Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Doctoral researchers working with industry

There are at least two perspectives for doctoral researchers contemplating working with industry. First is the problem of negotiating access for data collection and second is developing networks of industry contacts for the purposes of further career development. Many researchers feel that practitioners may be nervous about disclosing commercially sensitive or personal information. It is useful to understand such nervousness and deal with it. This requires clarity and honesty about why data is needed, and a careful data collection strategy that avoids giving the impression that data is being trawled on the chance that something useful will emerge. Some participants seem responsive, others don’t. Therefore, do not worry about unresponsive individuals but focus on finding the responsive ones. Many companies fear that they may give away time that they cannot afford, or, worse, reveal confidential information that might weaken their competitive advantage. It helps take an approach where they stand to gain from participation. It also helps if we talk like someone who understands and appreciates the nature of commercial confidentiality (like you mean it). Generally speaking, companies may not be interested in the intellectual aspects of research but they will be interested in problem-solving. So, try to think about what you might give them in return for their participation that helps with problem-solving. It will probably not be the same material that you incorporate into your thesis, but that’s usually a good thing. In terms of networking, it helps your data collection and negotiation of access if you are not a complete stranger. There are strategies for developing networks, inviting industry people to seminars on campus about your research (involving your supervisors and other academic staff as well as alumni of your School or Department), setting up discussions on serious social networks like LinkedIn and so on. Some time ago, a researcher in USA, Phil Agre, wrote about using the internet for developing research and professional networks and he updates it from time to time. It is worth looking at: http://vlsicad.ucsd.edu/Research/Advice/network.html

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