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Industrial Labs that Still Do Fundamental Research 303

An anonymous reader asks: "I am a graduate student of Mechanical Engineering at a reputed University in the United States. I have had a lot of fun working towards my PhD. I have published papers and done exciting research. I should be finishing up in the next few months or so, but I would like to continue doing the same kind of work that I am doing now. One option would be to take up a post-doctoral research appointment and find myself a faculty position. I am somehow not attracted to this option because of the tenure and grant pressure. My ideal job would be in something like the Bell Labs of yester-years. Do you know of labs that have that kind of environment? National labs are supposed to have such an atmosphere, but my stint in one of them makes me think otherwise. Google does seem to have such an environment but I am not a CS person. Does Slashdot know of labs where basic research in applied engineering is still done in the US, without the pressure of money and immediate results?"
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Industrial Labs that Still Do Fundamental Research

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  • by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Thursday July 27, 2006 @11:31PM (#15796402) Homepage Journal
    I would not necessarily give up on academia. Granted, the last five years has been particularly hard on basic science research (especially in biosciences), but there are still good options for the best and brightest. In academia, you really need to have the PhD if you want the flexibility that you are looking for. That said, I've found academia to be a tremendously rewarding experience that does not preclude you from work in industry either. For instance, we've been exploring the commercialization of some of our technologies and I am pleased to say that you *can* have it all with academic environments and industrial aspirations. The trick is that you have to create your own company to do this or find an academic environment that will support independent commercialization.

    With respect to industrial labs that do basic research, the pressure from any federally funded labs from the Bush administration has been away from basic research and towards applied research that has mirrored the trend in industry for the few years preceding this administration. Years ago there were more far thinking companies like Xerox, HP, SGI and Bell Labs, but they got lazy and were under more pressure from shareholders to focus more on short term profits and less on long term viability of the company. This effect has been reflected in the long term performance of each of these companies as their influence has withered away. There are some current companies that are starting to invest more of their dollars in true R&D which is being reflected in their performance, but i worry that the trend in this country is going to hurt our international viability in a variety of the sciences both commercial and academic.

    P.S. The other thing that you should be aware of is that many industrial labs require some post-doctoral training period as well to obtain positions....... Of course it will depend upon the appointment, but a post doc is viewed as a useful thing not just in pure academia.

    • by dch24 ( 904899 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @11:43PM (#15796437) Journal
      Parent is right. See this story [slashdot.org] about "Labs of yester-years." I think the general consensus of the replies was that big corporate R&D is no longer blue-sky, and those who want to pursue such open-ended projects balance University research and small business.

      Personally I can add a my two cents working in Defense Labs and National Labs: the political forces are too strong for blue-sky research to happen there. But if they happen to be already involved in what you like doing, then you will fit. I'm guessing you want to stick with what the parent post suggested. Good luck!

      • by Profound ( 50789 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @04:51AM (#15797208) Homepage
        >> Defense Labs and National Labs: the political forces are too strong for blue-sky research to happen there.

        Definately take the politics out - I once worked in defence research lab, specialising in weapons technology. My pet area is killing groups of people as quickly as possible (outdoor specialist). My team came up with some breakthrough ideas, but the g-men said it was too abstract, too blue sky, too arty-farty.

        It pretty much came down to "it can kill lots of people, but unless it can start production in my state next quarter and be killing brown people within the year, it's a no-go.", my favourite excuse (shot down because the office favourite's conventional design had a cool looking model): "Your laser is great, the people are out of the way, but now the oil fields on fire.".

        Get politics out of war!
      • by Mr. Underbridge ( 666784 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @07:19AM (#15797529)
        Personally I can add a my two cents working in Defense Labs and National Labs: the political forces are too strong for blue-sky research to happen there. But if they happen to be already involved in what you like doing, then you will fit. I'm guessing you want to stick with what the parent post suggested. Good luck!

        I don't think that's quite true, a lot of the goals at national labs are very blue sky. However, there's one bigger problem: there's so much bureaucracy at those places that you can't get anything done. I interviewed at one (I was in the same position as the submitter a couple of years ago), and it was depressing. Researchers told me they spent all day dodging bureaucrats, and could only get work done after 5 when they went home. Somehow that seemed very unappealing...

        I will say, it is pretty hard to get a job in industry doing truly blue-sky research. IBM or Intel would be good choices for a EE, I don't know about ME.

    • Sure, that fundamental reasearch is important, but too often we see academic and "pure research" that is way out of line with what is useful and really of value in the real world.

      If you first do a year or two or real work in real industry, then go back to academia or fundamental research, you're more likely to have a far better appreciation of the industry and more likely to make valuable contributions.

      • by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Friday July 28, 2006 @12:29AM (#15796586) Homepage Journal
        too often we see academic and "pure research" that is way out of line with what is useful and really of value in the real world.

        Well, that *is* the problem with myopia. i.e. not being able to predict the future (regardless of what Bill Joy might think), we don't really know a priori what are going to be useful or valuable technologies. Think about the basic research that brought us nylon, transistors, lasers, semiconductors, our pharmacopia, MRIs, etc...etc...etc... All of these technologies are brought to you by a myriad of basic science work that coalesced into a useful combination of technologies, any one of which by themselves were much less useful.

        If you first do a year or two or real work in real industry, then go back to academia or fundamental research, you're more likely to have a far better appreciation of the industry and more likely to make valuable contributions.

        I will tell you, that scenario very rarely happens. Although what does happen is that people come back to academia to change foci. For instance, we have an outstanding young graduate student who was a former Windows programmer at Microsoft that has come back to earn his PhD in neuroscience. He joined our lab to become part of a rarefied group of bioscientists who have competence in CS and biological arenas. I expect great things from him and he has already demonstrated a level of competence in creating useful tools not just for his research, but the wider neuroscience community as well.

      • I agree,

        Too often "researchers" have wasted tax-payer's money playing with cockemany schemes just shy of perpetual motion, cold fusion, water-powered cars, and related hubris. If you want to investigate the unproven - you will probably need to find the money somewhere other than my back pocket - or the back pockets of well-managed investments.

        Real life is 90% hard work and 10% new - unfinished - pie-in-the-sky cockamany what-if scenarios. If you want real pay - you might try real life. If starving student i
        • by fandog ( 900111 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @03:23AM (#15797019)
          I don't see how parent is a 'Troll'; it sounds like reasonable advice to our budding 'Asok' who posted the original question.

          I too have been involved in projects where a bunch of PhD's who think that real life research has "no budget or time pressure" (read: who think they're still in school), have ended up costing taxpayers billions. Literally, and yes that billion is with an 's'. This happened as recently as the last 5 years. Meaning- everyone who has a job in the U.S. got charged because some PhD's wanted to play research.

          Stay in academia and be true to yourself if you want to pursue abstract research. That's fine. Please don't apply to work for any commercial company or government lab if you have no intention of actually working on the applied research they need to pay your paycheck. Please.

    • by Ruie ( 30480 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @12:12AM (#15796533) Homepage
      I would not necessarily give up on academia. Granted, the last five years has been particularly hard on basic science research (especially in biosciences), but there are still good options for the best and brightest. In academia, you really need to have the PhD if you want the flexibility that you are looking for.

      These are all fine words, but in most places this is not what happens by default.

      First of all academia is about teaching students. It used to be that the students were advanced enough so that teaching a course actually related to the research work, but this is not true anymore. Today undergrad is like a highschool especially if one considers the development in science and technology.

      Secondly, at best, postdoc is a three-year position, often less. Which means you will not be thinking about any longterm research - in the time you have left over from comittee meetings, teaching classes and applying for grants.

      Thirdly, there is a question of money. I know that it is often considered good manners not consider this, but I always found this silly. Money is a way to apply engineering to resource problems. If you are in science you should practice it.

      So, one benchmark is to see whether you can freely afford the tools to do your research. Can you buy a computer that you need ? Does your grant/salary has enough to buy those Wiley or Springer books that you wanted ? Can you take them with you when you go on to the next job ? Can you buy a car or have an apartment close by so you don't waste time getting to and from office ? Can you go to the conference you are interested in ? More often then not the postdoc gets a small cut above a grad student..

      A second benchmark is to look at sustainability - will you get paid enough (eventually) to let your children take the same path ? Would you be able to send them to the best school suited to their abilities ?

      Lastly, on a more positive note (for the original poster), there are places when you can have fun - but these are defined by particular people, not establishments. Find someone you would like to work with.. Don't look for a university.

      Ohh, and there are places like Lincoln labs or LANL which can be a whole lot of fun.

      • by buswolley ( 591500 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @01:01AM (#15796686) Journal
        First of all academia is about teaching students. It used to be that the students were advanced enough so that teaching a course actually related to the research work, but this is not true anymore. Today undergrad is like a highschool especially if one considers the development in science and technology.

        Perhaps it isn't the students that are worse today.

        Perhaps today's cutting-edge research is much more complicated or requires more prior knowledge to understand than it was years ago. This makes sense. We have accumulated a lot of knowledge, and many questions in science today requires knowledge of what yesterday's scientist figured out.

        In my own experience as an undergraduate student in psychology at UC Davis, quite a few professors make regular use of actual research papers in place of textbooks. I think it is a great technique since it exposes me to both classic studies and cutting edge research. Furthermore, it allows me to judge the research on its merits. Textbooks to often just cite the results of a research paper, which amounts to a bunch of uncritical fact learning. Another challenge of reading cutting edge research is that a lot of prior knowledge is required to comprehend it.

        • Oops, the last line of parent's block-quote was mine.
        • Perhaps today's cutting-edge research is much more complicated or requires more prior knowledge to understand than it was years ago. This makes sense. We have accumulated a lot of knowledge, and many questions in science today requires knowledge of what yesterday's scientist figured out.

          In my own experience as an undergraduate student in psychology at UC Davis, quite a few professors make regular use of actual research papers in place of textbooks. I think it is a great technique since it exposes me to bot

          • For example, I regularly saw students take advanced calculus that had problems with basic algebra (like what is 1/a+1/b). Bright students at that - they simply were not taught in highschool properly.

            I think the need for algebra skills will go away as the need to find the square root of a number by hand. CAS (Computer Algebra Systems) will completely eliminate the need to muck around with those algebriac fractions. CAS will take out the need for algebra as calculators did for long division and multipicatio

            • I think you miss a key part of research... The scope of it. 50 years ago the scope of engineering research was a lot more broad than it was today. In the computer industry, we can go back 30 years and see it. A computer architect 30 years ago likely knew more about electrical signals than todays. However the work on it could be started right after finishing an undergraduate degree. After an undergraduate degree you could undestand how transistors work, understand boolean logic, and put together a few thousand transistors to create a processor. State of the art research would have been in ALU design, datapaths, etc. Advance a few years and the research is focusing more on pipelining processors, parallelization, branch prediction etc. Granted much of this work had been done priorly with supercomputers, but going back even further similar progress had been made.

              A little further down the road more work is being done in cache structures and deep pipelining, multiprocessor memory concurrency etc. The amount of knowledge needed is immense. In order to work on any of these features researchers needed a background in electrical engineering (although, they have cut back some of the detailed analog work necessary), they need to understand the workings of boolean logic, take the basic circuits courses, understand computer programming, know how to fully design "simple" processors, know how all the advanced features in the processor work, and then concentrate on a single component, and try to improve upon it. Much of this knowledge isn't obtained until their graduate career. Only then can they start reading papers on their specialization, and later they can hopefully contribute papers to the field.

              The low hanging fruit just isn't as available in well established fields. Granted there are fields (even within computer engineering thankfully) where little work has been done, and large gains can be had. However even these fields all require significant background knowledge of all the complex systems involved.

              Phil
      • Research freedom vs. stability and compensation - I won't try to answer that one, but I would like to comment on your first point about academia.

        It almost seems strange to me that students beyond the 3rd year level purchase textbooks, since my most interesting courses were taught quite nearly exclusively from important/recent literature. I think that the perception that students are worse today is largely based in poor performance at the high school level due to crumbling educational infrastructure. Stude
        • Writing down ones own notes... happy memories :)

          I think that the perception that students are worse today is largely based in poor performance at the high school level due to crumbling educational infrastructure. Student calibre increases dramatically once people get away from their 1st and 2nd year prerequisites and start getting into the subject material at some meaningful depth.

          I do not think think the students are worse in their potential, but they are definitely not there in preparation.

          Generally,

      • First of all academia is about teaching students. It used to be that the students were advanced enough so that teaching a course actually related to the research work, but this is not true anymore.

        OK, a couple of notes here:

        1) Teaching undergraduate classes has (with a few exceptions due to notable students) essentially *never* directly contributed to original research. (I am speaking here for physics. In psychology, undergrads contribute to research - as lab rats.) Undergraduates do do their own wo

    • Isn't academia a kind of nut ... ?
    • Let me go off on a tiny tangent here: economics. Basic research is one of those things that once discovered, everyone gets it. (Unless it gets classified because it has military potential). So if everyone gets to benefit from it, who should actually spend the money on it? The answer is "not me!" It's more cost effective for us to subscribe to a journal than to fund the guys writing for it. I say let the nations that want to do basic research do it, and let the US fund the applied engineering that creates pr
      • by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Friday July 28, 2006 @02:31AM (#15796906) Homepage Journal
        You should read a couple of books. 1) The World is Flat. 2) The Pentagon's New Map.

        You are correct in thinking that the race for the Cold War is over. However, what you need to consider is that we are now in a global market competition for goods and services that will require innovation to stay on top. In fact, it could be argued that the Cold War was in reality an economic war that Communism lost (is still losing) because they cannot maintain the technology and information lead. Their infrastructure simply could not compete.

        So, getting back on point: If we focus just on applied engineering, we will end up being the country where work is simply outsourced to because of cheaper labor. This is already happening to a great extent with the European and Japanese automobile companies who are building more of their products here because Americans work for less money than their counterparts in Germany and Japan. So, if you paid attention in history, economics and world history you would find that history has shown that those countries that define and maintain the technological edge will lead economically. Those countries that cease or fail to invest in long term strategies and educational investment wither away or at least fade to some extent behind another group/country that invests more in "brains".

        • Yes, however you shouldn't think it's such a cut and dried scenario. E.g. I know people from Eastern Europe who study until they are 29 and married and have two degrees in separate subjects... However they end up with worse jobs/a lower standard of life than I. Their government invests a LOT in their education, however their success also depends on pre-existing infrastructure, work ethics and a gazillion other factors.
          Of course education is better than ignorance, but your analysis was a bit simplistic. You
    • "Years ago there were more far thinking companies like Xerox, HP, SGI and Bell Labs, but they got lazy and were under more pressure from shareholders to focus more on short term profits and less on long term viability of the company."

      I would actually say a lot of the R&D a lot of companies did back in the day did not help them as much as it should have. They would invent great things, but some other company would usually profit off of it. R&D is expensive and needs to be well-justified.

      Today, comput
      • by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Friday July 28, 2006 @02:19AM (#15796883) Homepage Journal
        I would actually say a lot of the R&D a lot of companies did back in the day did not help them as much as it should have. They would invent great things, but some other company would usually profit off of it. R&D is expensive and needs to be well-justified.

        Your memory is not as long as mine then. HP became huge by investing in R&D. Apple and Adobe arguably became who they are because of investments in fonts and laser printers (not to mention software and industrial design). Yahoo and Google are who they are almost exclusively because of R&D. Before that we can certainly look back to GE, Siemens, Boeing, Corning etc...etc...etc.... All of these companies profited quite handsomely because of R&D, but I suspect you are thinking of companies who at some point in their management cycle started to focus on the short term rather than the long term and it cost 'em.

        Today, computer science has plenty of R&D in industry, but mechanical engineering has to turn to defense simply because of the huge cost in making anything interesting.

        Oh, please. I can think of a ton of things that do not cost a tremendous amount of money to engineer, yet are big money makers in their individual markets. Think glass and composites for a variety of things from buildings to aircraft to bicycles to skateboards. Think ceramics for many of the same structural applications and more (acoustics and many others). Think automobiles or hell, even bicycles. The last downhill mountain bike race (linked here [utah.edu]) I attended had Honda downhill mountain bikes with automatic transmissions. Think applications in home construction. Think about ...... I could go on and on and on.

        The technology that goes into modern warfare will trickle down into society in several years, similar to the way NASA worked 30 years ago. o. It's not an entirely terrible system, because no one but defense is really willing to spend the amount of money and defense is pretty universally agreed on as neccesary.

        I have no doubt about that, but after working with some folks in defense, I can tell you it is an inefficient system littered with middle managers and other parasites that each need the hard work of others to justify an existence. Furthermore, completely idiosyncratic and political decisions go into many defense related projects that end up on the cutting room floor for reasons completely unrelated to the performance of the defense project. Read about the XM-8 rifle system to understand what I mean. The dollars that go into black projects invest in technologies that are tied up for years, sometimes decades before ever being made available to the general public and often result in environmental and economic consequences that would be better managed in open, competitive environments. All told, I would much rather see those dollars go into education, basic science and open competition for even defense related projects.

        • From what I can tell the companies that put the most money into R&D are the ones who get the most screwed. See IBM and Xerox. I'll admit hp may do well with R&D - I don't know much about them (when I think of HP I think of overpriced printer cartridges). The reason is that classic R&D requires 100s of millions, if not billions of dollars to have any sort of decent chance at getting returns. These are HUGE investments that could potentially destroy the company if nothing comes from it. "Thinking
    • Bell Labs wasn't killed by shareholders, it was killed by the US Government. The Bell System was heavily based upon the idea of the less profitable areas being subsidized by the more profitable areas. One example is the urban telephone subscribers subsidizing the rural telephone subscribers' connections. They both paid the same amount, but the rural lines actually cost more. Another would be the regional Bells subsidizing Bell Labs.

      With the breakup of AT&T in 1984 this method of doing business died. In
    • This is true.

      I currently work in academia but with a lot of very strong ties to industrial research labs, big ones ( TJ watson, Sony, Fujitsu, Intel ). The industrial guys still do a lot of very cool research, only some of which is directly targeted at immediateyl relevant problems. However, I think that the type of research that you are looking for really doesn't exist any more, nor am I sure that it ever did. The bell/Xerox/Skunkworks type of facilities of yore are surrounded by a lot of mythology. The

  • by Raul654 ( 453029 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @11:33PM (#15796405) Homepage
    My computer engineering group works rather extensively with IBM's T.J Watson research lab in New York (off the top of my head, we're working with them on two new architectures they are designing, and they used us as guinea pigs to test a new multi-threaded programming language they are developing). I can say first-hand that they do some really great work.
    • My buddy is a mechE (thermal guy) working there on very esoteric thermal problems (he got hired for his work in micro-bubble cooling as an undergrad and masters student, one of only 4 guys in his 50 person group without a PhD...)

      his job description is "invent stuff, don't worry about practical applications, we have whole buildings full of engineers who take your work and find uses for it"

       
  • reputed? (Score:5, Funny)

    by no reason to be here ( 218628 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @11:34PM (#15796410) Homepage
    Your university is only believed to be or assumed to be a university? I'd say get out now.
  • DoD (Score:5, Informative)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @11:37PM (#15796421)
    Navy Research Labs (NRL) and/or Army Research Labs (ARL) might be what you're looking for.

    Regarding your desire to avoid sponsors: anywhere that you're going for DoD money, whether your at a university or in a lab, you're going to have to suck it up and try to get funding. On the bright side, once you have good relationships with sponsors, I'm told that getting money each year takes less time than the last year did.

    NSF and DARPA money are reliably low-pressure. Sometimes money from MITRE is also low-pressure. NRL money can often be low pressure, depending on the program and sponsor in question.

    Long story short, I think DoD labs can maybe offer the low-pressure you're looking for, if you can hook up with the right sponsors. Also, working as a civil servant, you'll have job security, vacation, and even pay levels that are better than most corporate research positions offer.
    • Military funding in particular is a lot easier to get when you have connections. Many of the grant solicitations they release are written by people interested in R&D being done at a specific institution. While they keep the actual proposal process impartial in terms of determining the awardees (no, most of the military doesn't play the Halliburton game), it's a good feeling to read a solicitation and see that it cites a bunch of papers you wrote the year before.
  • "I am a graduate student of Mechanical Engineering at a reputed University in the United States."

    "reputed University"? It's said to be a University? Like what, University of Gorgonzola?

    Obviously not an English major... Hopefully this means you actually spent your time studying in your field :)
  • by kcbrown ( 7426 ) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Thursday July 27, 2006 @11:44PM (#15796443)

    I don't know, of course, but you shouldn't be surprised at all if there are absolutely no privately-owned (like Bell Labs was. Not talking about private universities here) pure research labs in the U.S. anymore.

    The U.S. is run almost entirely by bureaucrats, lawyers, and accountants now. Such people have no interest in anything beyond next quarter's profits and their own stock options. Why would they care about something so "unprofitable" as pure, undirected research?

    Worse, I think the rest of the world is following suit. But I could be wrong about that, too.

    Either way, it's quite depressing. Actually, most of the current trends are quite depressing. I should probably stop thinking about them, and probably would if it weren't so useful to have some idea of what to expect...

    • Umm, no. Either you are not in the US and are only drawing on stereotypes, you are still in school and have spent too much time listening to professors whine about a world they likely have never been in, or you are stuck in a crappy company and are too dense to realize that not every employer places the same value on research (which is probably the reason you are stuck in a crappy company in the first place).

      Yes, private companies generally have to make money to please the investors, so what you are doi
  • by motek ( 179836 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @11:45PM (#15796445) Homepage
    ... can be an interesting place to work. Very much depends what you would get to work on, though. I guess presure on results out is almost always there in industral labs. But still, an interesting problem to pursue for few years can grant you the illusion you seek.

    http://ge.com/research/ [ge.com]

    • I work a lot with guys from there. They are good. The only potential problem -- it is in the middle of nowhere (upstate NY, 5hr drive from any place you may want to live).
  • SwRI (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Check out Southwest Research Institute, there is a variety of government and commercial R&D being conducted in many fields that relate to Mechanical Engineering. The environment is relaxed and encourages self motivated people.
    • Re:SwRI (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      To Further elaborate on SwRI:

      It is the 2nd largest independent, nonprofit applied research and development organization. The staff of 3,000 specialize in the creation and transfer of technology in engineering and the physical sciences. The Institute occupies more than 1,200 acres in San Antonio, Texas, and provides nearly two million square feet of laboratories, test facilities, workshops and offices. SwRI's total revenue for fiscal year 2005 was $435 million.

      Research Areas include:
      Applied Physics
      Automation
  • by boner ( 27505 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @11:49PM (#15796454)
    You mention that you would like to work for the Bell-labs of old. What makes you think you need a CS degree?

    In my limited experience, research labs for technology companies (like IBM, HP and Sun) employ a very diverse group of people from multiple disciplines. The common trait of these people is that they are interested in researching computers, without necessarily having a CS degree. In some ways having a CS degree might not help if you want to do radically innovative stuff (one never knows). I cannot comment on the likes of Google, Ebay or Amazon, but I am sure they have a lot of smart people working on their computing problems that do not have CS degrees. Consider this, if you work for Amazon and research interface design to guide customer decision making, I would *hope* you don't have a CS degree...

    If your engineering degree will give you access to any of the research labs, I don't know. Part of it is luck of the draw - having some skills they want. The other part is pure brain power, e.g. are you smart enough to cope and flexible enough to adapt.

    If you want to work at a research lab, be prepared to present yourself as a capable candidate.

    • In my limited experience, research labs for technology companies (like IBM, HP and Sun) employ a very diverse group of people from multiple disciplines.

      Maybe not as diverse as you'd think. When I was working in Sharp's research labs in the UK, the team I was in (about 15 people) was almost entirely engineers, and eight or nine of us were either Oxford or Cambridge graduates or starting at those universities the next year.

      Having said that, the other five people came from some really suprising background

    • In my limited experience, research labs for technology companies (like IBM, HP and Sun) employ a very diverse group of people from multiple disciplines.

      Your experience is not only limited, but dated. Tech companies are now under a lot of pressure to show short-term results, and don't hire a lot of people for blue-sky projects. IBM, HP, and Sun are all cases in point. IBM is becoming less and less about hardware, and more and more about selling services. HP used to be the leading electronics company, but t

    • Actually there are also still the bell labs of new, they even have a website: http://www.bell-labs.com/ [bell-labs.com]

      I recently bumped into a more biology-related research paper of them, and that is (still) pretty far away from communications or information systems. Also look at the various IBM labs, who are doing more diverse things than you might think. All this can be pretty far away from 'standard' computing issues and really requires non-CS engineers.

  • Make yourself indespensible across departments/schools.

    Consider a J.D. & Patent Law (the Patent Bar). You can pick up the J.D. in 2.5-3 yrs - that coupled with your Ph.D. makes you portable as hell.
    • Re:First thing (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WhyCause ( 179039 )
      Interestingly enough, you don't actually need a J.D. to sit for the patent exam.

      From the horse's mouth: [uspto.gov]

      11.6 Registration of attorneys and agents.

      ...(b) Agents. Any citizen of the United States who is not an attorney, and who fulfills the requirements of this Part may be registered as a patent agent to practice before the Office.

      Download the PDF on the linked page for the full skinny. In essence, any US Citizen (or qualified alien) may become a patent agent (which means you can perform patent registratio

  • Government Labs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) * <`justin.wick' `at' `gmail.com'> on Thursday July 27, 2006 @11:52PM (#15796464)
    To be honest, if you want to do "useless"/interesting research, your best bet may be a government lab. There's plenty of pie-in-the-sky research at places like JPL [nasa.gov]. I met a ton of interesting people there, and a lot of the challenges of exploring other planets actually bring about some rather abstract problems to be solved.
    • There's plenty of pie-in-the-sky research at places like JPL.

      Yup. Not to mention the various NASA Space Flight Centers, Los Alamos National Labs, and other private (but heavily government-grant-supported) outfits such as SAIC, SwRI, etc.

      You might also consider departments of universities that engage in research only (no undergraduate teaching, although faculty members may be on the research staff.) Many of them offer research-oriented positions that involve no teaching, although positions depend pecariousl
      • Look at the websites of government grant agencies such as NASA and NSF. See what non-university institutions are receving money from them. They might be of interest to you.

        You might also want to look at institutions receiving money from DARPA, as defense often provides other very interesting (and also sometimes surprisingly pure/abstract) problems to be solved. Plenty of $$$ for that to be had in the US, as long as you sleep OK at night.
  • RTI International (Score:4, Informative)

    by quan74 ( 451034 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @12:00AM (#15796487) Homepage
    Research Triangle Institute [rti.org], in the Raleigh / Durham NC area is a research organization founded by Duke, UNC, and NC State 40+ years ago. They are tied closely to academia which seems to be important to you, and are involved in research & development in just about any field you can imagine. They were even mentioned recently on slashdot [slashdot.org].

    Disclaimer: I work for them :)
  • Fundamental Research (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I recently got a job at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. The atmosphere there is very much like what you are looking for. Right off the bat, you might not be doing fundamental research but will get the opportunity to submit IR&D proposals probably within a year. They are loosely linked to academia and have a relatively laid back atmosphere because they are not-for-profit, and the stuff you do there even if it's not fundamental research, will be advancing existing technologies on the blee
  • by shadowmatter ( 734276 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @12:05AM (#15796499)
    Really, a lot of advisors do consulting with their associated industry, or were once in such a research lab you are looking for. If that doesn't pan out, e-mail some other professors in the department whom you know. You'll find someone who knows the scene. Another option is to use CiteSeer or Google Scholar to search for papers in areas that you are interested in, and skim them for any that are published by private company labs, and apply there.
  • by flooey ( 695860 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @12:08AM (#15796515)
    The various national laboratories and other FFRDCs vary widely in their environment. I wouldn't necessarily write off all of them based on your experience at one. They have the large benefit of having research in their particular field being a core part of their charter, and government funding to boot.
  • by BCW2 ( 168187 )
    The Physical Science Lab ant New Mexico State University. They do almost all outside conrtacts and gerneral research. The largest part of the work is for missles by contract with various companies (Lockheed, TRW, Hughes, Gen Dyn, Martin, etc...) and White Sands Missle Range which is 30 miles East over the mountain. This goes back to work with Von Braun and the V2 scientists. PSL has also done geothermal systems research and installed the geothermal system that supplies all the hot water to the dorms and hea
  • While private labs may have dried up, that doesn't necessarily mean that research is coming to a standstill in America. As a PhD engineering student, I see a great number of projects, including my own, that are funded by private companies. While the company may have a very specific goal in mind, but if a professor is smart it accomplishes so much more. The nature of university research combined with the need to publish papers means that fundamental research is being done. Personally, my group is working wi
  • Um, no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @12:16AM (#15796550) Homepage
    If you are looking for the kind of place that Xerox used to be, especially as a way to avoid the mindnumbing grind of chasing grants and spending your life in what amounts to temp job, forget it.

    First, even at the "golden years" of blue-sky research, the only ones that had a permanent position were people that had already proven themselves by a long grind in the post-doc mill and found to be exceptional. Going from your thesis to a steady research job in a place like that didn't happen even then.

    There are places like that today - around here we have NICT and ATR in southern Kyoto, for example. But there too, much of the research is implicitly or explicitly aimed at resulting in something useful, and you are no more free of the grant process than at a university. The people with a permanent position are again few and far between; the head researchers overseeing the groups of post-docs and visiting researchers having some temporary grant.

    Really, the difference between university research and research institute or large-company research is in my experience mainly in the need to teach (and the opportunity for a semi-steady income) at a university on one hand; and the greater financial resources for equipment and travel at institutes on the other.

    I know of only two ways to get to do free research without the teeth-grinding pain of grant-chasing and temporary job upon temporary job:

    * Get a steady part-time job you can live on, and do research in your spare time. Teaching is not a bad option if you're reasonably good at it; you have access to the university, with seminars, labs and people, and teaching your subject forces you to pay attention to areas you perhaps would tend to ignore if left to your own devices.

    * Make a fortune, retire and do research as a hobby, perhaps form and finance a small group with a couple of colleagues you like and work well with. Hey, we can all dream, right?

  • Sharp's various R&D laboratories still do an awful lot of pretty cool stuff. I spent my gap year working at Sharp Labs of Europe [sharp.co.uk], and had lots of fun. Sharp have a R&D lab in the USA [sharplabs.com] as well. Check it out -- I imagine many corporations still have similar dedicated and well-funded research efforts.
  • about 2 months ago, I went to germany. At that time, I was traveling next to a guy from my area (colorado) and we struck up an obviously long conversation. What I found out was that he had been in the airforce and was very specialized in fire extinguiser chemistry. It turned out that he had his own lab and was obtaining all sorts of funding from DARPA and others. As somebody who has worked for CDC (on my first degree), IBM Watson, Bell Labs, and US West AT, any major research labs is now subject to major di
  • I know the parent post asks for labs in the USA, but there are plenty of options overseas - notably the government-funded CSIRO [csiro.au] laboratories all around sunny Australia (disclaimer: that's where I work)*. If you are interested in computer science research, you can't go past the ICT Centre [csiro.au] (/. [slashdot.org]). Specifically, if you're interested in cutting-edge robotics research, there's Autonomous Systems [csiro.au] (who are frequent news [slashdot.org] items [primidi.com] on ./), or if medical engineering is more your style, there's the BioMedIA lab [csiro.au]. There are,
  • by jnik ( 1733 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @12:24AM (#15796575)
    If you're doing pure research, wherever you're doing it, you will have to pursue grant money, write proposals, and then produce papers demonstrating you're doing what you proposed.

    If you're doing applied research, you won't have to pursue the money, but you'll have to produce concrete results, on time, on work that's assigned to you.

    I'm surprised you're nearly at your Ph.D. and this has not been made clear to you. You really, really need to be having this conversation with your advisor and other faculty (or senior researchers) within your department. Start with your committee--they know you and your work (hopefully!)

  • by call -151 ( 230520 ) * on Friday July 28, 2006 @12:52AM (#15796661) Homepage
    Your questions are interesting in that I know of, and have helped hire, a great number of refugees FROM private research labs (AT&T Research, Lucent, DEC/Compaq WRL...) who are interested in moving TO academia. I get the impression that a number of these traditionally great private research labs (notably the New Jersey ones, heirs of the storied Bell Labs mantle) have become less than great places to be. There has been mass exodus of top researchers from those places to academia. Why? The ones that I know well haven't liked the changes and don't want to be the last ones going down in a sinking ship. Overall, there has been less freedom about what kinds of projects they can put energy into, and more cost-justification/compromises made by short-term market-minded thinking. There is a great deal of uncertainty about the long-term direction of these labs, even those that have been great places to work recently. I think it's more than the usual "grass is greener on the other side" effect as some of these folks had been in academia before working for the various labs. For my university, it's been a great windfall, as we've had multiple strong hires in the last five years from the research labs- people who are quite senior and aren't too worried about the less-than-fantastic university salaries, but aren't interested in leaving the New York area, for a variety of reasons.
  • reality check (Score:2, Insightful)

    I am somehow not attracted to this option because of the tenure and grant pressure. My ideal job would be in something like the Bell Labs of yester-years.

    I read this as saying you'd like a great job without pressure. And maybe a pony as well. It may be worth noting that the people at Bell Labs of yesteryear were generally people who would cruise through tenure and get plentiful grant funding consistently. A place with opportunities to do interesting, independant research of your choosing requires a grea

  • CERN (Score:4, Informative)

    by ThinkMan ( 991591 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @01:21AM (#15796730)
    what you want is a CERN like facility, with sufficient funding and excellent oppurtunities.
  • I have had a lot of fun working towards my PhD. I have published papers and done exciting research.

    Sorry, this is a PhD [phdcomics.com] we're talking about, right?

  • by jackstack ( 618328 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @01:48AM (#15796799) Journal
    "National labs are supposed to have such an atmosphere, but my stint in one of them makes me think otherwise. "
    If the national lab environment wasn't for you... the corporate environment may be even worse. As a PhD in chemical engineering working at an R&D lab in one of the biggest 'tech companies' in the US that still does physical sciences reseach... I can say this from first hand experience. And, by the way, we employ a LOT of PhD mechanical engineers (mostly with materials science expertise).
    At one of the conferences I've attended, I talked with one of the pioneers in my area of research (organic electronics) that works at TJ Watson Lab. Even he complains at how 'managed' the research is at Watson. Actually - his particular project got shelved. All my friends (other PhDs) at Watson do seem to have this cloud of doubt looming over their head regarding the longevity of their positions.
    " ...labs where basic research in applied engineering is still done in the US, without the pressure of money and immediate results?"
    As you know - physical sciences research (of which I suspect you are a part of) is extremely expensive. (~$4000 barely gets me an electronic weighing balance that allows me to weigh out the chemicals that I use, much less do anything with it) Someone's got to pay for this. The return on investment for research has gained huge scrutiny in the past several years since it's typically so bad. Many company's don't have such efforts (e.g. Apple, Dell) and are still successful as they concentrate on industrial design and business execution. They simply BUY this technology from smaller companies (or acquire them). And as far as working for those 'smaller companies'... this is even more stressful since it is really sink or swim.. so the 'pressure of money and immediate results' is even greater.
    My best advice is this... on your interviews - ask as many questions as possible to learn about how serious the company is in making the appropriate investments for whatever project they are hiring you for. Talk to your would-be peers and ask them frank questions about the work environment.
    Lastly - one of my close collegues at work left a senior scientist position at a national lab to work where we do now and he regrets it deeply. If you are really, truly into research and learning the nature of things, and have low tolerance for corporate bullshit - then stay in academina/national lab. If you can stomach it - as I can - there are definitely perks to working for a big company's reseach lab (e.g. the pockets are deep).
  • Find a mad scientist and aquire a limp. You may not get much say in the direction of the research, but you should find yourself doing somethng interesting soon enough...

    Seriously, look abroad as well, and I mean anywhere abroad.

    Good luck
  • ..labs where basic research in applied engineering is still done in the US, without the pressure of money and immediate results?"

    Expect if you find a job where there is little connection to revenue and performance, the job will vanish due to failure of the company. As the anonymous reader self says: "..Like bell labs of YESTERYEAR".

    I have worked as a R&D project manager for companies with these ivory towers of researches. While I need the algorithm next month, they usually propose to create so

  • Being able to do great research in a stimulating environment is not about technology in the first place, nor is it about the formal type of structure you are conducting that research in. As one post said it below, it is about people. It **is** possible to find a privately owned corporation, even small or medium-sized, that will let you do exactly such a thing, simply because there is a good human contact between you and the management / executives. It's about trust. I am speaking from my own experience: a F
  • Since the above are all illegal, especially in scientific quantities and are forbidden from schools and other training facilities, not much happens in terms of industrial science these days. I'm happily reinventing the wheel; how many mechanical engineering grads can build a wheel without going to a store?
  • by simong_oz ( 321118 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @06:43AM (#15797452) Journal
    OK, I'm a mechanical engineer with a PhD myself, and have been in a similar position so I think I can provide some ideas and/or advise. I did a couple of postdocs after finishing, realised being in the lab was not what I wanted and am now working in technology transfer which I absolutely love.

    Firstly, I think it is important to distinguish mechanical engineering (probably include civil engineering too) from computing/software/IT type engineering. I'm don't want to get into arguments about why and I'm not trying to be controversial or put anyone down, but I do think the CS situation is not particularly relevant.

    One of the things I would ask is what you enjoyed about the PhD. Did you do genuine blue sky research? Or was it industrially relevant (was there an industrial collaborator)? What did you enjoy - was it being able to go down every avenue and just "try stuff" to see what happens? This kind of freedom to research only really happens in (1) academia or (2) very very large (and rich) companies who often have research labs encouraging this kind of research in the areas the company operates in, e.g GE healthcare (Germany), Rolls Royce have an aero/turbine research lab (UK/Europe), Ford have an environmental research lab (UK).

    If you're looking for industrially relevant engineering research, which is based on commercial decisions and reasons, then look to industry.

    One thing to keep in mind with academia is that many research groups have partnerships with industrial companies whose input can vary from anything to just simply providing cash/resources to actually genuinely driving the research direction based on the company strategy. Many large research groups have a person who might act as the liason with the engineering company, project managing the research and reporting progress to the company, effectively acting as a company voice within the research group.

    Hope that helps a little.
  • by sowalsky ( 142308 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @06:59AM (#15797477) Homepage
    At least in the biomedical sciences, the major alternative for academia is the not-for-profit research institute. The majority of these are run like academic labs, with PI's, post-docs, and staff researchers (and techs), but the funding for these labs is through collaboration with large pharma and biotech firms. That nearly eliminates the need for grant writing, and in these environments, creativity and ingenuity are still respected.

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