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Academia in Action: Applying industry lessons to academia

For some, the pathway to a faculty position at a university can be long and circuitous, but that doesn’t stop these faculty members from applying the lessons from their unique backgrounds to their academic research.

Many University of Utah professors found their way to the U after working in industry. Check out some of their stories below:

From academia to industry and back again: Abigail Pulsipher

Abigail Pulsipher, a research assistant professor in the Otolaryngology and Molecular Pharmaceutics departments, joined the U after a postdoc in California and a job at a University of Utah spinout company, GlycoMira.

Pulsipher has taken the lessons she learned from industry and applied them to her lab and research at the U. “We base our projects and our hypotheses on sound basic science,” she said. “But then we are also thinking way ahead down the road and kind of engineering backwards because we’re thinking from the ‘bedside back to bench back to bedside’ approach.”

Entrepreneurship as part of university service: Grzegorz Bulaj

How does a medicinal chemistry professor start his career focused on drug discovery before transitioning to developing a video game and scaling up disease prevention? University of Utah professor Grzegorz Bulaj said it took a sabbatical and a bit of risk.

Bulaj started at the U as a professor of medicinal chemistry after working for a small biotech company in Research Park where he was the director of peptide chemistry. This background helped Bulaj later in his career when he went to start not just one, but three companies based on his university research. “As soon as I transitioned from working for the company and into the university, I immediately had an idea for a new venture,” Bulaj said.

Serial entrepreneur and innovator: Wade Fallin

Wade Fallin started his career as a “serial entrepreneur” and “serial innovator” before he came to the University of Utah. “Instead of a professor starting an innovation company, I’m a serial entrepreneur who became a professor,” Fallin said.

After receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, he began working for the large medical device companies that specialized in orthopaedic devices. “Like most young people coming out of their college programs, I wanted to do something that really made an impact to the human condition in a positive way.”

Developing students, creating products: Robert Hitchcock

University of Utah biomedical engineering professor Robert Hitchcock entered the realm of academia after years of working for large and mid-sized companies developing products. When he became a professor, he said it was a huge change. “At first, it was just ‘What the heck am I doing? What am I supposed to be doing next?’”

However, being involved in commercialization and developing intellectual property while at the U was never a question for Hitchcock. In fact, his work history and background developing medical devices resulted in one of his greatest and longest lasting collaborations.

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