Mike Tamor’s article, “Lessons from 35 years in industry” (Physics Today, October 2021, page 32), describes many of the challenges faced by a physicist trained in an academic institution and working in an industrial environment, including challenges involving management responsibilities. As someone who has worked in industry for many years—at places including General Dynamics and Mission Research—I would like to emphasize another fac-tor that many academic scientists don’t appreciate.

As Tamor points out, “Physicists are trained to revere new knowledge.” In school, we are taught to push limits, explore the unknown, improve accuracy, explain the mysterious, and so on. That is the goal of fundamental research, which we are taught to respect above applied research. Fundamental research is relatively rare in industry—jobs for PhD physicists in industry across STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and non-STEM fields are more likely to involve applied research, which can entail using a scientific approach to provide engineers with tools to solve practical problems.

The engineering world involves many trade-offs between considerations such as performance, cost, weight, and aesthetics, and they frequently compete with each other. The results can flow down to the research effort and influence required goals, such as performance and precision. Research scientists need to understand those goals, and they need to pursue the approaches that can reach the goals without expending undue effort that exceeds them. The leader of the research effort must have a clear understanding of the factors that are really important in the eventual application and how good is good enough—that is, when the design accomplishes its objective with an adequate margin and at a reasonable cost in resources.

Physics Today