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