Research in Academia vs. Industry - Andrew Manoba Limantol

Civilization came as a result of research and future civilization will come through research; thus, research could therefore mean ‘civilization’. Sound research, whether from academia or industry contribute to civilization. This is the reason, from many perspectives, research in academia and industry, are expected to be much collaborative but this is not always the case. Thorough analysis of the two would be tempting to conclude that there is no clear line between research in academia and industry, but there are many differences. In fact, in some parts of the world now, Universities are collaborating with the industry for input in the design of academic programmes including research projects. The believe is that beyond training students in skills needed by industry, there is the need for strong collaborative research between academia and industry which output could be more relevant to industry to be implemented. It is common to find academia conducting contract research for industry, in which case, the output of the research cannot be published by academia until such a time when the industry has fully utilized the knowledge gained. Other form of research collaboration between academia and industry is where companies allow their researchers to participate in some academic research conferences/workshops with the view to learn ideas that could benefit the company. Sometimes such academic research conferences/workshops are financed by such companies. 

Nonetheless, there are differences in the research in academia and industry as some of them highlighted below: 

Structure for impact

Research aims at impacting society in general and how to maximize these benefits are the key objectives of the researchers – whether academic or industrial researchers.  This is commonly achieved through publication of articles for peer review, participation in research conferences/workshops and other communication channels for the others across the world to appreciate their new findings.

In the world of academic, the slogan for fresh academic staff is “Publish or Perish”. What this means is that research publication is the basis on which your job is secured in academia as academics. Basically, academics (lecturers) teach (lecture), guide students in identifying or selecting researchable topics, and serve as advisers or supervisors to students’ research projects. Most at times, the academics (lecturers) benefits from research publication under their supervision. Some lecturers also give research topics of their interest to a student or group of students to carry out under their supervision and the benefit from the publication thereof. Most importantly, some lecturers usually collaborate and research on a topic of common interest and publish for the benefit of all. An academic research topic can usually be selected from a wide spectrum of areas depending on the interest of the researcher and his/her area of specialization. Though, they are capable of conducting these forms of academic research, the industrial researchers normally have a different focus in terms of business. 

The key aim of the industrial researchers is to boost their companies marketing potentials and enhance profits margins by improving the existing businesses and researching on ways to help create more new business models. The industrial researchers focus will be on company’s products development and improvement. What it means is that any time an industrial researcher will have a specific focus of improving a particular product of the company through research into understanding more of the fundamentals of that product. Some industrial researchers from different companies do collaborate by bringing common research ideas together to realize a bigger business model. A team of industrial researchers can also work together on an auction research for a bigger business model or translating an idea from research to practice and their benefit is not to publish the results for peer review but financial benefit. 

Industrial researchers mostly contribute to informing the company’s strategic planning and policies with regards to how the future business and technological direction of the company’s should be. 

Ownership of Intellectual Property 

Technically, in academia, all intellectual property (IP) and the patents will be owned by the institution or co-owned by the researcher and the institution. In industry, all intellectual property and the patents are owned by the company and not the researcher.

In practice, industries are much protective of their IP than academia for obvious reason – it is critical for development and promotion of innovations. When you fail to protect your business ideas, innovations or inventions, you would not reap the full benefits of your research. 

Research group structure

Generally, as a University Professor or Lecturer, immediately you accept employment to the University, how you form your research team or joint any is your own business, no one cares. I do not know of a situation where new Professor or Lecturer is mandated to join a research team for the purpose of his/her own research career – that can be the case somewhere. So, in the University, every Lecturer is a manager or director of his/her own research career. As I mentioned earlier, the lecturer could benefit from any sound research by the students he/she supervises, carry out research sorely on his own or with a group of his/her colleagues from same institution or from other institutions, etc.

In the case of a new industrial researcher, he/she will typically join an existing research team within the organization supervised by a manager and will traditionally participate in an annually performance reviews. What that means is that, just as his colleagues, he/she will serve as an individual research contributor to the team that is supervised by a manager. While some industrial researchers can rise to oversee several levels of research managers under them, others may spend his/her entire career in that organization without any opportunity for supervisory or managerial role.   

Research funding

In some countries, academic staff will be paid book and research allowance at the appropriate rate subject to the conditions regarding payment of the allowance within the University. This is for purposes of conducting research. In other parts of world, however, academic research is funded through grant and it is the duty of the academic staff to search for grants and win them. In this case, the academics will always have to look out for grant agencies to apply for research grants with competitive proposals. Such grants, of course, will run for fixed terms and may include periodical reviews. Depending on the type of grant, it can cover the remunerations for assisting research staff and graduate students participating in the research. Some of such grants can be so huge to cover a very big academic research project like the West African Science Centre on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL) project been funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. The academic research project like WASCAL involves many institutions and many graduate students carrying out research in various areas of the project focus – climate change and its impact. As a lucky beneficiary of WASCAL Project, though my research station was at University of Abomey-Calavi (Benin) and I also had an Advisor in University of Rostock in Germany, I was therefore also fortunate be part of a research team in the University of Rostock in Germany led by my Advisor.

In the case of industrial researchers, they traditionally would not be in the business of applying for external funding from grant-making organizations to cover the cost of research, even though that may not be prohibited in some companies now. Since the industrial researcher is a regular staff of the company, the company will make available to him the funds for a particular research project. In carrying out the research, he/she will usually be guided by the internal accounting structure of the company and the time schedules of the research completion. 

Remarkably, there are differences between industrial research and academic research, but the differences are not unified across the world just like the Laws in every Country are largely similar but not completely identical.

manoba limantol

Brief Bio:-

Limantol is a Lecturer at the University of Environment and Sustainable Development in Ghana. He obtained PhD from the UAC, Benin. Prior to that, he earned both MSc and BSc from the KNUST, Ghana. He received 3-year training as a professional teacher in Ghana. He launched his career in Saboba, Ghana, were taught at basic and secondary school level. He worked with other organisations that include IDC (Saboba) as a District Resource Person for Binduri District, Ghana, on UNICEF WASH-Programme and as a Lecturer and Acting Registrar of ReCAS in Bolgatanga, Ghana.


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