Col­lab­o­ra­tion is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant word in mod­ern academia

The Scotsman - - Friends Of The Scotsman / Education -

Iam happy to ad­mit that dur­ing my ca­reer in both in­dus­try and academia, I have been in sev­eral meet­ings at which I didn’t un­der­stand any­thing. Par­tic­u­larly when in­dus­try and academia are in the same room. That’s OK, I don’t mind ask­ing a stupid ques­tion if it gets me the in­for­ma­tion that I feel I need. Of­ten, it turns out to be in­for­ma­tion that other peo­ple need. Peo­ple who ask ques­tions are con­tribut­ing to a shared un­der­stand­ing which is a pre­req­ui­site for the achieve­ment of a shared ob­jec­tive. Even more valu­able are those that can an­tic­i­pate where un­der­stand­ing might di­verge. These peo­ple are the bridges, me­di­a­tors, fa­cil­i­ta­tors and trans­la­tors of col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Col­lab­o­ra­tion is a key word in mod­ern academia, and rightly so. Prob­lems are in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary; we need to work to­gether. Prob­lems man­i­fest in the real world; we need to work with the real world. And there’s the chal­lenge. While the ex­tremes of the ivory tower are rare, it is still a bar­rier. Most aca­demics spend most, if not all of their work­ing life, in the academy. We can’t al­ways re­mem­ber what it’s like to stand in cor­po­rate shoes, fac­ing cor­po­rate pri­or­i­ties and pres­sures. Fur­ther, how­ever lit­tle we re­mem­ber the cor­po­rate world, it’s prob­a­bly even less fa­mil­iar with ours. So when we try to work to­gether, it’s hard to an­tic­i­pate where our un­der­stand­ing might di­verge.

To gen­er­alise wildly, the aca­demic cul­ture is not one of meet­ing ac­tions, risk mit­i­ga­tion, project con­trols and the Pareto Prin­ci­ple. It takes its time to get it right. ‘Good enough’ isn’t good enough. But the chal­lenges of cor­po­rate life mean that progress can be as im­por­tant as qual­ity. If no one in the room can an­tic­i­pate the im­pact of these two dif­fer­ent cul­tures, shared ob­jec­tives will not be met.

An aca­demic leaves a meet­ing think­ing “what a thought-pro­vok­ing con­ver­sa­tion”. Their cor­po­rate part­ner leaves the same meet­ing think­ing “they’ll get a draft to me by Fri­day and I’ll get in be­fore the bud­gets are fi­nalised.” That draft isn’t com­ing.

Count­less dis­cus­sions come to noth­ing be­cause it doesn’t oc­cur to ei­ther side to en­sure that their un­der­stand­ing is shared. No one an­tic­i­pated the di­ver­gence. There was no trans­la­tor. No one to take you aside and say ‘that’s im­por­tant to them be­cause…’, ‘to para­phrase, what they said means…’, ‘it might res­onate more if you say…’.

Uni­ver­si­ties are do­ing a lot to bring stu­dents into the work­place and prac­ti­tion­ers into the class­room. What we also need is more peo­ple cross­ing the di­vide in their own ca­reer paths, com­ing to un­der­stand how the cul­tures dif­fer and thus, how to help them work to­gether. Whether it’s sec­ond­ments, ca­reer changes, ac­tion re­search, al­ter­na­tive re­cruit­ment drives, what­ever; we need to cre­ate peo­ple who can be ef­fec­tive in both cul­tures. Nei­ther need change its cul­ture but they need to un­der­stand each other.

As we progress as a ser­vice, in­for­ma­tion and knowl­edge econ­omy, UK Plc needs pro­duc­tive en­gage­ment be­tween the two cul­tures. We have an in­creas­ingly mo­bile work­force in need of con­tin­u­ous pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment that tra­di­tional Bach­e­lors pro­grammes can’t pro­vide. We have emerg­ing pro­fes­sions that can’t re­cruit be­cause the academy isn’t pro­duc­ing grad­u­ates yet. We have en­trepreneurs cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and fac­ing chal­lenges that academia would love to work on, if only we can ‘get’ each other.

At RGU we’ve just fin­ished a course devel­op­ment project which had an un­prece­dented level of in­dus­try en­gage­ment – a Grad­u­ate Cer­tifi­cate Petroleum Data Man­age­ment, de­vel­oped with funding and on­go­ing sup­port from Com­mon Data Ac­cess Ltd (CDA), a wholly owned sub­sidiary of Oil & Gas UK, the UK’S de facto pro­fes­sional body in this field. The course was specif­i­cally de­signed for the glo- bal en­ergy sec­tor. I can con­fi­dently say that were it not for a small num­ber of peo­ple with the ex­pe­ri­ence nec­es­sary to bridge the cul­tural di­vide, this project would have been much less suc­cess­ful. The course would have been a year late. The in­dus­try wouldn’t have fully en­dorsed it and

0 Aca­demics, in­dus­try lead­ers and the Oil and Gas Au­thor­ity come to­gether to

Dis­cus­sions come to noth­ing be­cause it doesn’t oc­cur to ei­ther side to en­sure their un­der­stand­ing is shared, says Fion­nu­ala Cousins

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