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

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