The Big Picture – Why be a researcher?

Researchers can gauge career success by considering measures like job satisfaction, salary, h- factor, awards, projects, tenure, and responsibilities. These tangible observable measures are the day-to-day incentives that inform many researchers’ work choices. But tangible measures and the motivations for why we became researchers don’t always align.

Were these the only reasons you decided to become a researcher or did you want to make a difference?

In addition to the prestige and status of becoming a professor and the intrinsic value of knowledge and research, for many, improving the world through our work also contributed to our personal motivations and narratives for why we become researchers. Generally, our research’s tangible impact on the world is discernible intermittently and may materialise several years after the work is done and may not be discernible at all.
Despite our scientific approaches in our research, we often don’t apply the same rigour to concretely prove how our work delivers value. This is largely because tangible value is much harder to quantify than the easier to observe measures such as our citations or patents. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, is a well-known adage.

Conversely, what happens to things that can’t be easily measured?

Usually this means they tend to be neglected or only have lip service paid to it. Increasingly though – funders are becoming less tolerant of this neglect.
Representing society, funders rightly ask if it is getting the best value from its investment of finite resources into research. They are challenging us as researchers to provide clearer proof of the value we deliver. Independent of the incentives of funders, we, as researchers, should also be doing more to make sure our research is having the impact we think/hope it is.

So, how can we quantify and maximise the positive contribution of our research?

Measuring the value that our research delivers can seem ephemeral and abstract. You might for example be able to speculate that your research may in the future contribute economically to some industry but be unable to provide a quantification of the scale or likelihood that will even happen. However, speculation is insufficient.

With theory, structure and tools, researchers can begin to make the currently intangible more tangible. For example, a relatively new term of ‘valorisation’ has been put forward to encapsulate both commercial and non-commercial benefits to society from research, including the less tangible ones. Useful tools to assess the valorisation potential of research include cost benefit analysis, expected value and causal chain diagrams can help examine how a proposed piece of research is likely to deliver value. For ongoing or completed work, case studies and utilitarian inspired tools like quality-adjusted life years (QUALYs) can estimate the value delivered in addition to traditional measures of citations, awards and intellectual property created.

Where can researchers learn about these approaches?

Until recently, there was no focused training course available to help researchers measure and maximise the value of their research based on the valorisation concept with much of the prior work focusing on the commercialisation component of valorisation. The STEM_Valorise project has addressed this and will pilot a course in Autumn 2022 to help STEM researchers clarify the value (valorisation potential) of their research to society and provide support, in the form of useful tools and structures to maximise research valorisation. As part of the STEM Valorise programme, participants will develop insights and apply structure to their thinking about how to maximise the impact of their STEM research both for their own career and for society. As research encourages specialisation and focus – the big picture may often fail to get due consideration. A key outcomes of course participation will be a fuller understanding of how one’s research provides value to society. To support this, several transversal skills for valorisation such as communication, stakeholder engagement and negotiation skills will be included to support researchers in their STEM valorisation.

We are confident that by using the tools taught in this new course, researchers will gain greater clarity on the impact of their work for society and in addition it will help them to have a more rewarding and successful career. Finally, the course will help participants to identify and gain greater meaning from their work.

We will be holding a STEM Valorise information session on September 12th where you can learn about our work and the upcoming course for STEM researchers, which will run from October through to December.

This is the first of a series of blogs, where we will discuss each course session and how it can help STEM researchers maximise their career’s contribution to the world. We hope to develop this series of blogs into an academic article – therefore, we warmly welcome any comments or suggestions in relation to STEM Valorisation and the upcoming course to Niall.OLeary@MTU.ie.

Who are the Stakeholders in STEM Valorisation?

The interaction of stakeholders is at the core of the process of research valorisation (Hladchenko, 2016) and those actors may be individuals or an organisation. Here will take a deeper look into the different stakeholders in the STEM valorisation process.

The purpose and the role of stakeholders within the valorisation process broadly defines the following stakeholder typologies: academia (incl. research and technology organisations), industry (incl. SMEs and start-ups), private investors (banks, venture capitals, business angels, etc.), public authorities (incl. public finance) and civil society (associations, NGOs, etc.) (EU Commission, 2020). The main actors could alternatively be defined as: the knowledge providers (university, institute), the beneficiaries of the valorisation process (business, industry, government, NGO, public etc); and the intermediary organisations (science financier, knowledge transition facilitator) (Hladchenko, 2016).

Knowledge providers include various producers of higher education knowledge located within universities; academics, institutes, laboratories, etc. Academics, institutes, laboratories, and university management serve as a bridge between universities, users of the knowledge and intermediaries. Bridging is necessary as academics often lack the knowledge, skills and time to go through the entire process of knowledge valorisation successfully. Here the management of a university plays an important role, with the process of valorisation built on cooperative relationships between researchers and university management (Hladchenko, 2016). Other important valorisation actors include university students and senior researchers, especially those with entrepreneurial skills, knowledge in innovative processes, technical expertise and experience in innovative projects e.g., internships (Elia, Secundo and Passiante, 2017).

Beneficiaries in the valorisation process comprise a broad group of stakeholders and can refer to the above-mentioned groups as well as others: business, industry, national level authorities (ministries, agencies, other), regional level (regional authorities), municipalities/local authorities/community, schools or other educational institutions, hospitals, museums, civil society organizations and citizens. The organisational capacity of the municipality and the regional authority is of importance for knowledge valorisation (Van den Berg et al., 2003 in Van Geenhuizen, 2010) and it “refers to the capability to recognize urgency for specific knowledge and to achieve sufficient commitment for policies that support this” (Van Geenhuizen, 2010).

A more structural approach to defining the beneficiaries uses Davey’s (2015) explanation of beneficiaries as those dependant on the gain(s) from knowledge circulation in university-industry interaction. University and business cooperation, or interaction, forms part of the valorisation process, and this approach may explain the outreach impact for different stakeholders. As explained, there are three levels of University Business Cooperation (UBC) beneficiaries: at ‘Micro’ level, stakeholders receive direct outcomes of valorisation (individuals: students, academics, and business staff), at ‘Meso’ level, stakeholders also receive direct outcomes of valorisation (institutions:  universities and businesses) and at ‘Macro’ level, stakeholders receive indirect outcomes of valorisation (communities:  society, region, science, and industry) (Davey T., 2015). The relationship between knowledge producers and the final beneficiaries is mediated by intermediary organisations that also play a significant role in valorisation.

Intermediary structures can involve knowledge transfer offices (KTOs), technology transfer offices (TTOs), business incubators and science parks, research institutes, and policy development departments. These intermediaries generate a pathway for knowledge valorisation by helping researchers and innovators practically apply their solutions, products, and services. They facilitate the whole process of valorisation as they are usually the first contact point for both the researchers and the industry searching for new opportunities. Intermediaries may well play the roles of mentors or coaches, or they may provide networking platforms and examples of best practices and thereby, they additionally boost the valorisation process. Alumni students’ associations and alumni networks also play a role in valorisation, and alumni may provide a reservoir of role-models, mentors, financial supporters or partners for projects.

The intermediary structures for SSH valorisation remain mostly within the universities and strong university management support is crucial for supporting partners in having better communication with universities (Stier and Dobers, 2017).

Adapted from the STEM-Valorisation Synthesis Report

References

Davey, T. (2015). Entrepreneurship at Universities Exploring the conditions and factors influencing the development of entrepreneurship in universities. Unpublished PhD thesis or dissertation: VU Amsterdam.

Elia, G., Secundo, G., & Passiante, G. (2017). Pathways towards the entrepreneurial university for creating entrepreneurial engineers: an Italian case. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, 21(1-2), 27-48.

EU Commission (2020). Boosting the transformation of knowledge into new sustainable solutions. Directorate-General for Research and Innovation.

Hladchenko, M. (2016). Knowledge valorisation: A route of knowledge that ends in surplus value (an example of the Netherlands). International Journal of Educational Management, 30(5), 668-678.

Stier, J., & Dobers, P. (2017). Quadruple Helix Co-creation in SSH: Experiences, Considerations, Lessons Learned. Sustainable Society, University of Groningen.

Van Geenhuizen, M. (2010) Valorisation of knowledge: preliminary results on valorisation paths and obstacles in bringing university knowledge to market. Proceedings of the Eighteenth Annual High Technology Small Firms Conference, University of Twente, Enschede, the Netherlands, May 27-28 2010.

 

Empowering STEM Researchers for Impact Event

To raise awareness about the importance of valorisation and the activities of the STEM Valorise project, the consortium partners held a free event during UIIN’s annual conference. Taking advantage of an opportunity to present to a live audience, STEM Valorise consortium partners engaged university staff, academics and educators in discussions around valorisation in STEM disciplines. Topics included an introduction to the project itself, what valorisation looks like and the impact it can have, how to develop a training programme that instils the necessary skills and knowledge for valorisation.

 STEM Valorise project: Empowering for Impact

Dr Zeynep Erden Bayazit discussed the importance of impact and the role of the STEM Valorise in helping researchers realised their valorisation potential. Nina Brankovic enlightened the audience on what valorisation means and the different pathways that can be taken to valorise one’s work. It was clear that there is no one-size-fits-all pathway for researchers to take and that each case must be considered individually. In terms of training, Dr Balzhan Orazbayeva outlined what is required to develop a framework for teaching valorisation skills, emphasising the research and insights that were gathered from valorisation champions and existing training programmes for researchers. Catherine Hayward provided some examples of programmes and organisations that bring valorisation to the forefront and focus  on the impact that researchers could have.

One of the speakers, Nina Brankovic also posed an interesting philosophical question, as to whether or not it is the responsibility of all researchers to create societal impact from their work.

The discussion that followed the presentations was engaging and the audience was clearly enthused about the topic of valorisation. It is also hoped that some of the attendees will draw participants to the STEM Valorise training programme, or take part themselves. One of the benefits of in-person events is the potential for engagement with the audience and the conversations that happen after-the-fact, that spur collaboration between like-minded individuals.

With a turn out of more than 30 attendees, the event was a testament to the increasing interest and need for valorisation in STEM and in other disciplines as well.

Partner Meeting in Istanbul June 2022

At the beginning of June STEM Valorise partners had the pleasure of meeting one another face-to-face for the first time. After 1.5 years of working together, there was finally an opportunity to come together in person to work on the project. The two-day meeting was hosted by ITU GINOVA with all representatives from all four partner organisations in attendance.

Opportunity to co-create

This meeting provided the perfect opportunity discuss the training programme and partners discussed the training materials and the next steps of the project. Partners also took time to reflect on what valorisation meant to them and how the STEM Valorise project could raise awareness on the topic. The consortium demonstrated its value as a diverse and engaged cluster of experts, with the different organisations bring in their own professional and academic viewpoints.

The partners from ITU GINOVA brought their expertise in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education to the discussion, while IMTBS partners display a deep knowledge of academic valorisation and impact creation. UIIN is a leader in university collaboration with external partners and MTU partners are practicing professionals in STEM disciplines and  were able to see the needs of project’s target groups clearly.

The value of meeting face-to-face

While the era of digital meetings is certainly here to stay, the value of meeting in the same room was clear. Discussions were livelier and participants were more engaged in the conversation than ever before. In getting to know one another better the partners were also able to see things from one another’s point of view. An exchange of ideas, professional knowledge and cultures (academic and otherwise), created a well-rounded and holistic picture of what the consortium hopes to achieve through this project.

The visit to Istanbul was more than just a formal occasion to discuss the STEM Valorise project. As the hosts, ITU GINOVA partners organised a tour for their visitors around Istanbul were the rich history of the city was explained. This was followed by a dinner where partners were able to sit down and reflect on the achievements of the day. Beyond the project, personal academic & professional interests were discussed as well as potential ideas for future collaborations in Erasmus+ funded projects.

Next steps

The next actions for Valorisation Training Programme are now in motion and the consortium is finalising the outline and content of the pilot test. The STEM Valorise consortium looks forward to welcoming the first cohort of the STEM Valorisation Training Programme, and helping these researchers gain a better understanding of how they can valorise their research and what their valorisation journey will look like.

Finally, we are grateful to our hosts, ITU GINOVA for facilitating a successful and valuable meeting.

Guiding STEM Researchers through the Valorisation Journey: The Technology Transfer Office at Istanbul Technical University

The road to Istanbul Technical University by Ilkay Unal

The support organizations such as incubation centers, science parks, technology transfer offices, governmental bodies, and industrial associations have critical importance as the major enablers of STEM valorisation. Among them, technology transfer offices (TTO) have a special place in the entrepreneurship ecosystem of R&D, innovation and technological transformation in Turkey. Our field study revealed that the university-industry cooperation in Turkey has difficulties mainly due to different priorities of both parties. The establishment of TTOs has built the pathway for many academic research results to be commercialized efficiently. However, there are still gaps in the path towards valorisation in order to expand the research impact to broader society.  İTÜNOVA TTO, one of Turkey’s leading technology transfer offices, has reached a total budget of 360 million Turkish Liras with 1088 university-industry collaboration projects since its establishment in 2014. With its 328 patent applications, it makes a significant contribution to the R&D ecosystem of Turkey.

Established as an independent company (İTÜNOVA), TTO of Istanbul Technical University (ITU) is positioned between the academia and business world with the aim of providing necessary and needed connections within the relevant industries. The name of ITU (est.in 1773), one of the oldest technical universities in the world, has become identical with STEM education through the years. Being the architect of countless scientific and technological advances, ITU has succeeded many firsts in the country. Still, the extant academic research conducted in more than 400 laboratories and 17 research centers as well as academic publications should serve to turn the great potential of ITU into more substantial outcomes generating greater impact for society. This is the major aim of the TTO, as stated by the expert interviewed in the field.  The technology transfer office aims to fill the gap between research in STEM and their reflections to the industry and society by bringing STEM researchers together with industrialists and investors.

Academics and business people are considered as the main actors in the process of valorisation. Although the companies have considerable interest and determination to contact with the university, the academicians are observed as more reluctant to connect their work to the industry, some are not even aware of the work that TTO performs. Since ITU has a large number of academicians (2.241 as of May’22), TTO management has decided to reach out to specific faculty conducting research in fields having potential contribution to the industry. Besides, the office coordinates dissemination of EU based reports to the faculty members in order to form an idea of what is expected from researchers in the broader environment. The ongoing seminars and trainings on entrepreneurship and university-industry collaboration are among the major activities that they use to attract the attention of the academics in terms of how they may follow different paths to valorise their research.

A TTO expert points out the importance of clarity in their communications with the researchers by stating them how their projects or innovations can improve lives and provide real-world solutions. They organize themselves “to guide the university and the industry according to emerging needs and trends through working on patent procurement, intellectual property rights, licensing, incentives for the establishment of academic-based new companies (spin offs), market research, finding capital and project funding” as stated by the TTO expert. Therefore, TTO defines itself as responsible of providing information, coordinating programs for research communities, directing research to relevant areas, encouraging the establishment of new R&D companies, developing cooperation with the industry, protecting and marketing intellectual property rights, as well as managing revenues resulting from the sales.

Success Examples in Valorisation of STEM Research

The technology transfer office members proudly assert that they recently assisted to the valorisation of two important projects; the first about natural language processing, and the latter production of food preservatives from eggshells. Natural Language Processing Software Chain have made communication possible between machines and humans natural and efficient. It is also known as the first licensing success from Turkey to the US through İTU TTO. Developing machines capable of natural language processing is a critical technology that is still evolving in the world today. Turkish, which belongs to a different language family than many other languages, is among the most difficult for machines to learn. When the limited capabilities of the previous versions in the field are considered, this project’s impact has a critical value.

“At a time when Turkey was dependent on foreign food chemicals, we succeeded in exporting a product developed domestically to the far east and Singapore. We acted as a bridge between both the company requesting the product and the product developer by enabling correct communication.”

This is how a dream has turned into a real product, feasible for the market and meaningful for the environment. Producing food preservatives from natural sources of calcium has impact on many industries such as foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and packaged products regarding prolonging the shelf life of products without side effects, based on its natural content.

It is reported that İTÜNOVA TTO is committed to become an important stakeholder not only in the local but also in the international R&D ecosystem and will continue to support valorisation of STEM research with its qualified staff.

Authored by Sebnem Burnaz, Professor and Director at İTU GINOVA

Cyclotron Road: Translating STEM Research into Real Societal Impact

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory overlooking San Francisco Bay Area at sunset

In its search for inspiring best practices, UIIN had the privilege of discussing the Cyclotron Road programme with Rachel Slaybaugh, the Division Director of Cyclotron Road since January 2021, about how the programme helps entrepreneurial scientists and engineers transform their projects for global impact. 

Located in San Francisco and founded in 2015, Cyclotron Road is a programme from Berkeley Lab’s Energy Technologies Area and co-run in partnership with Activate, a non-profit organisation that partners with US-based funders and research institutions to support scientific innovators. More precisely, the Cyclotron Road programme supports entrepreneurial scientists and engineers who are developing technologies targeting three broad impact areas: advanced manufacturing, clean power, and electronics. All fellows receive the same programme, regardless of impact area.

How it started
Most Cyclotron Road sponsors are from governmental agencies such as ARPA-E, who started to notice gaps in researchers’ development trajectories. The university path for PhD students had little focus on commercialisation, with most universities not sufficiently equipped for this. At the same time, students, especially in applied research areas, wanted to work for or create their own technology company that changes the world in a positive way. Therefore, the initial idea at Cyclotron Road was to attract more funding and resources for those early-stage companies coming out of the university and to provide an alternate path for more innovative students with a commercialisation mindset.

Additionally, as many national labs (such as the Berkeley Lab) have underused space, the idea emerged to leverage resources that the government had already invested in and bring in those early-stage companies, for the opportunity to benefit from world class scientific facilities and people, while giving them entrepreneurship training and two years of funding.

Programme outline
Every year, a cohort of entrepreneurial scientists and engineers is recruited from around the world to join the programme. For two years, these innovators are embedded in the Berkeley research ecosystem, where they receive funding and access to Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley resources as well as a programme of intensive mentorship, professional development, and networking. Selected fellows receive a yearly living stipend, plus a health insurance stipend and travel allowance, thereby enabling the participants to focus on their projects full-time. Each project also receives $100,000 of research support from the host laboratory, made possible through sponsorship from investors and corporates, as well as philanthropic organisations and the government.

Who can attend the programme?
Fellows of the Cyclotron Road programme tend to be individuals who have recently completed their PhD or a postdoc, and they can be at any stage of their career. However, one of the key requirements is they need to be first-time technical founders and must be the technical leader(s) of their project, with a PhD or equivalent experience in a technical field. Participants must be working to advance a hard-tech concept based on an innovation in the physical or biological sciences, or related engineering disciplines. The programme looks for early-stage companies who have a very strong scientific foundation and an innovative mindset. Ultimately, the team is looking for people who have the potential to succeed, and who want to benefit from coaching and training. As an indicator, for the 2021 cohort, the programme received over 300 applications, leading to 11 selected fellows.

Creating impact
Since 2015, the Cyclotron Road programme has supported 65 fellows from 47 companies focused on advanced energy, materials, and manufacturing technologies, selected from a pool of over 1000 applicants. Those fellows have gone on to raise over $310M in follow-on funding to support the development of their technologies into products, build over 25 prototypes while in the programme, including multiple world-record devices, hire over 330 employees in the US and file at least 19 patent applications, 12 of which were joint with Berkeley Lab.

Success factors
What distinguishes the Cyclotron Road programme from any other incubation programme is the relationship-building and the community among the fellows, in part due to a strong alumni network, which provides camaraderie, co-learning and support. The combination of a strong brand (UC Berkley), a quality programme provided by Activate and a location in Silicon Valley certainly helps to attract great talent, which in return creates a unique inspiring community.

Authored by Amelie de Rooij, EU Research Officer.

Featured Image retrieved by Rachel Slaybaugh’s LinkedIn profile.

A Peruvian perspective of STEM Valorisation

In order to have a broader and more comprehensive perspective of the context of STEM valorisation, within the STEM Valorise project we have tried to cover opinions and experiences of experts from all around the world. Therefore, we had the opportunity to interview Peruvian STEM researcher and entrepreneur, Francisco Cuellar, who shared with us interesting insights of how the concept of Research Valorisation is understood in Peru and the Latin American region, as well as which are the major challenges and ideas to enhance its impact.

Being a STEM entrepreneur in Perú

Francisco is currently a professor and a researcher in the faculty of Engineering of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Since 2016, he decided to sail the waters of Entrepreneurship when he recognised the potential and opportunity to apply his research production to generate value to users instead of just letting it rest on the paper. He founded Tumi Robotics in the university labs, a technology start-up focused on the fields of mining and construction, energy and hydrocarbons, and oceanography and fishing. They work with the support of the university and most of his team (10-15 people) is composed by his former students. With Tumi Robotics, Francisco has won several entrepreneurship recognitions and awards from the Peruvian government and established important alliances with relevant players of the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem of Perú and LATAM. Among their clients are several big national and multinational companies coming from the mining and engineering sector.

Opportunities and Challenges of STEM Research in Perú: Articulation and collaboration are needed

Francisco strongly states that potentializing the valorisation of STEM research is crucial in the Peruvian context, not only for achieving financial results but for the benefit it can represent in the life quality of people living in developing countries. Unfortunately, the reality is that in contexts such as the Peruvian, there is a lack of comprehensive understanding of the potential of research valorisation as well as a lack of inclusion of this topic in the country’s strategic development plan. Although there are currently some governmental bodies pushing valorisation incentives, the efforts are not sufficiently communicated nor supported by the rest of the governmental structure. In addition to this, there is not much participation of the industry, except for companies who have foreign investment, who work under high standards and expectations of generating not only profit but social and environmental impact. On the bright side, the people are important actors in the valorisation efforts, because in Peru there is an inherent entrepreneurial spirit propelled by the fact that people are looking for creative ways of having a better life quality.

The University’s barriers: a roadmap of opportunities for enhancing STEM Valorisation in Perú

“And what about universities?” you might wonder. Well, Francisco tells us that Peruvian universities are still in the process of learning about Research Valorisation, being their main focus still academic production. One of the barriers in this realm is the traditional academic ethos, which is against the idea of commercialisation or marketisation of research production. A second barrier is that private and industry organisations are not convinced of investing in R&D initiatives with universities, preferring to buy/import the final solution/product. A third barrier comes from the fact that current university structures and processes are not designed nor friendly for research valorisation, being more a stopper than a facilitator. A fourth barrier is the general lack of knowledge and skills in the Peruvian university context of how to conduct research valorisation activities, especially regarding the lack of business knowledge and entrepreneurial soft skills in STEM researchers.

All these barriers draw many opportunities for improving the state of STEM Valorisation in Perú. Some of the suggestions given by Francisco are to promote interdisciplinarity and joint projects between STEM researchers and business professionals; to generate more exposure and awareness to literature related to STEM valorisation, as well as hire international trainers with extensive valorisation experience; to improve the government’s communication and dissemination efforts of STEM valorisation incentives; and one of the most important, to provide better support coming from university policies, processes, structures and culture for STEM valorisation.

There is still a long way to go for achieving the full potential and impact of STEM Valorisation in the Peruvian context, for which joint efforts and collaboration between Academia, Industry, Government and Society are needed. From the STEM Valorise project, we hope to contribute for achieving this impact through our findings and resources.

Authored by Viviana Rojas

Featured image retrieved from Pexels.

Profiling of a rector as STEM researcher

Dr İsmail Koyuncu is an excellent example of a STEM academic who has expanded his research to generate impact for the broader society. As we were interviewing him, it was easy to notice the excitement in his eyes while talking about engineering which he holds very high since his early school life. “Being the son of a primary school teacher was influential in my career” he explains. Besides having his father as a role model in helping the society, his teachers in science and mathematics inspired him on the value of production and progress. He was very determined to become a STEM researcher in high school. His determination along with his ambition to succeed opened a new chapter in his life when he was accepted to the oldest and most prestigious technical university in Turkey: Istanbul Technical University – İTU. This was a life-changing milestone for a young professional who grew up in Antalya, a small town on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. The journey then continued in this inspiring institution: First as a hardworking student, then as a devoted academician, as he transformed from being a learner to a researcher, then to an administrator.

Dr Koyuncu’s research mostly focuses on finding ways to improve membrane manufacturing and process improvement on water and wastewater applications since 2007. He has engaged in product development and commercialisation for more than ten years in the National Research Centre on Membrane Technologies (MEM-TEK) which he founded in 2010, with the support of the Turkish Republic State Planning Organisation. He positions his research largely with valorisation. “I have always prioritised problem-solving even when I was concerned with publishing through my academic career” he explains. The practical solutions offered to the industry problems in the context of environmental engineering have always been at the heart of his academic life from the very beginning of his career.

Appointed as the rector of İstanbul Technical University in 2020, İsmail Koyuncu holds a similar perspective of STEM valorisation at the broader context of İTU, especially in its relation with society, in terms of İTU’s pioneer role in constructing and developing Turkey. That is why he sees academic staff at İTU mostly as “applied scientists” working to meet the needs of the society, and valorisation as transferring their research results into societal benefits:

“Discovering the needs or the opportunities, that is to say finding out relevant solutions through research and offering benefits are at the heart of the STEM research. It is equally important to gain a business-minded approach and not to be reluctant in terms of figuring out the income model.”

Parallel with this belief, Prof. Dr İsmail Koyuncu is introducing a new engineering education approach, integrating students with the industry while studying by adding a year to the curriculum and integrating a master degree, taking the university closer to society. He believes that research-based learning will help students practice engineering while studying and they will gain a lot from working on real industry problems, which in turn will support STEM research. He has recently announced the Deanship of Research, a position directly reporting to the Rector, focusing on valorisation processes for the STEM researchers at İTU. We are delighted to witness these changes at İTU’s educational and academic approach which will pave new ways towards the future of STEM research and valorisation!

Zeynep Erden Bayazıt
Şebnem Burnaz
İstanbul Technical University
Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation / İTU GINOVA

Lighthouse stories: from concept to reality!

In the first stage of the STEM Valorise project, we had the chance to interview experts, researchers on the meaning of the term valorisation. In the following stage, we explored more deeply researchers’ STEM valorisation stories with an emphasis on the challenges as well as lessons learned.

As consortium partners, we discussed the making of the lighthouse stories extensively. Initially, we had the idea of finding fail stories as well as success stories, but this proved to be a challenge, in and of itself, as those who have tried and failed in the journey had proven difficult to locate. This stems from the difficulty in understanding failure within this context. Valorisation, in simple terms, refers to applying the research outputs for the good of society, creating impact. It could take on a commercial form, then it is easier to define failure as a market failure, but valorisation does not always need to be through a commercial path. For example, one of our early interviews was with a physics professor who has been running a non-profit summer school for secondary school students. His main challenge was to sustain the camp financially. Yet, the impact on the students has been significant. Moreover, when a researcher chooses to be in the track of pure research, a longtime tradition in academia, then would we have considered this as a failure? Once we started the interviews, though, we found that our researchers were open to discussing the challenges as well as the successes in their stories. They were open about how they have learnt from their experiences and were happy to share these.

We started by asking them what valorisation means to make it clear for the readership. An important discussion is to differentiate valorisation from entrepreneurship and commercialisation. While commercialisation has a longer history in the Higher Education field, valorisation is a fairly recent term, expanding the meaning with an emphasis on the impact on society. One of the aims of this project is, also, to diffuse the use of valorisation across universities. Having the lighthouse stories on the project website will help disseminate and create a conversation around valorisation.

We then turned our focus on the motivational factors for these researchers. We asked their motivations for entering the STEM areas in the first place, as well as their motivations for pursuing valorisation. Most of them had an early interest in applying their research for problem-solving from the beginning of their careers. Some linked this interest to a personal cause, such as experiencing a real-life problem in their cultural and social background and looking for a way to solve that problem. For example, a robotics professor, Hatice Köse of İstanbul Technical University explained how her daughter had difficulties in learning her native language returning from abroad, and whilst she was looking for a solution to help her daughter, she became interested in children with special needs and turned her attention and career focus to children with autism and, recently, to children with hearing impairment.

Finally, we paid attention to showcasing a variety of cases: Researchers who have been active in different forms of university-industry collaboration, such as being placed in an industry-supported PhD programme; or researchers who have been doing consultancy work as a choice over owning their own companies and those who have founded their start-ups and pursued commercialisation.

As the STEM_Valorise consortium, we have enjoyed learning about STEM researchers’ journeys and seeing researchers’ enthusiasm in the valorisation path. We hope you will enjoy learning about these valuable experiences too!

Zeynep Erden Bayazıt

STEM Valorise Project Coordinator

İstanbul Technical University

Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation / İTU GINOVA

View of the professionals from Ireland on STEM Valorisation

MTU is a partner on the STEM Valorise project which seeks to ensure that more societal benefits are realised from STEM research. The project aims to develop a training toolkit for early-stage researchers to help with the valorisation process. To discover what should be involved in the toolkit the project partners interviewed professionals already involved in supporting researchers in knowledge transfer activities at university level, nationally and transnationally. Some of these valuable insights from our interviews are summarised below.

Valorisation as a concept is growing in significance but there remains a tension within universities around focusing solely on ‘tangible benefits’ from research and how this process may limit creativity and indirect discoveries. The translation of research into products, processes or services is important in evidencing the impact and therefore providing convincing arguments to secure ongoing funding for research, however, one of the interviewees eloquently articulated the need to recognise that research has inherent risks and will not always achieve the anticipated outputs or outcomes.  The importance of valuing and continuing to support research for its own sake was underlined and the potential conflict with the growing discourse around applicable outputs of STEM research was highlighted by respondents.  It was expressed well as ‘letting them roam free in the research world … without having too many shackles applied about where it would lead’.

This tension aside, each respondent agreed that more positive impacts of research undertaken could and should be transmitted to society for the benefit of citizens, industry, the environment, and our world. It was identified that 100% of students respond yes if asked do they want their research to have a positive impact. This complex process requires interdisciplinary research, networking, skills development, entrepreneurship training and awareness building and each case is unique in its own right.

When asked what would support researchers with valorising their work, the respondents underlined the importance of supporting researchers early in the research process; guidance and advice in exploring what the problem is and what is the desired impact before any research begins. This may help minimise the occurrence of what one respondent termed as ‘when academic research is a solution looking for a problem’ but can also help focus the researcher throughout the process. Creating a direct pathway for generating knowledge from the end users/beneficiaries of research can provide a co-creation of solutions, also ensuring the research remains focused on its application/impact and minimising the potential for divergence.

When asked about the training required for researchers to valorise their research, the respondents highlighted the need for a broad range of training and supports to be on offer depending on the particular needs, one termed it as developing an ‘effectual skillset and effectual mindset.’ Researchers will require different support, skills and knowledge at the various stages of their work with an overarching awareness of transferable skills throughout. The separation of research domains into silos of activity was seen as a barrier to valorisation as most ‘real world’ applications require cross- and trans- disciplinary thinking, hence valorisation would benefit from more interdisciplinary research and collaboration. It was also agreed that many researchers would benefit from a related work placement to enhance ‘real world’ experience.

It was clear from the interviews that valorisation as a process in multifaceted and varies within disciplines, however there are many passionate professionals working on developing this process and we are optimistic that the STEM Valorise project will positively impact this process within Ireland and Europe.

Authored by Laura O’Donovan and Professor Irene Sheridan MTU