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Academia, Industry And The NSF: What Are The Interactions And How Are They Evolving?

Rutgers University
Busch Campus Center
31 October 1996

The objective of this NSF Workshop was to bring together members of the academic and industrial communities to discuss the nature of their interactions and what roles NSF should play in fostering university-industry ties and in advancing biotechnology. Among the issues that were addressed are: 1) How do we best train students for the future?; 2) How must the university organize itself to facilitate this training?; 3) How do we best deal with issues related to intellectual property?; and 4) What is the appropriate infrastructure for modern training?

The Workshop was attended by a broad cross section of the Rutgers University and industrial communities. Included were students and faculty from the Life Sciences Division, University administrators including those involved in technology transfer, and senior members of New Jersey based biotechnology industries. Approximately sixty people participated.

The meeting began with an introduction by Professor Kenneth Breslauer, Associate Dean and Director of the Life Sciences Division of Rutgers University. Mary Clutter then gave a presentation in which she outlined the current NSF budget situation, the goals of the NSF, and strategies that have been developed to meet those goals. Dr. Clutter also focused on the issues of how we must train scientists to meet the changing job market, and in particular how the NSF might help facilitate industrial partnerships. Following Dr. Clutter's presentation, Helen Berman and Burt Ensley outlined the charges for the five breakout groups. Following several hours of lively group dynamics and consultations, the leaders of each presented the consensus of their discussions which are outlined here.

Breakout Group Summaries

Group A: Undergraduate Training for the Real World

Leaders: Michael Beals, Professor and FAS Associate Dean of Educational Initiatives
Francine Essien Professor and Director of the Office of Minority Undergraduate Programs

The group emphasized the importance when developing new strategies for undergraduate training, keeping in mind the diversity of the student population in terms of their backgrounds and goals, as well as the diversity of the real world for which they are being prepared to contribute. The training must be broad and flexible so as to acknowledge that the types of skills needed by the marketplace may change. Two key aspects of preparation include training in critical thinking and learning practical skills. Keys to successful strategies include: 1) involving students early in a research experience; 2) re- examining curricula in terms of providing examples of more real world applications of basic principles; 3) involving students in the educational process so that upper level students can work with other levels and college students can work with high school students; 4) establishing externship programs with local industry (preferably during the summer) that permits students to experience directly the world of industrial research and management.

Specific proposals include 1) NSF support for undergraduate involvement in mentoring and teaching positions; 2) intermediate level grants to support curriculum change; 3) development of partnerships with industry to provide advice for first year chemistry and biology courses; 3) establishment of a fixed percentage of all research grants to support undergraduate "scholarship" in the broadest sense; 4) support of small scale instrumentation for wide instructional use; 5) create a national data bank containing feedback from graduates about what was successful or unsuccessful about their undergraduate education; 6) create methods to get feedback from industrial employers (perhaps in the form of departmental advisory boards) as to how well we are training students; 7) establish/expand undergraduate summer externship programs with local industry.

Group B: Graduate Training for the "Real" World

Leaders: Robert Krug, Professor and Chair, Dept. of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Aaron Shatkin, Professor and Director Center of Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine

The emphasis of this group was that research training should be broadly based rather than overly focused/targeted in a manner that precludes career options. The specific suggestions were: 1) provide support for training in alternative careers, including teaching in the K-12 years; 2) facilitate industrial internships so that students have an opportunity early in their training to experience the industrial environment; 3) recognition of the globalization of science; 4) formation of university-industry partnerships for teaching and curriculum planning, including industrial scientist participation in the teaching and design of University courses, in addition to student advising; 5) creation a combined BS/MS degree that might better prepare non-Ph.D. students for the industrial sector; and 6) establishment of a system for job placement tracking.

Group C: Industrial/ Academic Ties: Practical Issues

Leaders: Burt Ensley, CEO, Phytotech
James Flanagan, Professor, Vice President for Research and Director of the Center of Applied Industrial Productivity

This group started by underscoring the very practical issues of the difference between industry and the university. They noted that industry is the conduit for knowledge to society and expects a return on its investment, whereas the University supports, with the assistant of outside funding, most basic research. It pointed out that the industrial culture is opaque to academia and suggested that an intermediate culture be established. This might include industrial student training, industrial involvement in curriculum development and in teaching. The many issues surrounding the development of technology and technology transfer were discussed, including potential conflicts of interest and the funding of patents. One of the most serious problems noted is the wide range of polices surrounding technology transfer agreements. Specific suggestions to the NSF were: 1) provide matching funds for industry sponsored post doctorals and interns; 2) initiate a grant program to support industrial instructors; and 3) help establish national guidelines for tech transfer.

Group D: Interdisciplinary Research

Leaders: Joachim Kohn, Professor, Director Center for Biomaterials
Josef Kokini, Acting Director, Center for Advanced Food Technology

This group emphasized the important of interdisciplinary research and education, while noting that all product related research is by definition interdisciplinary. The University should encourage mobility between disciplines, departments, university and industries by having more flexible policies with respect to leaves so far as to encourage the broadening of ones scientific horizons, which, in turn, should encourage interdisciplinary training and research. Recommendations to NSF included 1) the creation of less targeted interdisciplinary programs; 2) the establishment of fellowships in which the post doctoral fellow is the PI and bridges the gap among disciplines; 3) the establishment of graduate fellowships targeted to interdisciplinary research; 4) increased funding for shared resources; and 4) programs that encourage industry-academic interactions, including SBIRs. It was suggested that there be a mid course review of interdisciplinary programs and that there be more preproposals to meet RFP requirements.

Group E: Infrastructure and Shared Resources

Leaders: Helen Berman, Professor
Casimir Kulikowski, Professor

This group defined infrastructures in terms of buildings and facilities, equipment, communications, and human resources. The strongest need at this time is for communications, networking, and staff support to manage and maintain the huge growth in these areas. The emphasis was on the support of the human infrastructure, and the finding of ways to leverage NSF funds to do this. Two NSF sponsored initiatives were identified. 1) SBIRs to fund technology transfer facilitators, with the goals of allowing the technology transfer to become self sufficient and the return of resources to the university to increase. 2) RFP's should contain explicit reference to technology transfer and grants should have incentives for technology transfer.

There was universal agreement that modern training at all levels should be interdisciplinary and involve some sort of research component. Emphasis on critical thinking as well as skills was judged to be crucial. More ties between the university and industry should be established, including student internships in industry and industrial involvement on university advisory boards, curriculum developments, and teaching. In addition to helping fund these interactions, there was agreement that the NSF should take a leadership role in establishing uniform technology transfer guidelines, and in providing incentives for technology transfer as part of research grants. Finally, it was suggested that SBIRs could provide a mechanism to reward individuals whose programs contain elements that would facilitate technology transfer.


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