Skunkworks-type jobs in the UK

#1
At the moment I am pursuing many different threads of career development, from co-developing patents with larger companies, DIY prototyping and salaried employment. Does anyone know if there are skunk works-type research facilities in the UK that I can join?

A skunkworks project is one typically developed by a small and loosely structured group of people who research and develop a project primarily for the sake of innovation. The term typically refers to technology projects, and originated with Skunk Works, an official alias for the Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs (formerly Lockheed Advanced Development Projects).

A skunkworks project often operates with a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, tasked with working on advanced or secret projects. These projects are often undertaken in secret with the understanding that if the development is successful then the product will be designed later according to the usual process.
P.S. I'm not sure if this is topically the right forum but at least it is the right forum in terms of readership numbers :)
 

Glad_its_all_over

ADC
Book Reviewer
#2
The larger defence companies have this kind of thing going on and you should probably approach them directly - although bear in mind that with UK and Euro defence spending plummetting in the next few years, your targets are all scrabbling like mad to insert themselves into new markets and very few are recruiting.

UK government has mainly outsourced all that sort of stuff, although you might consider DSTL or BT or somewhere.

You'll need first-rate quals and a willingness to work hard for peanuts, though.
 
#3
Glad_its_all_over said:
The larger defence companies have this kind of thing going on and you should probably approach them directly - although bear in mind that with UK and Euro defence spending plummetting in the next few years, your targets are all scrabbling like mad to insert themselves into new markets and very few are recruiting.

UK government has mainly outsourced all that sort of stuff, although you might consider DSTL or BT or somewhere.

You'll need first-rate quals and a willingness to work hard for peanuts, though.
I worked at one of BAE Systems Advanced Tech. Centres for a year.

The work was varied but unfortunately all variation was within the specialised scope of my PhD and the research group. In the end I got bored of it and the (as you say) peanuts wage. I would have earned more becoming a copper. My line manager was very happy with my work and gave me the highest bonus possible for someone at my wage level but I did not feel it was anywhere proportionate to what I put in.

Since working independently I have to say my exposure to many different fields has increased, which I find highly stimulating for the mind. Electric pulse circuits, electromagnetics, propellants/explosives, patent law, how to practically manufacture a design (touched briefly during my engineering UG at uni but a whole different experience doing it yourself in consultation with machinists!), etc.
 
#4
Defence is tightening its belt. Tough decisions are being made. Certain capabilities are going to have to be sacrificed. I believe that unless science can offer something to operations in the next 12 months or is key to 'soveriegn capabilty' it will fall by the wayside. Defence research has already been cut to the bone putting at risk large swathes of future capability.

Most large defence contractors have a Skunk Works type capability but you have to ask if they will continue to invest in them when MOD funding drops off.

As for the salaries, science is a poorly paid career, accept it or move into something like patent law! Further, for the reasons above, work that 'stimulates the mind' is likely to be less and less frequent in the defence industry, although it is still out there.


IB - Why are you asking the question if you used to work for BAE Systems? Surely you would have some kind of knowledge of the rest of the defence industry from your time there?
 
#5
delivering_capability said:
IB - Why are you asking the question if you used to work for BAE Systems? Surely you would have some kind of knowledge of the rest of the defence industry from your time there?
I only worked there for a year, and was not aware of other research centres from other companies that did what the ATC did (other than the famed LM Skunk Works in the USA). The work variety at the ATC was more than what my contemporaries at other companies got (Airbus, RR, Marshall, Met. Office) but it wasn't enough to keep me getting bored :(

Perhaps it was because I didn't have my ears pointing in the right direction. I always wanted to eventually set up my own company, so I always had a keen ear for emerging technologies and problems faced in real life (problems = business opportunities). Other sorts of things (company organisational structure, mandatory management-speak talks, etc.) just sort of went in one ear and out the next...
 
#7
JoeCivvie said:
The most contact I had with Qinetiq chaps was one of the visiting lecturers during my UG degree who taught us a module for a few months. He struck me as a highly specialised person in his field, and not much else beyond that.

I of course could be mistaken, but I am not aware of any jobs at Qinetiq where the employee can involve/expose himself to many different fields.
 
#8
I dont know to much about qinetiq's structure but from what I can tell unless your one of the big cheeses you going to be stuck in a fairly focused area. Which makes sense from a business perspective but is not what your looking for.

Also Qinetiq is gearing up for a chunk of redundencies so are probably not on the look out for anymore crazy scientist blokes
 
#10
Mr_C_Hinecap said:
If you've not seen this, it might give you an outlet for your urges:

http://www.science.mod.uk/engagement/enterprise.aspx
If you mean work as an employee with them, I know for a fact they use DSTL (mostly) for their professional opinion on the science behind different innovations, so if you are suggesting working for them, it is equivalent to suggesting working at DSTL. Like Qinetiq I am not aware of posts at DSTL where exposure to a broad variety of fields, beyond your research group, is possible.

Re: submitting research proposals to them, I don't see why working with them is preferable to working with a large commercial partner directly. The MoD (through them) is realistically only interested in inventions with a high TRL that meet a UOR. Academia tends do research at lower TRLs while industry is involved across the entire TRL spectrum. In which case I am better off working with industry direct as my ideas tend to be of a lower TRL anyway.

Consider the numbers too: the UK MoD has a defence research budget of £439m, of which the CDE has a slice the size of a few million. Compare this to the research budget of a large multinational like IBM of USD$5-6 billion. My odds are a thousand times better off with industrial partners, and IBM is just one partner of many!
 

Bouillabaisse

LE
Book Reviewer
#11
Mr_Deputy said:
Try getting into the Silicon Fen scene.
You've rather ignored probably the most sensible suggestion here.

Most large UK-based defence companies don't emulate Skunkworks, primarily because the cost/benefit is not high enough for the kind of high risk R&D and one-offs that emerge. LM maintain their facility because it is heavily funded by the US Govt to produce clever black programmes.

If you're trying to pitch an idea to a defence company for joint funding then you're into a long decision cycle. Typically a research programme will be discussed at length and formulated and then funding applied for, with a clear marketing plan behind it. Unless there is an immediate sales requirement the idea goes into the pot for allocation of funding at the planning round at some point in the current financial year. Funding, if released, is only released in the next financial year. As a result, your idea could sit in the application process for nearly a year and still get rejected.

Mr Deputy's point towards Cambridge and the technology and science companies based there is your best bet for broad based, risk taking research. But you must have some clear ideas, a good pitch and a strong idea of what the return on investment will be.
 
#12
I will look around for companies in the Silicon Fen who are looking for employees. I am quite close to the area. It will be tricky as I think this will rely more on networks than advertisements, given the size of the prospective employers.
 
#13
Have a look at this bunch - http://www.innovateuk.org/

They might have a lead for you themselves or put you in contact with a network that you could hook up to.
 
#14
IndependentBoffin said:
Re: submitting research proposals to them, I don't see why working with them is preferable to working with a large commercial partner directly. The MoD (through them) is realistically only interested in inventions with a high TRL that meet a UOR. Academia tends do research at lower TRLs while industry is involved across the entire TRL spectrum. In which case I am better off working with industry direct as my ideas tend to be of a lower TRL anyway.

My odds are a thousand times better off with industrial partners, and IBM is just one partner of many!
From my recent (current) experience, grants are awarded directly to those with viable research in areas MoD are interested in - not just UOR's. I have seen several proposals that were nothing to do with UOR's that had been given initial funding to meet initial targets. I suggested this to you because I know what they do because I see their work. However, you seem to know enough to disregard this. Good luck.
 
#15
Mr_C_Hinecap said:
From my recent (current) experience, grants are awarded directly to those with viable research in areas MoD are interested in - not just UOR's. I have seen several proposals that were nothing to do with UOR's that had been given initial funding to meet initial targets. I suggested this to you because I know what they do because I see their work. However, you seem to know enough to disregard this. Good luck.
I do have research proposals pending with them, past and present, so if it comes across that I am disregarding your advice, that is not the case and I apologise for any misunderstanding.

I was merely stating an observation of mine of that the likelihood of funding/partnership opportunities is bigger with industry, than the CDE (which is a subset of the MoD) research budget. But as I said before, I am keeping all avenues open to maximise chances of success, and am trying to leave no stone unturned.

Thank you for your and other people's suggestions :)
 
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