Liaison and logistics work with industrial advisory boards.

Author:Michel, Kathryn K.
 
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Background and Objectives

Industry-University research collaboration has become increasingly important in recent years, due to a shrinking pool of available funds from state and federal sources. In order to maintain the level of research productivity expected at many institutions, researchers have increasingly turned to alternative funding opportunities through collaborations with industry. Ideal industry partners include those with a vested research interest who lack either the facilities or manpower to accomplish research goals. The National Science Foundations Industry & University Cooperative Research Program (I/UCRC) has achieved considerable long-term success based on this premise (National Science Foundation, 2014). The Membrane Science, Engineering and Technology (MAST) Center site at the University of Colorado, Boulder is a member of the NSF I/U CRC program and continues to receive the majority of its funding from industry. During the last fiscal year, the Center distributed $650,000 in industry support to faculty from the three universities that comprise the Center, the University of Colorado Boulder, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (Greenberg, Sirkar, Noble, Wickramasinghe, Meyer and Michel, 2014). All centers in the NSF I/U CRC program are required to have an IAB that oversee the distribution of such industrial funding.

According to the NSF model the IAB is comprised of representatives from private industry and government laboratories/agencies that interface with a research center to guide research direction and sponsor the training of undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral fellows through careful selection of sponsored research and subsequent mentoring on the selected research projects. The IAB takes an active role in discussions on the specifics of technology advancement through:

(1) review of research progress reports

(2) selection of future projects submitted in a request for proposal (RFP) process

(3) in-depth mentoring of Principal Investigators and researchers

(4) participation in semi-annual meetings of research presentations

(5) providing feedback (NSF, 2014).

The typical IAB, comprised of technical subject matter experts, is organizationally led by a chairperson or executive committee tasked to lead communications and information transfer with the academic research center. The Chair also presides over Center meetings where operational decisions are made.

With the increase in collaborative efforts between industry and academia, there is a need to provide a logistical and communication framework that will allow industrial advisory board members to access needed information in a timely manner. Such a framework would allow more interaction and comprehensive feedback to assist academic research efforts.

Major challenges to effective IAB functions are maintaining active engagement and transmitting information in a timely manner. In particular, research centers are often hampered by the following deficits in technology and communications:

* Lack of a suitable communication platform for timely information access and transfer among the IAB, researchers and center personnel.

* Lack of training for currently available resources such as web-based platforms

* Lack of attendance at semi-annual meetings.

Within the last two years, the NSF I/U CRC program (NSF 13-594) instituted an operations track at their annual Director's meeting to address many of these issues. Within the 2013 and 2014 annual meetings there were sessions focused on ways to improve IAB relations and run more effective meetings (Michel and Greenberg, 2013, Michel, Palmeri, Schabenberger and Brown, 2014). Additionally, there were break-out sessions for collaboration with I/U CRC coordinators from across the United States during these meetings to share information and find novel solutions to these long-standing challenges.

Regrettably, the lack of existing literature on the subject is an additional challenge. The closest related articles in present literature that might serve to provide direction in logistics and liaison work for IAB's only describe the stressors for business travelers (DeFrank, Konopaske, & Ivancevich, 2000; Beaverstock, Derudder, Faulconbridge, & Witlox, 2009; Wickham & Vecchi, 2009). These stressors and needs will be addressed later in this discussion. However, despite a 30-year track record of the program through the National Science Foundation, the literature search did not locate any reports specifically tailored to the needs of an IAB working in collaboration with university research centers.

Through the example set by the Membrane Science, Engineering and Technology Center it has been shown that many of these challenges listed above could be addressed if research centers would engage in a concerted effort to embrace emerging technology and develop an appropriate hierarchy of needs to streamline information transfer, event preparation, and event coordination. When process run smoothly, it is more likely the IAB will be fully engaged. Full engagement is more likely to result in IAB members providing assistance in recruiting other organizations to join the center and perhaps increasing the likelihood of spin-off funding. The ability of the center to transform new IAB members into long-term center collaborators ultimately provides significant benefits for the center sponsors, faculty and students.

Methods

Part I. Effective Liaison Work with Industrial Advisory Boards

In order to determine what is most critical in liaising it is necessary to determine the primary goal(s) of the IAB, which may differ from Board to Board but generally include:

* Increased intellectual property and technology transfer for commercialization

* Development of access to current research

* Leveraged funding on a limited research budget, i.e., pay for one project, and have access to multiple projects (NSF, 2014)

* Gaining access to a hiring pool of highly educated students

* Establishing meaningful professional and networking relationships with other experts in the field/other companies, and to increase the general visibility of the organization (DeFrank et al., 2000)

* Attain social recognition of the commitment to collaborative research with academia

In order to accomplish the specific goals, IAB members...

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