Is it a good idea for an academic researcher to work with industry R&D projects? Yes, in small doses:
We find that university-industry relations exercise a positive effect on university scientific productivity only when (…) these activities do not exceed 15% of the researcher’s total budget. (Source)
Thus, spending no more than a few days a month working with partners in industry is good for you. My own policy is that I will serve on advisory boards, but I will not lead a development team.
Some specific types of collaborations I have done as an academic researcher:
- I worked on an ISO committee. I could not stand it. Trying to parse hundreds of pages of technical documentation is boring. The noise-to-signal ratio is very high.
- With Sean McGrath and NRC, we licensed inDiscover.net to Bell Canada. This was a good experience because Sean is an excellent engineer. Research-wise it was helpful to build a collaborative filtering algorithm for actual users.
- I have served on several advisory boards. In a sense, it is ideal because it uses very little time and everyone tends to win.
- I got a few contracts as a consultant. This made no sense to me and so I stopped doing it last winter. My time is extremely valuable, so selling much of it is not interesting. Yet, clients need someone who will commit large chunks of time eventually. Moreover, clients need someone who will pick up the phone and fix problems when they need it, not when you are available.