This week, I have been mostly reading The Wilson Review. Commissioned by the government in 2011, the review explores the relationship between universities and businesses. I haven’t finished the whole thing yet but, so far, the key debates and recommendations focus on:
- Universities as a supplier of knowledge, innovation that could be shared with business (building on the success of KTPs)
- Universities as a supplier of knowledgeable and innovative people, who could go on to work in business
- The need for businesses to offer work experience and internships to students, postgraduates and contract research staff, in order to prepare them for a life outside academia
- The potential, therefore, for businesses and universities to collaborate more closely on curriculum design
- The role that universities play in local and regional economies, and whether this can and should translate into university engagement with local and regional governance structures
- The tension between UK immigration policies and the recruitment and retention of international students and staff.
So the Review has a lot of offer in the way of meaty and interesting discussion (two questions that I’m pondering are: what are the implications in terms of what universities are for? And wouldn’t the public and third sectors also benefit from closer collaboration with universities, because we surely also want these sectors to be world-class hubs of creativity, knowledge and innovation?).
The main question that I am pondering at the moment, however, is the issue of internships for PhD students and contract research staff. When I was a PhD and then a postdoc, I’m not sure how I would have felt about this, as I was already pretty busy and feeling quite pushed for time just getting my day-to-day work done, and using my extra time to chase publications.
However, as a Careers Adviser, I can’t help but think of how few PhD graduates researchers go on to permanent careers in academia (only 23% of PhD graduates were working as academic staff 3.5 years after graduation), and how many of the researchers I meet who struggle to understand what they have to offer life outside academia. Moreover, some employers (not all!) have reservations about the ability of long-term researchers to adapt to life in a commercial environment. So, I like the idea of being prepared for a change of plans.
I also think that, when I meet PhD students or researchers who have been out of academia for a while, that break from university life has really benefitted them as academics, as they are better at seeing research as their career, rather than their life, and engage in their professional development accordingly.
So I think there’s a lot to be said for the internships idea, but I wonder how the harried researcher will find the time to fit it in, and whether PIs and supervisors will be supportive. What do you think? Would you appreciate the opportunity to work outside academia for a month or two, or do you think that it would be an unwelcome distraction from your work?