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Consulting - Needed Prior to Tenure, Not Just After Tenure

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

Message Number: 
41

Folks: 

The following message from soon to be Associate Professor, Frank Owens, raises a critical point that is at least familiar to engineering professors. What are your thoughts? It would also be interesting to hear from science faculty as to the applicability of Owen's comments in various science disciplines. 

Rick Reis 

Consulting - Needed Prior to Tenure, Not Just After Tenure 

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I was glad to see the latest posting on faculty consulting, especially coming on the heels of the previous posting on faculty time savers. In that posting, faculty were advised to do no consulting until after they had received tenure. 

I understand the motivation behind that advice. But it speaks volumes about the chasm that has developed between engineering academia and industry in the past 30 or 40 years. I just finished a mid-career Ph.D. and am headed for a tenure track associate professorship at an admittedly practical university (CalPoly in San Luis Obispo, California). At a particularly low point of my recent studies, I remember going home and telling my wife, "What I am studying is not engineering and the people teaching me are not engineers. I am learning applied mathematics from research scientists." 

Too many engineering faculty have lost sight of the fact that engineering is an applied science and that most of their students will become engineering practitioners, not graduate students. These two facts, I believe, obligate all engineering faculty to devote at least some time to the profession as practitioners. If they don't, their knowledge of the end process, the activity for which they are training their students, becomes fuzzy. 

It was disturbing to see the advice against consulting before tenure. Taking five years off from practical work in today's fast-moving technology only guarantees that the advisee's ability to understand and connect with industry will atrophy. How to inculcate new faculty who have no practical work experience in engineering with the lessons learned from the practice of engineering is a problem that engineering academia does not attach much importance to. Of course that system has created and perpetuated this problem by valuing research so highly while ignoring teaching and the practice of the art. 

Frank Owen