Faculty Internships: Some Follow-ups

I received some fascinating feedback to my faculty internship post from last Friday, and some offers to get things kickstarted. To those of you who reached out about trying to get this off the ground, I’ll be in touch over the weekend. Thank you! 🙂

But this post is about responding to some of the suggestions, and to some thoughtful responses.

First off, Sneha Joshi‘s responses:

Given the short term internship, usually the intern is barely starching the surface of the work done in any organisation, adding a faculty member along with it becomes a difficult job for the employee in the company to manage.

I see the faculty member’s role as one that supplements the employee who will be the primary mentor, and I think (hope?) that the faculty member will need much less hand-holding and support. If there are to be daily debriefs (where the student intern is concerned), these could be handled by the faculty, for example. And relatively simple queries and doubts could be handled by the faculty member. But hey, that’s just my hope and hypothesis – the only way to check on what works is by actually conducting the experiment. Sneha could well be right!

It would be much better to split the course into two parts , one semester theory and next semester covering practical aspect of the theory by an industry professional. Industry experts are willing to teach, however at times, academic regulations and specific requirements in terms of teaching experience and publications etc restricts the industry entry. Also, some hand holding can the done by the prof who teaches the theoretical aspect if the industry expert isn’t well skilled to teach.

I prefer, when learning, to go from the specific to the general, so my personal preference would be to go from the practical semester to the theoretical part. But I don’t say this to disagree with Sneha, simply to state that the ordering can be switched around, if needed. But the larger points are spot on: introduce and emphasize practical applications of whatever is being taught, and for the love of god, do away with the bureaucratic hurdles when it comes to industry professionals being allowed to teach!

If at all, an internship as you suggest happens in reality, it will require a great deal of effort and initiative from the intern and faculty to derive real insights from the internship and can at times result in frustration or no concrete result as well.

Indeed. If such a thing is to work, there will have to be some cherry-picking involved. The best faculty from the most suitable institutes being matched with the most receptive managers from firms that have a culture that is open to experimentation is a prerequisite, and there will be hajjar teething issues. More, as Sneha points out, you’ll need to budget for things not working out every now and then.

But I still think the experiment is worth it, and for a very simple reason: we have far too little collaboration between academia and industry right now, and what little there is, is mostly signaling. Conclaves, panel discussions and guest lectures are great, but we need to go deeper.

Siddharth Deshmukh, with whom I recorded a great episode of Back to College, had a suggestion that might elicit a phew1 sighs of relief:

Excellent idea. Why not uncouple it with students? May make everyone less nervous 😊

Me, personally, I would love to be part of such an internship with students around, because anything that maximizes serendipity is a good thing. But Siddharth has an excellent point: the option to choose should be available. At least where the professor is concerned.

Mudit Gupta pushes back against the idea:

Interesting concept but I see writing case studies between an industry and academic research or allowing an industry professional to join a research center will be much more useful rather than short term faculty internship. Faculty internship will be only useful if faculty is sponsored by the industry for a project rather than being paid by the college they are working for.

I would disagree, in the sense that I think what Mudit is suggesting can (and should) happen in any case. The faculty internship has a very specific objective: help professors understand what is going on n the corporate world. This is as much about the culture of work as it is about the work itself.

Does the corporate world have a different understanding of work hours, and work/life balance? Does a deliverable mean the same thing in academia as it does in industry? How does accountability work when it comes to projects, deliverables and working relationships? Should colleges have somebody working as a full time HR person? Are meetings the same, or is their pace, structure and cadence different? Why do corporates insist on using first names as opposed to honorifics?

Cuts both ways, of course! Industry professionals should also be able to imbibe the culture of an academic environment, and understand the opportunity costs of both approaches. But for these things to happen, soaking in the atmosphere and the daily rhythms of life in an office/college is really and truly important. And therefore the internship, rather than the collaboration.

  1. it’s Friday. I’m allowed one bad pun[]

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