The most important thing to know in life

Jan 09 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Well, maybe one of the most important.

Know what is important to you, and what is not important. Know what matters and what doesn't.

A corollary to this is:

Choose what you do to be on the path of what is important. Do not get sucked into doing things that are not. This is not necessarily easy, as determining importance and the path to it are not always obvious.

Here is the example from this week that smacked me between the eyes, or actually in the eyes, halfway through listening to the seminar.

Some of my work has not only clinical but clinical-commercial implications and potential. On one hand it is something that really, truly might make a difference to a set of people with a problem. On the other, it might makes some money. Both of these interest me. But how much? And much must I stray from that path of importance to me to get there?

That's the problem with following the path to what is important to you. I can identify things that are. But I am not always sure which of the many paths opening before me will get me there, which are dead-ends, but worthy of trying, and which will drive me nuts.

I was at a seminar about a program that trains scientists & engineers in the development of commercial viability for things that they can translate from bench to bedside, to use the buzz words. The program is a teaching/learning one, sponsored by my state (as in United States) to help local (in the state) universities "realize their entrepreneurial potential". It has about $20K in funds, mostly to travel to the state capital and visit "potential clients". The presentation was by a PI from my school, who with a postdoc and grad student, had done this, and now have a company, have potential, and in fact, are Going To Make A Difference, as well possibly make some money.

What smacked me between the eyes was that this was an extremely efficient way for both The State (of confusion, truth be told) and my almost-MRU to sort through projects that might be useful and make money and bring jobs and whatever pots of gold they see in this process, from those that are not and will not. It doesn't cost them much in time and energy, and at the end the 10 or 5 or 2% that are going to pan out are much more obvious.

What and who does it cost? Well, the PI for starts. No one is paying their salary whilst doing this (if you are in soft money position and one of the reasons to this is to generate support for your work), no one is paying your postdoc or grad student (if you have to carry their salaries), and in fact if you have NIH/NSF money for their salaries, they technically have to do this on their own (hahah) time. It turns out both this postdoc and grad student were industry bound before starting this project, and they were quite keen to get the experience. The PI is a full prof, who had a patent on a molecule that has high promise. This group was one of the winners, that's clear. But they worked very very hard at the program for about 6 months. During this time, however, I am pretty sure that other work on their NIH project, thesis and etc did not get done. I am pretty sure that no new proposals went in during this time frame.

So back to the question at the beginning. Did the program seem interesting to me? Yes, the guys who did it emphasized that the connections they made, let alone what they learned was valuable. But, is it on the path to what I want to do? I just don't know. If my almost-MRU anted up more of the energy to do this, perhaps. If there was salary support for the trainees (and its clear, you need a team that includes trainees) it might be more feasible. But that's not what they want. They want the money makers sorted out from the not-quites. And by even asking these questions, I've entered into the not-quites.


6 responses so far

  • anon says:

    My school has a private-private (cause we are a private school) partnership to do this. The funding is R21-level over a year or two to cover a small amt of salary and a lot of supplies to generate industry quality preliminary data to seek seed capital and make it over the academic to startup or licensed out hump. Includes classes on market analysis, and time with our tech transfer office (that is exceptionally talented from what I hear from other Universities). If your almost-MRU can find a private donor for a program like that, it seems to work pretty well. The program gets a good round of applicants every year, and has led to startups, licensed products, and a few fold return in venture capital on at least two projects.

    • potnia theron says:

      This is one way to make this work. I think budgets at State/Public schools are tough. I've seen IP offices at many schools, and none are really good at this. Financial reasons, most likely.

  • Sam says:

    My institution has a biotech incubator as well. Because of certain committees and such I now sit on, I am finding that a lot of money from the institution is going to the incubator.

    Besides the getting off the ground stuff, there's some nice capital equipment over there that was purchased by the university. As far as I can tell, the sole user of it is one company over there.

    Oh, there's a big announcement that the incubator got money from the state? Yeah, it requires matching funds from our institution.

    But it's going to bring revenue to the university, right? Well, all the lab spaces there are full up, but no revenue is coming to the university. Ask the people in charge why not - "Oh, if anyone over there makes a breakthrough, then we'll be in the money."

    I'm not bitter about it, can you tell? These things are about the optics so the admins can show our businessperson-run state government all the wonderful, innovative things we are doing! I mean, look at the press releases!

  • EPJ says:


    somehow there's a difficulty for universities to think in terms of business applications, other than tuition and all that is related to students and personnel needed for the work and maintenance of the "university production line", which is graduates, highly recognized faculty and publications, which in turn gives a value to the place. So that is the business model, and they trade products within that university market, and the population receives the offers to pay for the products.

    But how is that connected to the big number economy, and how this one eventually impact the universities attempt to make a business out of education and its applications? It looks complicated, and any instability that affects the population's ability to purchase the educational products will affect education and any knowledge output.

    Attrition sets in, and a mess follows that.

    So how to fix that?

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