Academic-Industrial Collaboration: How To Make It Work

Author: Sofia D'Abrantes Edited by: Burcu Anil Kirmizitas

Sofia D'Abrantes is an Oxford DTP (Doctoral Training Programme) PhD student.

Industrial organisations hold money and a workforce. Academics have extensive knowledge and a large proportion of them are experts in their respective subjects. Interaction between industry and academia has proven to be successful in fields such as chemistry, physics and engineering, and should be fomented. However, some are not aware of the possibilities and advantages of such collaborations, especially those in the field of biology.

During my third year of University, I worked at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), a non- profit research council. My time at RAL involved collaborating with both academic and industry scientists who came to use our facilities. I have seen the strengths of both partners first-hand and the great science that arises when collaboration between them occurs. By sharing my experiences and opinions, I hope to convince you that these partnerships are crucial to science, and to give you a few tips on how to build successful collaborations.

Advantages

There are many advantages of collaboration, for both industry and academia. For academics, these include career opportunities, research funding, awareness of industry trends, and inspiration by application derived discussions. For industry, these involve access to extended networks, thinking outside the box, training, ability to find new talent to hire and access to specialised, world-leading resources. Making contacts and exchange of knowledge are just some of the advantages for both partners.

Collaborations can also have important potential societal and economic benefits. Progress on drug discovery investigation is slow due to the high costs of research and development of new drugs, as well as subsequent extensive clinical trials. Greater research collaboration and facilitating funding will ensure novel and quicker drug discovery. Partnerships can also create more jobs for consultants, lab technicians, PhD studentships, and many others.

So far, I hope I have shown you the important role that academic-industrial partnerships play in advancing science. While working in the lab, I discovered a thing or two about building successful collaborations. In the next section and the figure below, I will share with you the most important lessons I have learnt.

Ways to build successful collaborations

Discuss the goals

Mainschein suggests that a collaboration is when "individuals have come together in pursuit of a shared goal." In order to build cohesive interactions, it is necessary to acknowledge the objectives and roles of everyone involved. Academia’s core aim is the acquisition and dissemination of groundbreaking fundamental research, and education of independent scientists. In contrast, industry’s primary goal is to generate profit for shareholders, frequently through innovation. Failure to articulate these distinctions could lie at the root of many subsequent failures of collaboration.

Transparency and communication

It is important that scientists retain full transparency about their methods, results and conclusions. Nowadays, funding bodies such as the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) require PhD students to make their data fully traceable and publicly available even before the results are published. This avoids duplication and encourages transparency. Discussions about intended benefits, risks, timelines and requirements for both partners are vital. Awareness of confidentiality clauses and intellectual property (IP) is also key. Regular meetings, reviewing of progress and adapting the goals as the collaboration progresses are all crucial for a successful partnership. A clear, joint vision on the future will strengthen the collaboration.

Build a great team

The final item on my list is to build a great team. To me, this involves celebrating and acknowledging successes, encouraging mutual respect and trust, learning from mistakes and creating a cooperative environment.

What can you do?

You may be a student, an early career researcher or part of an industrial organisation, and may be wondering what you can do to drive industry-academia collaborations. These are some of my tips to get started:

•        Attend events by organisations such as the Science Innovation Union, which aim to bridge the gap between academia and industry. Engage with other people, discuss this topic and network.

•        Upload your data to an online repository so other people can access it. This will avoid duplication and drive partnerships.

•        Encourage transparency and collaborations within your own lab.

•        If you work in academia, look up which industry organisations are doing similar research to you, and drop them an email to see if they would be interested in collaborating.

•        If you work in industry, find out which university groups are doing interesting research, which you would like to fund and partner with.

•        Strive to work on novel topics and drive innovation.

Final remarks

As systems and techniques evolve, we require greater collaboration across disciplines more than ever before. Therefore, it is important to carefully design and manage partnerships to encourage scientists from different teams to work together. Science is meant to be shared, and ideas are supposed to be discussed to gain different perspectives and input. With this in mind, please comment below with your feedback and ideas about how we can increase collaboration between academia and industry! If you would like to find out more about recommended data repositories, please click here.