I'm not an academic (sorry!), but at various points over my career I have been interested in working with professors on a variety of projects. I never found an easy way to find a professor who might be a good fit (e.g. is in the right field and interested in consulting work) and I'm wondering if there is one? I suppose that part of my question is whether professors in general are interested in consulting work - I know they are extremely busy, so I'm not sure if this type of work is even attractive.
This type of work can be very attractive. Some universities even encourage it. I'm entitled to spend up to 20% of my time on consulting projects.
It does get tricky. The prof involved should really be using ZERO university resources for consulting work. While it may never come to it, this should be verifiable through an audit if that's ever demanded. My own Univ Policy is "Faculty members may not use facilities, equipment, materials, funds, personnel or similar resources of the University in the consulting activities. They may use University telephones, email accounts, computers and software programs that are generally available to the University community, and library resources (but not library personnel), so long as the use is reasonable in duration and frequency, does not compromise the security or integrity of University property, information or software, and does not violate any other University policy". Such policies may vary by university or country, but if I were hiring a consultant, I'd pay ample attention to making sure the university involved did not get hooks into any of my IP.
This can go the other way, as well. There was a recent court decision (perhaps someone can help me point to it) where a faculty consultant accidentally signed away university rights!! In response, my own school requests that faculty run consultancy contracts through Univ. counsel. They can't make us do that, but in return they will keep an eye out for the best interests of their faculty as they review the contract.
Finding the right consultant can be tricky. You don't mention what sort of consultant you're looking for, but I'd suggest looking at web pages of local universities to see if any faculty research interests line up with the work you need to have done. Start with the departments that produce the types of students that you'd consider hiring to do that sort of work. If you can't find a match, an email to the chair might help. In fact, the chair would know which faculty members would benefit from expanding their portfolio in this way.
As with any consulting arrangement, spend some real time on the contract. Make sure the consultant understands what the deliverables will be. A good consultant will not take on a poorly defined job, and should be able to help the costumer define the job. If the job is vague, consultancy may not be the best way to go, and you might consider sponsoring a small research project.
While it is often a little bit challenging to set up - how consulting works will vary by institution, position, etc. professors are often greatly interested in doing consulting work. Just like industry experts, it allows them to make more money than they otherwise would, work on some interesting projects, etc. It's also, if you don't necessarily need "Professor So-and-so" but merely a highly trained expert in the field, a good way to help supplement grad student and postdoc income.
The best way to get in touch with them is to find someone who seems appropriate, and ask them. There are a couple ways to potentially find someone:
- Look at your local university. Physical proximity can be helpful, and even if they don't/can't work on a project at the moment, they may be able to point you in the right direction - they know the field better than you do.
- Try to find academics who clearly do work in your field. Are there papers you've read, either in the mainstream press or journals, that are relevant to your problem? Is there a particular university you hire a lot of graduates from? etc. Again, this may not prove immediately fruitful, but could help get you oriented.
- Professional organizations may be able to help. They often have job boards, membership directories, etc. At least one I've encountered also actually has it's own consulting service - it essentially collects interested members, and matches them with projects as needed.