Advice for Young Scientists–and Curious People in General | Hacker News

However, building a business is a different problem from doing research. When one accepts VC funding, the funding comes with the expectation that it will lead to a high-growth business. This is fine when you have an idea that has the potential to “take off” from a business standpoint.

However, there are many research problems where there is no obvious or immediate business application. The aim of such research is different from the aim of investors. This requires a different funding source, one that is willing to embrace the risks that come with research and is willing to do work solely for the advancement of science, with productization being a nice side effect rather than an expectation.

Of course, obtaining such funding is not easy. Part of what makes modern academia such a rat race is because of how competitive it is to procure research funding from funding agencies such as the NSF (disclaimer: this is a US point of view; I’m not very familiar with the situation abroad). My advisor works hard applying for grants, and sometimes they get rejected. I’d love a Genius Grant ($125,000 a year for five years with no strings attached) to work on whatever research I want without any pressures from the funding agency or from managers, but there are only so few awarded per year.

There is also the matter of research freedom in the sense of being free from the pressures of short term thinking and "publish or perish" mentality. I am reminded of Alan Kay's observations ( about short-term research. I'm also reminded of what the discoverer of the electron, J.J. Thompson, once said in a 1916 speech that resonates with me whenever I think about research:

"If you pay a man a salary for doing research, he and you will want to have something to point to at the end of the year to show that the money has not been wasted. In promising work of the highest class, however, results do not come in this regular fashion, in fact years may pass without any tangible result being obtained, and the position of the paid worker would be very embarrassing and he would naturally take to work on a lower, or at any rate a different plane where he could be sure of getting year by year tangible results which would justify his salary. The position is this: You want one kind of research, but, if you pay a man to do it, it will drive him to research of a different kind. The only thing to do is to pay him for doing something else and give him enough leisure to do research for the love of it."

For me, my dream is to start and grow a non-research lifestyle business that pays the bills, so that way I can spend the rest of my time on research, which is what I'm passionate about.