated from universities by corporates is that profitable research may never be shared:

Another risk is if expertise in AI is concentrated disproportionately in a few firms. Tech companies make public some of their research through open sourcing. They also promise employees that they can write papers. In practice, however, many profitable findings are not shared.

All of this is the logic of the market taken to extreme. I, for one, would like to see universities return to being (reasonably) well-funded and academics sheltered from the constant pursuit of funding. Perhaps then there may be something for academics to make a principled stand about — rather than simply moving from one organisation chasing profit to another.