Monday, July 20, 2009


I have recently added another new hat to the list of millinery I can wear. I have been fortunate to be called in to consult on an engineering project where my expertise can be used.

My first thought was - wait, I have expertise?

Well yes, it turns out after a lifetime of schooling I have learned a few things that can be useful to people actually working outside academia. Who knew? Miss Outlier, Consultant.

I have several points I'd like to make about this:

1) It is fascinating to work on a project in industry and observe the interactions between the engineers on the project, and the interactions between the engineers and management in charge of the project. The engineers on the project make decisions much quicker than I am used to in academia (where everything must be studied and analyzed before progressing). But in the real world, often it is quicker to go the "try it and see" method than to work out every detail from theory. And the management on the project (as opposed to my advisor who wants to hear the technical details) do not care about details except a few: progress made since the last meeting, expected completion timeline, and cost savings created by the project. Which is to be expected - managers have many projects in the pipeline, and shouldn't have to worry about the nitty gritty of each one. It's the engineer's job to get it done, I gather.

2) I am pondering: is this consulting something I should inform my advisor I am doing? I spoke with a labmate of mine, who works for my same advisor, and I found out that my labmate did some consulting last year. And apparently, my advisor was initially against it - he thought there wasn't enough time for my labmate to work on both research and consultation projects. Once my labmate proved that he wasn't neglecting research, my advisor was comfortable with the arrangement. But I haven't even broached the subject - perhaps I should? Any comments, internet?

3) In the real world, money is different. In the sense that I am worth some. :) And also in that people are not afraid to spend it to get things done. A lot more zeros get tossed around on the end of numbers than I am used to seeing. It's a little scary, but I have to remember that it's just a different scale. Because as a grad student, your time is not worth two turtles. But to even have a conference call on a consulting job, think about the salaries involved to have a handful of high level managers and a few engineers take an hour to work on something. The time value of money has just shifted drastically, and I'm learning to adjust to it.

When I see that first paycheck roll in I guarantee the adjustment won't be hard...


  1. The only questions I have is how big is the time commitment to consulting? And also, does it has the potential to detract you from doing your academic work?

  2. You are very lucky to be able to do outside work! For our program, we are required to sign paperwork stating that we will not hold any outside jobs while we are students... even something as small as babysitting for payment is prohibited!

  3. Students who are not US citizens are not allowed to hold any other paying jobs - which is a bummer because it completely constricts you to the grad student budget. But no such job restrictions for me, fortunately!