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Demystifying academics to enhance university-business collaborations in environmental science

Hillier, John K.; Saville, Geoffrey R.; Smith, Mike J.; Scott, Alister J.; Raven, Emma K.; Gascoigne, Jonathon; Slater, Louise J.; Quinn, Nevil; Tsanakas, Andreas; Souch, Claire; Leckebusch, Gregor C.; MacDonald, Neil; Milner, Alice M.; Loxton, Jennifer; Wilebore, Rebecca; Collins, Alexandra; MacKechnie, Colin; Tweddle, Jaqui; Moller, Sarah; Dove, MacKenzie; Langford, Harry; Craig, Jim

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John K. Hillier

Geoffrey R. Saville

Mike J. Smith

Alister J. Scott

Emma K. Raven

Jonathon Gascoigne

Louise J. Slater

Andreas Tsanakas

Claire Souch

Gregor C. Leckebusch

Neil MacDonald

Alice M. Milner

Jennifer Loxton

Rebecca Wilebore

Alexandra Collins

Colin MacKechnie

Jaqui Tweddle

Sarah Moller

MacKenzie Dove

Harry Langford

Jim Craig


In countries globally there is intense political interest in fostering effective university-business collaborations, but there has been scant attention devoted to exactly how an individual scientist's workload (i.e. specified tasks) and incentive structures (i.e. assessment criteria) may act as a key barrier to this. To investigate this an original, empirical dataset is derived from UK job specifications and promotion criteria, which distil universities' varied drivers into requirements upon academics. This work reveals the nature of the severe challenge posed by a heavily time-constrained culture; specifically, tension exists between opportunities presented by working with business and non-optional duties (e.g. administration and teaching). Thus, to justify the time to work with business, such work must inspire curiosity and facilitate future novel science in order to mitigate its conflict with the overriding imperative for academics to publish. It must also provide evidence of real-world changes (i.e. impact), and ideally other reportable outcomes (e.g. official status as a business' advisor), to feed back into the scientist's performance appraisals. Indicatively, amid 20-50 key duties, typical full-time scientists may be able to free up to 0.5 day per week for work with business. Thus specific, pragmatic actions, including short-term and time-efficient steps, are proposed in a "user guide"to help initiate and nurture a long-term collaboration between an early- to mid-career environmental scientist and a practitioner in the insurance sector. These actions are mapped back to a tailored typology of impact and a newly created representative set of appraisal criteria to explain how they may be effective, mutually beneficial and overcome barriers. Throughout, the focus is on environmental science, with illustrative detail provided through the example of natural hazard risk modelling in the insurance sector. However, a new conceptual model of academics' behaviour is developed, fusing perspectives from literature on academics' motivations and performance assessment, which we propose is internationally applicable and transferable between sectors. Sector-specific details (e.g. list of relevant impacts and user guide) may serve as templates for how people may act differently to work more effectively together.


Hillier, J. K., Saville, G. R., Smith, M. J., Scott, A. J., Raven, E. K., Gascoigne, J., …Craig, J. (2019). Demystifying academics to enhance university-business collaborations in environmental science. Geoscience Communication, 2(1), 1-23.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 1, 2018
Online Publication Date Jan 15, 2019
Publication Date Jan 15, 2019
Deposit Date Jan 25, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 25, 2019
Journal Geoscience Communication
Print ISSN 2569-7102
Electronic ISSN 2569-7110
Publisher Copernicus Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 2
Issue 1
Pages 1-23
Public URL
Publisher URL
Related Public URLs


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