Research Commercialisation and the Humanities – Part 1 (Observations)

Hello Readers,

I hope you’ve all been keeping well. I’m terribly sorry for my recent silence, but I have been quite busy completing a Graduate Certificate. I have decided, after some feedback, to post a series of three posts about my experiences doing the Graduate Certificate in Research Commercialisation.

First, a little about my motivation for undertaking this course. Why would a medievalist and student of the humanities bother with such an endeavour? Surely I haven’t defected to the enemy?

 No, I have not. I remain a staunch supported of what we do in the Humanities, and the way that we do it. Yet I find that we often lack the ability to speak Commercese (like legalese, only worse), the structural jargon of commercialisation. Yet if we wish to have commercial outcomes in the form of funding in and transfer of knowledge out, we must get wise. I will now try and lay out a few things that have become immediately apparent to me from engaging with the scholarship of research commercialisation.

  1. There is money for training in Research Commercialisation – Funding often sounds like a myth akin to the unicorn or abominable snowman to the student of the Humanities. Reports imply its existence, yet it vanishes before it can be observed. Yet things are different in the new world I have found myself in. Industry and Government want researchers trained in commercialisation, and they are willing to pay for it. I was given a Commercialisation Training Scheme scholarship funded by the Australian government, which pays for my PhD scholarship for the twelve weeks (semester) of the course duration. Even more interesting, they really need students in the Arts, Humanities and Socials sciences who know how to turn ideas into a product. We need to learn their language so that we can teach them ours.
  2. Cross-training in the practicalities of modern university life is a wise move – Let’s face it, money talks in modern academia, whether we like it or not. I think that it is a mistake to turn this into a false binary of the ‘noble scholar’ versus ‘the man’. There is capital out there for those who are willing and able to prove that their approach to research is valuable. We need to sell the merits of our work in a quasi-financial knowledge market, and this requires distinct skills. These skills need not be those of commerce; indeed this would not be desirable. Take funding applications for example. The academic system in which we operate is modelled upon a business framework. If you want that postdoc, or that research grant, then it pays to be versatile. If you know how to plan a project, assess market value, work out timing and costing and consult with business, university or government partners, then you are much more likely to succeed. It is an education in the language of money or, for our purposes, of funding.
  3. Project Management is about more than business– One of the units I am undertaking is entitled Project Management and Research. It takes you through a fully planned, costed and thought out business plan from beginning to end. It teaches you the life cycle of the project. It teaches you how to control time blowouts, to control scope, to control the expectations of your partners in the project. Sound familiar? That’s right, we are all doing project management. It took me a while to figure out how deeply interfused into university life the project structure is. Understanding the mechanics of this structure is wise, providing us with the know-how to succeed.
  4. Business and Government are starting to understand the Humanities – but they need our help. There is a big debate at the moment in the accounting world about the scope of CAAP, or Commonly Accepted Accounting Practise. It doesn’t work anymore. Business is increasingly finding that they cannot quantify everything they do on a balance sheet. Enter the humanities. We really get intangible value, because that is what we do every day! To that end, government is starting to understand that science and business without the Arts is impoverishing itself. We need to get out there, speak their language, and (for want of a better description) ram our value down their throats. They need to understand who we are, what we do, and that we create a wealth of knowledge that they can use.

In my next post, I will describe each of my units, and what I have learned from it. For now, I invite you to comment on this post, and ask questions. I will do my best to answer them.




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