Silicon Valley is raiding tech academia: “Uber would like to buy your Robotics Department”

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Sorry… don’t really see the issue here. Many smart people are snatched out of college. Some quit college and start their own companies. No one is forcing them to go. But I honestly don’t think academia is in the forefront of a lot of technology out there. The private sector is. Academia is known for working on projects that expect a low or slow return. More experimental stuff. But Google, Musk, and others who see the potential in such projects are making high risk divisions as well.

So if a person wants to research something for the sake of knowledge and learning, they will stick with academia, unless a private company is willing to give them the same freedom and probably a bigger budget. They hopefully reach their goals quicker. Win win. It’s bad because they get a patent or something? Because many academia projects end up with the school attempting to get the patent (such as with Crispr) and I doubt the scholar is as well compensated.

Isn’t this the plot to Big Hero 6?


It’s really more an issue of magnitude rather than type. If Uber had hired away a few of the robotics faculty away from CMU, then CMU could have replaced them with only the normal fuss. However, they hired away almost the entire department. Then you can’t easily teach classes or vet the replacement faculty.


Can’t at least the vetting be done in cooperation with other universities?

Possibly, if they aren’t also doing a job search in robotics. Other, related, departments could help vet as well. However, someone in a related field isn’t going to be as good at picking out the people with the best ideas.

Also, however they fix it, CMU’s going to end up with a robotics faculty which are the equivalent of freshmen: no one will know where any of the buildings are or how to get anything done in the bureaucracy for several years. Even the chair.


Can academia survive? Academia died quite a long time ago. What we have now is job training.


Silicon Valley has been raiding tech academics since before it was called Silicon Valley. This talk about the history of Silicon Valley is entertaining and informative.


If the people could be bought, they weren’t the people CMU should have had in the first place. I’m not saying industry is inherently evil (I worked in industry for a time and am now at a government lab), but at a university you want people who are so interested in basic research that no amount of salary increase would be worth giving that up.

Eating the seed corn?

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A decent absolute level of salary is of course a great plus. Interest is a nice thing, but starvation, or relative starvation (or even a low chance to show external signs of wealth/success and therefore have even worse chance to attract a mate than the already lousy engineering baseline is) is quite a disincentive to staying.

It’s robotics, so there isn’t a large gap between basic research and applications. Which does making a self driving car count as?

Also, they might not have been lured away by salary exactly. Of course, I don’t know the details, but it kind of seems like Uber must have promised them a lot of research funding - in one of the hotter topics in their field.

Talk to professors. They seem to be under the illusion they didn’t already lose this fight ten years ago by being more concerned with petty administrative issues while the rug was pulled out from under them.

Average salary of a CMU professor is over $100,000 - in Pittsburgh, where that still buys a lot. I’m guessing it is more about funding the research than funding the person.

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I can’t speak to professors, or even institutions in general, but my general impression of any applied or even just quasi-pure field in academia is that what gets called “research” these days is not all that different in motivation, funding, competition, or social structure, than what you’d be doing at a tech startup anyway.

It really comes down to the fine details, and I’m not surprised that many people are jumping ship. I doubt it’s even just the money overall (though i’m sure it plays a huge part in some cases). Academia is coasting on a self-delusional mirage. I really wish that there were more, or any, of these ivory towers the conservatives whine about.

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“It was a startling raid of talent. By offering private-sector salaries substantially higher than university equivalents”

So they aren’t paying them enough at CMU. Simple enough. This has been going on forever, but picked up a little recently. Google bought all the UCSB quantum computing researchers, too.

I straight up hate hearing words like “raid” and “poach” in this context, as if paying people what they are worth is a bad thing when they’re mere engineers, you should only do that for executives.


What? Is Microsoft Station Q gone?

Didn’t Fortune, Slate, and the WSJ report on this a while ago?

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Google started in academia.

Then you can’t easily teach classes or vet the replacement faculty.

I was talking about the Martinis lab. I didn’t realize that Microsoft had also done the same thing there.