Professorial Entrepreneurs

So I like to read the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s career section.  I think of it as part of my career education.  My favorites are the Balancing Act pieces that talk about balancing family with academia, but many of the others are quite good too.  Today I came across a recent article that is of especially poignant interest to me – an article on professorial entrepreneurship.   This article seems extremely relevant to me as my Husband is a budding entrepreneur who started his own business last winter, and I have often found similarities between the things involved in our work.  This article pointed out to me that those similarities will only grow when I’m a new professor someday – because the financial responsibilities of running a lab are also quite similar to starting a new company.

Here’s an excerpt from the article by Philip Leopold:

By recognizing the parallels between the business entrepreneur and the professorial version, you as a new faculty member might avoid the pitfalls that come with being your own boss. And you might begin your career with a more realistic, balanced approach to the challenges of the profession.

The success of a business entrepreneur, or a professor, depends largely (if not exclusively) on the quality of the product or service delivered.

However, an entrepreneur with an excellent product or service can still fail for reasons that revolve around the core business principles of finance, management, and marketing. Not surprisingly, a professor with tremendous insights in the classroom or an outstanding research program can also fail for reasons related to finance, management, and marketing.

I think that this is a really important point, because I see that in grad school and academia the finance, management, and marketing are often quite understressed.  They are so critical to having a successful lab group, research project, or overall career in academia, but this is rarely explicitly stated as one goes through the beginnings of an academic career.  In this sense, I feel lucky that I realized early on how important it is to also hone my skills in those areas.  On that note, I’d like to recommend a favorite book of mine: Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D., by Robert Peters – it gives all sorts of helpful advice that you might not even realize you need until you read it and realize what you didn’t know.


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