About 5 years ago, Jake VanderPlas wrote an interesting and in my opinion, crucial, piece on why many academic cultures are unsustainable in the long run, and will eventually be outcompeted industry if not totally collapse due to excessive brain drain.
His key argument is that desirable academic skills are increasing indistinguishable from desirable industry skills, the difference is that industry pays more, and produces vastly more interesting results with higher impact. Thus raising the natural question: why stay in academia? For instance, why would any post-doc earn 40k when they can earn 200k using the same skillset working at IBM, Apple, Google, Uber, Ebay, Amazon, Yahoo, Etsy, Ali Baba….this list is endless.
This brain drain has been documented in recent articles such as:
“Big tech firms’ AI hiring frenzy leads to brain drain at UK universities
High demand at companies such as Google could leave fewer talented scientists to teach next generation, academics fear”
“‘We can’t compete’: why universities are losing their best AI scientists A handful of companies are luring away top researchers, but academics say they are killing the geese that lay the golden eggs”
“AI academic warns on brain drain to tech groups”
It seems the author’s prediction has by and large came to fruition.
Key excerpt from the first article:
With virtually the entire world utilizing the tools of data-intensive discovery, the same skills academia now ignores and devalues are precisely the skills which are most valued and rewarded within industry.
The result of this perfect storm is that skilled researchers feel an insidious gradient out of research and into industry jobs. While software-focused jobs do exist within academia, they tend to be lower-paid positions without the prestige and opportunity for advancement found in the tenure track. Industry is highly attractive: it is addressing interesting and pressing problems; it offers good pay and benefits; it offers a path out of the migratory rat-wheel of temporary postdoctoral positions, and often even encourages research and publication in fundamental topics. Most importantly, perhaps, industry offers positions with a real possibility for prestige and career advancement. It’s really a wonder that any of us stay in the academy at all.
Couple years ago I have read similar question being asked (perhaps precisely on this StackExchange), and at the time the common consensus was one of denial. A few prominent professors predicted that no such brain drain would occur due to historical tendencies they have seen in the students, in other words, a non-issue. But now it seems that the brain drain cannot be stopped, a quick survey of my fellow graduate students quickly revealed that none of them wanted to remain in academia after graduation.
Out of this denial and leadership vacuum in academia, a very insidious academic culture has developed: students would start a PhD degree just to take enough industry-oriented courses and then quickly leave for industry. I have personally witnessed this in many fellow graduate students.
So, once again, is there anyway for academia to stop or halt the one way brain flowing from academia to industry? What can academic culture change in order to attract bright and talent students to carry on with fundamental research?