I have gotten a job in a sort of university of Applied Sciences; this work place wants to start a small research group, but one issue that I started to notice is the orientation they want to give it. I mean, they want that all research to give a profit. For that reason, I was wondering how to convince the persons in charge of the Faculty, that not all research will give immediate profitable results.

The faculty is information technology oriented, which has a big influence on Computer Science topics. For what I saw in other institutions, not all research is profit-oriented, but oriented to expand the knowledge about some fields.

Any advice?

  • Would you explain what you mean by immediate profitable? Do they expect the research product be immediately sellable to the market, e.g. a smart phone app, or a relatively longer term profit, e.g. a research product that is patentable and sellable to a company? – scaaahu May 10 '14 at 12:55
  • The term this screams out is "basic research" and in america CS isn't doing basic research I learned this as an undergrad other sciences like biology still do though. – user7985 May 10 '14 at 20:04
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_research – user7985 May 10 '14 at 20:04
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    @caseyr547: That's a serious over-generalization. Many US institutions are doing basic research in computer science. In fact, I bet within an hour or two we'll get a comment from at least one of those very researchers. – Nate Eldredge May 10 '14 at 20:13
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    @caseyr547 A lottery with a 10% chance of winning? Even my small department wins it a few times each year, I would hardly call it a lottery. – Austin Henley May 11 '14 at 3:27

I have gotten a job in a sort of university of Applied Sciences; this work place wants to start a small research group, but one issue that I started to notice is the orientation they want to give it. I mean, they want that all research to give a profit.

Well, that's a direction that many research centres around the world go. Fundamentally, IBM does not maintain IBM Research to contribute to human knowledge, but so that IBM Proper can get an innovation advantage (and patents - lots and lots of patents).

A University of Applied Sciences is usually not a research university in the traditional sense. They are not funded to do research, and, by and large, it is not their job. It seems perfectly reasonable that they expect their upcoming research group to fund itself or even be a cash cow. There is no obligation that a research centre needs to also do unprofitable things.

To make this perfectly clear: building up a for-profit research centre is a perfectly valid strategy. Clearly, it is not the kind of research you want to be doing (which is perfectly fine, even very understandable for me), but you cannot expect them to change their global strategy to fit your idea of research, especially if you just joined them.

should all research be profit oriented?

No, of course not.

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    This is pretty much everything I was going to say, so you've saved me the trouble of writing it up myself. :-) However, I've edited the top-level question, so you may want to edit the intro to your answer. – aeismail May 10 '14 at 11:53

The statement "If I knew what I was doing, it wouldn't be Science" provides some insights. New knowledge builds on earlier knowledge but the groundbreaking new insights come from unplanned events, even mistakes. It is of course possible to research new products in a planned way, where a focus is to arrive at a sellable product. Where the difference between research and engineering goes in this case is not clear. But, it is not so likely a goal oriented approach will lead to revolutionary developments, particularly if experiments are deemed from a commercial point of view. This is because risk is involved and if commercial products is a goal it will be the organization's willingness to "waste" money on risky but potentially lucrative ideas, or, just stay within the safer zone of incremental development.

So trying to figure out what strategies they see driving the research will also allow you to assess the picture. It may also allow you to influence the direction of the institute depending on how the process is working in forming the organisation.

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There is a difference between

  1. Doing things that will immediately generate a profit (product development; low risk, mostly applying known technologies, possibly combining them for the first time)
  2. Doing things that you expect may lead to profit (sometimes called "line of sight" - you have some unknowns, but if the risks pan out you expect to move into category 1 and will be able to make a profit).
  3. Doing things that are interesting but you're not quite sure how they will be used (there was a time when nanotechnology fell into that category. "I bet something interesting will happen - I just don't know what"; and now it is everywhere)
  4. Doing things that you can confidently predict will not affect "profitability" for your employer over your career (think - searching for exoplanets in solar systems that are 30 light years away).

In principle there is nothing wrong with any of these approaches - and a healthy research department will have a blend of the first three, with maybe a smattering of 4 thrown in for the odd chance at a Nobel prize etc. The mix (proportion of each type) that an institution can afford depends on their source of funding - not only for the current year, but going forward. A department that keeps says "just fund me one more year - NEXT year will be the breakthrough" eventually loses credibility. By spinning off a few short term hits you earn the right to work on longer scope / higher risk higher reward stuff.

There are other things than money that can and should motivate research - but unfortunately, unless you make sure that there is bread on the table, your high ideals will only carry you so far.

Final thought Having a diverse, motivated, and highly skilled workforce should be at the top of the list for any research organization. This is an excellent argument for keeping a mix of projects with different time scales going in parallel.

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