Re: academic/industry partnerships

Subject: Re: academic/industry partnerships
From: Brad Mehlenbacher <brad_m -at- UNITY -dot- NCSU -dot- EDU>
Date: Thu, 18 Nov 1993 23:34:25 -0500


Actually, my silence to your very interesting query was more a
result of my somewhat compromising/confused position regarding the work
that I do with industry folks. To be honest, I think a lot of technical
communication researchers in the academy are given very mixed messages
about trying to bridge the gap between the academy and industry. On the
one hand, we've got academics shouting, "Let's get involved with IBM, DEC,
Apple, and so on, so they'll give us lots of $$$$;" on the other,
we've got academics shouting, "Anyone who consults/consorts with IBM, DEC,
Apple, and so on is an 'opportunistic careerist' (an actual quote)."

I'm currently involved in two very exciting/complex/research
article-stimulating projects with IBM-RTP and SAS Institute, and would be
happy to give you a brief write-up about each project. Three general
things that both relationships have in common:

1. The folks that I'm working with are super/smart/creative people;
i.e., we get along, and have been having lunches--of one sort or
another--for about two years now (so it's very much a _relationship_,
not a quick-fix scenario).

2. They're under pressure to _produce_ and I'm under pressure to
_publish_, and the relationship couldn't work if both of us didn't
understand this dynamic (i.e., I frequently step into a production mode
when I'm working with them, and they frequently find ways to provide me
with data that will help me extend theory/case study real-world writing
and design situations/sometimes things as easy for them and as
valuable for me as videotapes of user testing or examples of
documents in the works--the stuff of publications).

3. Neither "partnership" is based on making money. And what I mean by
that is, neither company is interested in _getting ideas cheap_
and I'm not interested in _getting rich_ (I'd WORK for the companies
if I wanted that). Instead, I'm very familiar with current
research on interface and document design and they're very
familiar with current problems facing the developers of interfaces
and documents (the stuff of perfect relationships, I say).

Major glitch in the relationship model: as it is, I teach and research as
an academic, AND work with IBM and SAS, _on the side_. It's been very
difficult to convince either partner to work THROUGH the university
structure, 'cause the university structure sucks up 47% overhead off the
top--why not go to the researcher on an individual basis?! For about $2500
dollars, any corporation can "buy out" 1-course-worth of an academic's
teaching time--legitimately, to the university/college/department's
benefit, and also free up the academic a little bit so that he or she can
get REALLY involved in the project at hand. Until then, or until academics
and industry folk talk enough to understand our/their relative strengths
and weaknesses in terms of resources (e.g., photocopying for
me/organizational straight-jacketing for them), it's doubtful that
formalized, strategic relationships are likely to be/become a reality
(despite all the wishful talk on both sides).

Do let me know what further information I can provide, Steve. Until then,
cheers, Brad.

>> Brad Mehlenbacher Phone: (919) 515-4138 <<
>> Assistant Professor Fax: (919) 515-7856 <<
>> Technical Communication <<
>> E-mail: brad_m -at- unity -dot- ncsu -dot- edu <<
>> English Department <<
>> NC State University "An academic is someone naive enough <<
>> Raleigh, NC 27695-8105 to beg downsized companies for money" <<

> I was surprised nobody picked up on my query about tech comm programs that
> have some linkage with industry partners, perhaps for conducting research,
> or testing usability, or for working with university programs to insure
> that tech comm grads have the appropriate skills and knowledge.

> Does the silence mean there simply are no cooperative efforts?

> I am in a quandry because I committed to writing a column for STC that
> would describe cooperative efforts, and I've got nothing to describe. The
> one program I did hear about, at Waterloo, was pretty much out of
> commission at this time.

> Advice? Comments?

> Thanks

> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
> > Stephen A. Bernhardt >
> > Department of English, Box 3E >
> > New Mexico State University >
> > Las Cruces, NM 88003 >
> > 505-646-2027 FAX 505-646-7725 >
> > e-mail sbernhar -at- nmsu -dot- edu >
> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

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