Academia and industry – an outdated stereotype

The old-school approach on scientific knowledge discovery (i.e., “research”) draws from medieval ages. The stereotype of “crazy” scientists has evolved over time to include bright minds isolated from the real world to study and advance our knowledge. The are still exceptions that validate this rule (e.g., the cases of Shinichi Mochizuki and Grigory Perelman).

There also endless discussions about “basic” or “pure” scientific research versus “applied” or “industrial”. Or “curiosity-driven” vs. “goal-driven”. Or “bottom-up” (proposed by the researchers themselves, e.g., the ERC grants in Europe) vs. “top-down” (e.g., the framework programme Horizon 2020 of the European Union). At an institutional level, the stereotype goes like “Universities do basic research”, then “research centers do the applied research” and link with the industry, and finally the industry finds out if the research products are of any use for their real-world challenges.

The world has changed. Long time now.

Academia and industry - Then and now (imaged adapted from original source of Tim Hart, Oxentia, Oxford University Innovation Ltd)
Academia and industry – Then and now (imaged adapted from original source of Tim Hart, Oxentia, Oxford University Innovation Ltd)

Universities proactively involve innovation management and technology transfer officers to link their research with commercial exploitation. The business world approaches Universities to partner in research. High-tech startups and spinoffs are all over the place. Clusters of excellence are formed breaking the isolation.

The borders of academia and industry are not there anymore. The production of scientific knowledge has become so complex that we cannot afford to work in isolation. Scientific entrepreneurship is discussed openly nowadays (e.g., at the “Network Friday 2017” event of the TU Wien innovation Incubation Center).

Leave a Reply