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Collaborating with Academics

013-KreugerBy Devin Kreuger

It’s a familiar situation—one I’ve seen time and time again. Company A wants to collaborate with Institution B, but Company A has heard too many horror-stories of how difficult it can be to work with post-secondary institutions.

Collaborate-1Most colleges and universities are ‘open for business’ and willing to collaborate with local industry. Internship opportunities… Research collaborations… Co-op placements… There are many ways local industry can leverage their local post-secondary institutions.

So why are there so many horror stories? Unrealistic hopes and expectations are often the real source of those frustrations.

B2B operations have conditioned many in the private sector to expect same-day-service, or JIT delivery of goods and services. Expecting a quick turn-around from a post-secondary institution is pretty much a recipe for failure.

A research collaboration, for instance, can take many months to get off the ground. Identifying a suitable (and willing!) academic to work with; discussing and agreeing upon the project deliverables; negotiating the intellectual property and partnership terms… All these will require leg-work and patience.

The fact is, your local professor may be keen to work with you, but she’s got other things on her priority list, like teaching her classes, supervising the graduate students in her laboratory, and participating in the various ways that academics are expected to contribute to life in an academic institution.

Collaborate-2It’s helpful to keep in mind that the researcher you’re hoping to collaborate with is undoubtedly well-funded from a variety of sources, so your specific research partnership—while perhaps at the top of your company’s priority list—is only one of the many research goals on hers.

And the researcher herself won’t be the only potential bottleneck. When it comes to formal collaborations, the institution’s bureaucracy will inevitably need to get involved, meaning time spent waiting while the paperwork filters through the proper channels.

Perhaps you’re in the market for an internship or co-op student. Having students come work for you for a time, contributing their own expertise and fresh perspectives, can be a terrific first-step to accessing the resources of your local post-secondary institution. Yet these too take time to arrange, and you can expect to engage in some degree of bureaucratic paperwork.

Good things are worth waiting for, they say, and I’d humbly propose that academic-industry collaborations should be counted among those ‘good things’. Collaborations aren’t only for large multi-nationals; Small and Mid-size businesses can surely benefit from tapping into the expertise and resources at their local educational institutions.

Devin Kreuger is Director of the Office of the Vice-Principal Research at the University of Toronto Mississauga. He can be contacted at [email protected] Visit www.utm.utoronto.ca/research

 

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