The Sceptical Chymist | A new focal point for industry-academia networking

Published in Chemistry

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A guest post from Professor Joe Sweeney at the University of Huddersfield.


Anyone who is watching the slow-motion train wreck that is the Eurozone can see that we are in trouble. ‘National emergency’-type trouble. Scientists have a really good track-record at delivering useful products and processes in times of crisis; when push comes to shove, we can usually get our act together to tackle science-amenable problems of national or global importance. Think Manhattan Project. Think NASA. Think about the enormous strength of UK chemistry in the latter half of the 20th century, based to a great extent upon the post-war momentum generated by scientists who had worked for the cause (Derek Barton was a member of a secret wartime research team working on invisible inks for skin). Allegedly.

So it’s no surprise that academic scientists are being urged to Do Their Bit to get us out of the unique mess that we appear to be in. The question is: how? How can we effectively harness the creativity of academic scientists to bring innovation-led impact to the commercial environment? Well it turns out the Royal Society have been doing it for years. The Industry Fellowship scheme (funded by RCUK and industry sponsors such as AstraZeneca, BP and Rolls-Royce) allows academics to spend up to two years working within an industrial research environment, on a project of the applicant’s choosing. There is also the possibility of an industrial collaborator doing a reverse secondment and spending time in the university environment.

The Royal Society Industrial Fellowship (RSIF) scheme has been operating for more than 30 years and it is a class-leading vertical tech transfer mechanism (as they say in the trade, apparently), but it has a relatively low profile (go on, admit it: you’ve never heard of it have you?) outside the direct beneficiaries of the scheme. Well all that is about to change; on 3 May this year, the RS held the inaugural RSIF Network Event to kick-start a new plan for maximizing the impact of the IF scheme. Using the class-leading tech transfer, collaborative understanding and networking skills generated, we will provide a focal point for redesigning the academia-industry interface so that it is fit-for-purpose for the challenges of the 21st century.

The launch event is the start of a whole range of networking activities to engage academics with industry partners, to create, nurture and refine research partnerships to tackle problems demanding both cutting-edge science and commercial acumen. The RSIF Network will be driven by a college of Industrial Fellows — comprised of current and ex-alumni — and it will use the power of contemporary e-networking to give a new perspective to a well-known (and, in some quarters, much-derided) interface. Anyone interested in collaborative research can climb aboard by contacting the Royal Society, or by dropping a comment below. Collaborations just got even more interesting…

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