Asking the Unaskable: “Why invest in research?”


“Research universities make us safer. Imagine the fight against terrorists without facial recognition, detection technologies that sensitively trace bomb-making materials, satellite surveillance, secure communications, and tracking capabilities … not only do these institutions innovate with vital technologies, they also produce the engine of new growth … “

— Bill Frist in America must invest in research universities — or get left behind

In reality, the journey from lab desk to economic growth is not that clear cut. The more likely series of events begins with the need for research funding, and ends with a number of workshops attended by industry partners, who, while checking smartphones for upcoming meetings contemplate the unspoken: “Why exactly did we invest in this research project?”.

In order to survive in the modern academic jungle, it is increasingly important for career academics to think like CEO’s. The suggestion of brilliance and pursuit of passion are not enough. The modern academic must learn to present their research in the language of their client.

Three simple things to keep in mind when preparing for your next workshop:
•  Don’t confuse your goals (i.e. research outcomes, publications, creation of new knowledge in your field) with those of your client (i.e. return on investment, and indirectly, innovation).
•  Articulate the link between your research and the client’s goals. This should not be left as homework for the client to complete.
•  Communicate “in plain terms”. Don’t make research outcomes unnecessarily complicated, or you run the risk of losing your audience to their smartphone.

Research is imperative for innovation, and innovation in turn, is key to profitability in an increasingly competitive world. For innovation to happen, an intersection of focus, passion and obsession must be present … characteristics held by the researchers working to improve your bottom line.

“If you have too many things to think about, you’ll get to the superficial solution, not the brilliant one”.

— Evan Williams in Evan Williams’s Rule for Success: Do Less


5 thoughts on “Asking the Unaskable: “Why invest in research?”

  1. Pingback: Why did we invest in this research project? | Not Easily Obvious

  2. Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m impressed! Extremely useful information particularly the last part 🙂 I care for such info a lot. I was seeking this particular information for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  3. Dan Wong says:

    In the US, whose airports are government run, the FAA has traditionally paid for aviation-related civilian research in the US (DOD handles the military side…and TSA handles the security side). As US airports are government departments, this practice is a natural outgrowth in the lines of authority between local government-operated airports and the US government who oversees the national airport system. When airports are privatized, individual airports are likely the ones who will likely pick up the tab for airport-related research as government likely sees this now as the airports’ function to be paid out from their operating profits. Convincing these airports to fund basic research is challenging as they need to justify the expenditures to their shareholders and owners…something that may be very difficult to adequately explain to them if the relationship between research knowledge and profitability are difficult to connect strongly. Thus, in the privatized airport environment, should government continue to fund basic airport research…or require the privatized airports as a part of the sale dedicate some agreed amount of funding to ensure basic research on airport-issues continues? Food for thought…

  4. Pingback: Maintaining a Transient Advantage | inplaneterms

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