Research 2030

Why two heads are better than one – the power of university-industry collaborations

September 23, 2020 Elsevier Season 1 Episode 10
Research 2030
Why two heads are better than one – the power of university-industry collaborations
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we turn our focus to university-industry collaboration, a form of partnership that is growing in popularity in many parts of the world. There are big rewards up for grabs, and both industry and academia benefit; for example, increased career opportunities, a bigger funding pot, exchange of knowledge, access to hard-to-find skills, extended networks, and the potential to speed up discoveries. Many also see these collaborations as the most promising avenue to tackle global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. Joining us for this discussion are Tony Boccanfuso, President and CEO of the University Industry Demonstration Partnership (UIDP), along with our guest host, Ann Gabriel, Senior Vice President for Academic & Research Relations, Global Strategic Networks, Elsevier.

Listen to and hear why Tony believes that industry/academic collaborations have never been so important as now – that they offer a promising path to solving some of the grand challenges our society faces today.

Guest: Anthony Boccanfuso, President and CEO of UIDP

As UIDP’s President and CEO, Tony is a leading expert on university-industry relations. Over the past 32 years, he has gained significant experience and insights by working in the academic, corporate, government and non-profit sectors. He also serves as a consultant for government agencies, non-profit organizations and corporations and currently serves on the Cisco Advanced Security Research Advisory Board. Tony holds a doctoral degree in Inorganic Chemistry from the University of South Carolina and a bachelor of science degree in Chemistry and Political Science from Furman University. He is married to Dr. Laura Boccanfuso, who founded Van Robotics, a start-up that supports the educational needs of primary school students; along with their three children, they reside in Columbia, SC.

Guest Host: Ann Gabriel
Senior Vice President for Academic & Research Relations, Global Strategic Networks, Elsevier

Ann Gabriel and Elsevier's global team engage with key stakeholders across the research enterprise to establish strategic collaborations and to use analytics and data to address societal challenges in the area of sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and open science. She has held a variety of positions at the forefront of scholarly communication, most recently as Elsevier’s Publishing Director for journals in Computer Science and Engineering, as well as electronic product development for Elsevier’s ScienceDirect platform. Ann was previously with Cambridge University Press. Ann represents Elsevier on several STM (Scientific, Technical & Medical) industry committees, including the CHORUS board and RA21 (Resource Access for the 21st Century), each with a mission to enhance access to scientific data and publication. Ann holds a master’s degree in communications from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Mancini (00:00)

Hi, I’m Giacomo Mancini. Welcome to Research 2030 – an Elsevier podcast series in which guests from academia and beyond join us in exploring, debating and challenging the changing research landscape. 

 In this episode, “Why two heads are better than one – the power of University Industry collaborations” we turn our thoughts to a form of partnership that is growing in popularity in many parts of the world. There are big rewards up for grabs, and both industry and academia benefit; for example, increased career opportunities, a bigger funding pot, exchange of knowledge, access to hard-to-find skills, extended networks, and the potential to speed up discoveries. That last point has taken on a particular resonance since the emergence of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, of course, and many see these collaborations as the most promising avenue to tackle other global challenges like climate change. But, as with any relationship, it’s not all sunsets and roses and some have questioned whether commercial considerations might override the open sharing of results, while others have expressed concerns over who owns the intellectual property rights.

 Happily, we are joined in this episode by Tony Boccanfuso, a former researcher whose subsequent career has left him with the perfect resume to help us explore these issues. And joining him for a lively discussion is our guest host for this episode, Elsevier’s Senior Vice President for Global Strategic Networks, Ann Gabriel.

Ann Gabriel (01:39):

Good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to the Research 2030 podcast. My name is Ann Gabriel, and I'm the Senior Vice President for Global Strategic Networks at Elsevier. I'm really pleased to welcome our guest today, Tony Boccanfuso, President of the University Industry Demonstration Partnership, UIDP, a US-based membership organization of leading innovation companies and research universities. In full disclosure, Elsevier is a member of UIDP, and we believe in its mission. We have successfully collaborated on multiple projects and events, sharing our data to highlight evidence-based approaches to university industry collaboration. But let me say a little bit more about Tony. Tony champions the UIDP singular focus on improving collaborations between the academic and corporate sectors. His long career includes time in government at both the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. He has also worked as a senior research administrator at several universities where he has had direct responsibility for compliance grants administration, incubators, industry engagement, intellectual property, and research strategy. in recognition of his experience and insight in this arena, Tony is regularly sought after as a speaker, both domestically and internationally, and has published several reference sources on industry academic engagements. Tony is a chemist by training. We are lucky to have you with us today, Tony, really appreciate it. Um, Tony's wife, Dr. Laura Boccanfuso spent time at Yale and is now a founder of a startup herself, Van Robotics, and they have three children. I'm really excited Tony, to get your perspective on the the state of university industry collaboration today.

Boccanfuso (03:18):

Well, thank you man, for having me. I'm really looking forward to our discussion today and hearing from you as well about what issues seem to be, uh, affecting university industry partnerships and its impact on society.

Gabriel (03:20)

Fantastic. Thanks Tony. Um, my first question for you is a little bit of a scene setting one. Um, I'd like to move, move back and get a general perspective on how you think university industry collaboration has evolved into the 21st century. Um, things weren't always the same as they are now. Any thoughts on that?

Boccanfuso (03:47):

Sure. So I think there's growing recognition that companies and universities really benefit from working collaboratively, that they have complementary assets and talent is obviously a big piece of these relationships. They've always been in the long term, uh, in the US I think if you look at what the role of government has been, it's been fairly hands off on these types of relationships. And what we're seeing, certainly in the United States, I think is a trend that's been happening globally, which is government is investing or catalyzing relationships between companies and universities to meet big challenges. Uh, the, the grand challenges that you see are put out, for example, the National Science Foundation has the 10 big ideas. They've created new programs like the convergence accelerator, which bring together companies and universities to address these big challenges. And that's something that wouldn't have been thought of in the US certainly 20 years ago or even 10 years ago, but you're seeing a lot more than now. And I think there's also a recognition and we're seeing it, unfortunately, because of what's gone on with the economy due to the, uh, COVID crisis that companies and universities really need to step back and think about how they're going to partner and have a sense of urgency around how they collaborate.

Ann Gabriel (05:07):

Right. I understand that. So you, what do you feel was the catalyst for government involvement, um, in these discussions?

Tony Boccanfuso (05:15)

Well, you know, if you look at the data, the private sector is the biggest funder of research and development. Uh, and most of that work though is happening at a, an applied research level or use inspired basic research level. So the government has always traditionally been the biggest supporter of basic research, but if you want to solve big societal problems, whether they're around national security, health, wellbeing, uh, just improving the human condition, I think government recognizes that its investments need to be supported and catalyzed and complemented by what the private sector is interested in doing. And what we've seen is private sector is not supporting the foundational work at the level that's required to then do the translational aspects to lead to those new products, discoveries, new software codes, et cetera, to improve the human condition.

Ann Gabriel (06:10):

Right. I think everyone can agree that, um, there's an increasing imperative to demonstrate, um, societal impact on whatever we're, we're working on. And there are some links I think, between what was traditionally basic research and commercialization. Um, can you characterize what happens between that link?

Boccanfuso (06:34):

So, you know, I, I think there's always going to be a role and within the, the Academy for basic fundamental research, that doesn't necessarily have a direct commercial outcome at the time of the research. What I think we're seeing now is a much more focused effort on ensuring that those foundational discoveries that are occurring can be translated into something that does provide gain, whether it's through commercial activities, whether it's through, uh, once again disruptive, uh, activities that lead to something that provides benefit to society. And what government is doing is trying to support these bigger efforts. Universities are trying to do things that also provide impact, especially, you know, if you look at the public schools, uh, the publicly funded universities they're taking on this economic development mission, uh, to serve their communities, to really do things that provide societal impact. They're being asked to do that in a way they weren't a generation ago.

Boccanfuso (07:30):

And so what you're seeing is really a convergence now where government recognizes that its investments at universities can really have profound impact can then be translated. The private sector recognizes these, uh, opportunities to partner with the universities, to leverage their efforts where you get this cocreation model, where everybody brings something that they can bring to the table. Uh, we we're even seeing private foundations doing more in that space where they're making big bets and big investments bring together companies, large, large companies and small companies, universities, and working on these big grand challenges that, uh, have lots of money associated with them, but also require lots and lots of people spending and devoting a lot of time to trying to solve large issues beyond what once again has been done traditionally in a single lab.

Ann Gabriel (08:26):

That's great. And, and I love this concept of, of co-creation, and obviously there are different stakeholder needs in that framework. Just going back a little bit, do you, what are some of the modalities of this type of collaboration like traditionally? Um, we've seen things like personnel exchange, patent licensing, are there particular leaders of, you know, academic industry collaboration you see moving or accelerating in the current environment?

Boccanfuso (08:56):

Yeah, so, you know, in my job, um, I'm fortunate that I get to see what people are testing out or piloting as a new approaches. And, you know, a lot of these things are being driven by market forces. And when I say market forces, it's based upon everybody's inherent self-interest. So, you know, if you look at, and a good example, you know, you mentioned personnel exchanges, but also we're seeing now joint, uh, employment between companies and universities in high demand areas. So I think we all recognize there are not enough data scientists or AI experts in the world to meet the needs of all the employers out there who were seeking the talent. And so, you know, if you, if you look at what's been done traditionally, when a company's needed talent, they would hire it away from universities either want to hire it away, they would hire graduates, or sometimes they would hire faculty members or postdocs. What we're seeing now,

Boccanfuso (09:57):

and it's just, you know, some green shoots coming out in certain fields, like I said, especially in the computer science area where you're seeing companies and universities working together to share employees and you know, where the faculty member may spend 51% of the time at the university retain their benefits, retain their tenure and promotion activities, mentor students, have a lab apply for grants from places like NIH or NSF or DOE, but then also having a corporate lab where they're doing work at a different level with a different group of people and maintaining that relationship in a longterm perspective, that's something that universities and companies have not done traditionally, but it's really an outgrowth of what I think are opportunities that people recognize are needed now. If you hire all the high performing faculty away from universities and they wind up in the private sector well then who's going to teach the next set of students.

Boccanfuso (10:57):

And so this is a way to meet needs of industry while also, you know, meeting the needs of the Academy. So that's just one example. I think some of the other things you're looking at, um, where you see companies and universities, and sometimes even some of these private foundations, co-investing in solicitations that academics can respond to. I think that's a really novel approach and it provides, um, an opportunity to increase the amount of funding that can go to academics, to pursue research discoveries while also allowing companies to leverage their resources with the government funding and the government to leverage their resources with the private sector. So if you see now there are federal agencies that will work with private sector companies to jointly issue solicitations. And I think once again, this is the type of experimentation that we need. we're seeing this now with obviously the pandemic, there's a sense of urgency that we need to do things and move more deliberatively to address the urgent challenges that we face.

Boccanfuso (12:00)

And so we have to think outside the box, um, you know, PhD internships is another thing that I think we're going to see more of. Um, there's a program that was started at NSF called the intern program, but even outside of that, just companies being able to tap into talent at the doctoral level, um, how do you meet the needs of the faculty members, the students, the companies, and the university. I think the dynamics of figuring those things out, and those are things that the UIDP works on, figuring out the process around that, but ultimately these new ideas are being tested because they serve the needs of the employer, whether that's the university or the company and the people involved, whether that's faculty, students, postdocs, et cetera.

Gabriel (12:43):

Thanks for highlighting a lot of that, Tony, and there's so much I could respond to in, in what you just said. I'll just start by saying, you mentioned not enough data scientists. I think that's something that, you know, here at RELX and Elsevier, you know, we also contend with that demand. We were traditionally I think a publishing company and we'd moved heavily into the information analytics space. And we have a thousand data scientists that work in our company out of 7,000, which is, which is quite a percentage. And we're always looking for that talent. And a lot of what we find is that through university collaborations, we can tap into that through key projects. And some of these methods of collaborative working are really positive and produce some great results. Um, I also thought that you, you mentioned faculty and some of the increasing incentives for faculty members in the Academy to collaborate with industry, historically that maybe wasn't the first choice, but now there are a lot of benefits that can be gained not only from the additional sources of funding in its most basic level, but some other, other things. Um, could you say a little bit more about, um, what a faculty member can derive from industry engagement?

Boccanfuso (13:55):

Sure. I have the good fortune when, when, um, we're able to travel. I have the good fortune of visiting somewhere between six and 10 university campuses a year. And I, I spend a day and I meet with faculty and students and talk to them about what I see the benefits of university industry collaborations. And I'm always challenged, um, by someone in the audience around why faculty members should work with industry. I think I've developed a response to that that reflects that perspective, but also reflects the new realities. And that is, I always tell people, you know, working with industry can be challenging, especially at the onset when you're trying to, uh, build a relationship or initiate a relationship. So if you look at, you know, the ways that the faculty member who's never worked with industry will typically make a connection to industry,

Boccanfuso (14:42)

they'll typically publish a paper or give a talk at a conference and someone at a company will read that paper or hear that talk, and then that'll lead to a discussion. Then they'll follow it up with, well, maybe we could sponsor a project. And for faculty member, who's never worked with industry. That first effort to get into place can be challenging. Um, typically companies don't fund at the same level as say, a federal government award. So, it's at lower dollar levels, it requires more responsivity, uh, there's typically stage gates in those so that a faculty member has to give a monthly report, which is not something that you typically get when you're getting money from the federal government. And so there's a lot of work to establishing a relationship. Once you build a relationship and you have a collaboration with a research lab at a company, that can lead to ongoing support for your lab, uh, where every year you get 75, a hundred, 125, $150,000 a year.

Boccanfuso (15:42):

And if you think about it, faculty members are really small business owners. They, they run a lab. If you're at a major research university, you know, you mentioned Yale where my wife was. That lab that she was in, had two dozen people, and you have to feed the beast. You have to employ those people, you have to pay for supplies. Um, and so industry funding can be a piece of that funding mosaic. And so, you know, for faculty who build relationships with companies, that can be a part of the funding equation in what your need to develop for your budget on an annual basis. And, and I would say a much more contemporary issue, Ann, is for faculty members and universities that want to win big scale awards. So they want to get a manufacturing USA award, or they want to win one of the large awards from the department of energy, or NIH or NSF.

Boccanfuso (16:36)

It's almost impossible now not to have a strong, clearly affirmative industry partnership strategy as part of your application, if you want to win the award. So, you know, if you look at the engineering research center program, which I think is the, is the standard that colleges of engineering want to have in the United States, to get funding for that, through that program nowadays, you must have clearly demonstrated industry support for your application. In the old days, quote unquote, when that program started, you basically had to get letters of support. If you got financial investments, that was nice, but it wasn't a requirement. And so, you know, for leading research universities, uh, such as those in the UIDP or others that may not be UIDP members, but that really are operating at a high level. Um, if you want to win these big competitions and work on these big societal challenges, the only way that you're going to be able to earn and win that funding is by partnering with industry and having those relationships in place prior to the development of an application.

Boccanfuso (17:48)

So, you know, that single investigator award from a company that then leads to hiring of students who then go wind up working at the company, um, it's gonna make the case when you then apply for those big awards. So I always tell faculty members who want to win those big awards, um, that, you know, working with industry is going to help your case downstream. And then, you know, the other thing I just want to mention, which is distinct from that, is your students. You know, I was very fortunate. Um, I did a couple of things right in my life. Well, one was asking my wife to marry me. Um, but, uh, probably one of the best decisions I ever made was in picking a PhD advisor and my advisor, he's still one of my best friends. He's a mentor to me to this day and good, good advisors care about what happens to their students.

Boccanfuso (18:35)

And most PhD students are not going to wind up as faculty members. They're going to get jobs in the private sector. And so for faculty members who have an inherent self-interest in advancing their own goals, I think if they look at where their students get hired, um, that'll say a lot about their ability to be successful in once again, the bigger aspects of things that we're talking about. So, there's a faculty member, he builds a relationship with a company, he has students on a project. Those students get hired. 10 years later, those students are now moved up in the company, they're mid, mid level or senior level administrators or technical leads within that company. She then puts in an application for a big NSF or department of defense award. And those former students that are now leaders of that company are going to be investing in that application that goes in from her university to help her win an award. So, there's a lot of inherent self-interest here. I wish more faculty members saw that. Um, I think sometimes they don't necessarily look that far out, but, but I I've seen it work.

Gabriel (19:46):

Right. And in many cases downstream, we see, although it varies a bit by discipline that, um, the output of academic industry collaboration in, in papers is more highly cited, um, than those that don't have those partners. So one of the things that we're constantly trying to, um, work together with, with our, our customers and academic institutions is, is how they can use data to better drive research performance and looking at this sort of Delta about, you know, who they are collaborating with versus who they aren't, can also lead, I think to some something beyond serendipity in terms of establishing a collaboration. And so a lot of the approaches that you were talking about, um, and benefits are derived from reaching out. You mentioned your advisor, a lot of it is relationship building. A lot of it's anecdotal, but some of it can also be driven by data. And I wondered if you had a perspective on how data and insight can, I don't know, lead researchers to one another in, in both sectors.

Boccanfuso (20:46):

Yeah. So, so thanks, Ann. It's amazing using the, the data that's now available out there that can be utilized to make informed business and research decisions that weren't available a few years ago. So, you know, you mentioned, the citation impact from articles between academics and, and corporate researchers. You know, I use that data from Elsevier a good bit when I give talks on, on university industry partnerships, cause it shows something about, about the value of these relationships, um, when you're, uh, a research administrator or a college administrator or departmental administrator at a university, and you're trying to make decisions around where to make investments and where the opportunities are for you to be successful, it's very important to have data to compliment the incredibly passionate, um, visions that are laid out by faculty members. You know, people get involved in the Academy and pursue research because they truly believe in what they're doing.

And I've always been inspired by talking to faculty members about what their research interests are and what their, what their longterm goals are. And so, you're a Dean of a college and a faculty member comes to you and says that there's an opportunity for our university to be a worldwide leader in some space, they make a very passionate case for that, and that's wonderful. Having data to support that and determine whether or not the data is consistent with that vision, I think is really important or maybe helps refine that vision. So, you know, I think from a university perspective, having data to help you think about your research strategy is incredibly important. And on the flip side, from the company perspective, companies are also looking at at research trends where things are going, they candidly don't have enough time and energy to go out and attend every conference or read necessarily every journal.

Boccanfuso (22:54):

So data can be a real motivator and, and, uh, and support for helping you make decisions around where you want to work and where you want to, uh, go. Um, if you look traditionally, and I know you, you know, we talked about this earlier, a lot of times company university partnerships were based on the people who work together because a student graduated from this university, they now worked at this company and she would then contact her old advisor and there would be a relationship there. And there's nothing wrong with that. 

Boccanfuso (24:02):

I'm from Florida, I'm not a, I'm not a big hockey player, but, you know, they asked Wayne Gretzky once, you know, what made you successful? And he said, well, I always try to go to where I thought the puck was going to be, not where it was. And companies need to be thinking about where the technology is going. And so having data to support trends where research is going, I think is really valuable. So I'm a, I'm a big believer in using data to support decision making around research investments and research activities.

Gabriel (23:37):

I couldn't agree more. I think one of the needs that, that we try to meet that emerges from some of our academic institutions are the need to showcase their research right, and make themselves visible to companies. So, you know, we built out a portal in New Jersey, you know, including Princeton and Rutgers and Montclair State and others. And it highlights the research and it made it visible to potential corporate collaborators, you know, beyond just the pharma sector. And what they really wanted to do was create a collective statement on here's not only where the research is happening, but also where the research is going to your point about Wayne Gretzky. So there are ways to collect data and present almost a collective outlook on where the expertise is so that people can help identify collaborators. And it's been very successful.

Boccanfuso (24:44)

Yeah and I think that's a great example. You know, I was really heartened to hear about your work with the state and some of the great research universities in the state. I gave a talk there a number of years ago and said that there's so much research, um, critical mass in the state of New Jersey that isn't known outside of the state. And they really needed to do a better job of making it easier for people to know both from the academic, but as well as the corporate sector about the tremendous research and commercialization activities within the state. 

Gabriel (25:15):

Right. And indeed, um, we're proud of it as well. And I live in New Jersey, so I have interest in success of the state. And although Elsevier has an office in New York, I've been commuting in less regularly, thanks to the pandemic. So I'm more of a Jersey girl than ever. I'd like to pivot just a little bit to talk about the role of women in the innovation ecosystem. And certainly, um, I, I recall at one point, you and I had, um, done a panel together at the New York Academy of Sciences. And we were talking about the role of women in research and Elsevier’s report on Gender and the Research Landscape, where we were able to disambiguate male and female authors, and really look by institution, by region where women were performing, um, in which disciplines, um, where they had opportunities, where they did not. One of the things that we did note, what was we tracked patent data as well. And there was a market difference between, you know, the number of women who are, or on patents are able to contribute patents and credited for that work. I'd be curious as to your perspective about what we can do to catalyze things, you know, for women as part of the innovation ecosystem and what role does industry play together with academia in that?

Boccanfuso (26:36):

Great question. And I'll offer both a professional and a personal perspective. So, Ann as you know, we did an event last summer at Oxford, uh, with the university there and Elsevier was, uh, was a sponsor of that event. Thank you for your investment in that activity. There were about 150 people there about third were from industry. The talk that got by far, the most interest from the corporate sector was the one led by Angela McCain from BP on diversity and inclusion. And it was because the companies recognize how important that topic is to their corporate goals and see universities as being a piece of the solution, not the solution, but a piece of the solution in achieving the outcomes that they seek at the corporate level. And so, you know, within the UIDP, we've been thinking about what can we do as an organization to address the needs that companies see around increasing, um, making it easier for women to stay engaged in the, in the STEM pipeline, uh, for women have opportunities to be successful in the R & D enterprise, both, uh, along the whole career pathway.

Boccanfuso (28:00):

And once again, you know, I applaud you all and the work that you've done, really providing data as an illumination to this. So, you know, if you go back to my earlier comments about people do things cause it's in their inherent self-interest, for universities that want to partner with companies. I think there's going to be a growing emphasis on ensuring that women have an opportunity to participate as full players in the R & D ecosystem and be given greater opportunities and they'll use their persuasion as well as their resources to see that happen. So I, I, I'm very encouraged by what I'm seeing, both from what the government is doing in terms of supporting these types of efforts, the corporate sector, and what universities are seeking to accomplish. Um, you know, I think we also have to recognize that organizations like universities are big bureaucracies and they're big ships and they don't turn quickly. And so, you know, it, this is not a problem that can be quickly solved. And so I think though people are in this for the longterm and we're going to see more efforts made and having data like you all produce that really provide light to this, I think is really important. So, um, so that's on a, on a professional level. I I'll take a minute Just to share with you a little bit about

Boccanfuso (29:28):

my wife and her company, my wife, Laura Boccanfuso. So it's a great story. I mean, we met at NIH. We were both working there in different institutes. We were dating, I took a job at an academic institution. We got married, she worked on her, master's in computer science after being an undergraduate degree in English. She became pregnant. We had our first child, she took 10 years off. And after our youngest child, we have three, our youngest child started kindergarten. She went back to get her PhD in computer science and finished. And I was fortunate enough to be able to relocate. And we, uh, we left South Carolina and she took a position at Yale, worked for three years in a great lab, uh, with Brian Scassellati, on a big project that was funded by NSF on social robotics.


Boccanfuso (30:15)

And some of the work that she did at Yale, uh, came up with an idea for a startup and, um, launched that startup. It is almost exclusively a women led firm. Um, everybody, all of the senior people in her firm except for one is a woman. Um, some of them are from the, her lab at Yale, but she also has hired people from other places like Johns Hopkins. Um, and they're all working in this company trying to make it a success in, in the educational technology space. And, uh, as I think, you know, she was recently on shark tank and, uh, that was a unique experience. We could do a whole 30:58other podcast about that. You want to have her, not me, but what I would say in my head, this is great. Yeah. But I, what I would say is, and I don't think this is unique to my wife.

Boccanfuso (30:58)

Um, I don't think that women get the same level or treated with the same level of respect as they should when they lead startups. And, um, you know, I think, um, from various sectors and I don't think her, my wife's story is unique. Um, the, the way they're treated when they pitch for funding or when they pitch ideas is not the same. And I, I think that's something that we need to give, provide more illumination on, Ann to be honest, because my wife is extremely talented, she's got a great, um, work ethic. She's, she's doing all the right things. And, um, it's been a tough road to be honest. Um, even though she's, I think she'd have a great success.

Gabriel (31:36)

I think you raised some interesting points when we launched the gender report. One of the things that we sought to do was to first measure the degree of the problem, right? And, and when the report itself was introduced by Congressman Don Buyer, he said something I'll always remember, which was what you measure you can change. And so we're trying to use the data that we find, um, into Luminate the disparities, but then effect change within our own organizations. So we really tried at Elsevier to ensure that we have parity on our editorial boards. So for example, if a discipline is inherently 30% female, we, um, encourage that our editorial boards reflect that. And then, and then some, um, we've also launched an inclusion and diversity advisory board, which is co-chaired by our female CEO Kumsal Bayazit and Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet.

Gabriel (32:35)

And I think that it does require both understanding and proactive, um, guidelines in order to really move the needle on these issues. And some of these issues are made more challenging, and I'm conscious of the fact that we're heading into, you know, the back to school season. Um, there's additional pressure on families as a whole. And we've also seen during the pandemic that, um, the number of submissions of COVID has increased and we're analyzing how this has impacted, um, male versus female submission, so that we have data on that as well. Um, I wanted to just, you know, pivot in kind of the final moments to really come back to something that you said about the increased sense of urgency, during, in post pandemic, um, regarding academic industry collaborations clearly, um, this is one of the big challenges that we all face, um, how to manage within the pandemic. What, what do you think Tony can be done, um, to ensure that this acceleration takes place and to meet the sense of urgency during our current challenges?

Boccanfuso (33:43)

Yeah, so, so thanks, Ann. It's something I mentioned. And every time I give a talk in a public forum, um, because I think it's, it's important. I think most people know it, but I don't know that people know what to do about it. So, um, you know, I I'll reflect on, on the movie Apollo 13, uh, I think, Ann you and I have talked about this and, you know, right. Apollo 13 was the one that they had the accident in, in flight. And, um, they were in danger of dying from lack of oxygen. And so, you know, a lot of people seeing the movie, uh, they walk into a conference room, they throw a bunch of stuff on a table and there's like four engineers. And they say, okay, this is what they have available to them.

Boccanfuso (34:21)

We have so many hours to take this, this equipment to make an oxygen converter. And if we don't do that, they're going to die. And, and so it was a very clear statement that if they didn't find a solution in the time available, that the people on Apollo 13 were going to be lost. I think we had that sense of urgency around COVID now. I think people, you know, people aren't worrying about, well, if we invent something and there's licensed, should we get a 3% running royalty rate versus a 2% running royalty rate? Or should we agree to in this research partnership, um, we typically make people agree to indemnification and our state, you know, the, these kinds of very kind of granular things aren't really important when thousands of people are dying. Right. And so, you know, I think there are a lot of things like this, where people in leadership need to communicate to the people in their organizations, a sense of urgency, urgency to solve big problems.

And unfortunately the way that most bureaucracies are set up, there are individuals who, by the way, are not, they're not, they don't have bad intentions, but they have a role to play in that organization. And they are protective of that role in the organization. And so there are a lot of, of roadblocks potentially that have to be overcome to get things moving. And, um, you know, I think to the extent that leadership within organizations, whether that's the private sector, the public sector, the Academy, the nonprofit world, to the extent that leadership can say, it's important for us to act and move on this, more things will get done in a, in a, an appropriately done manner, but in a quicker manner. And, you know, I, I don't think that can come. Some things can bubble up from the ground up and grow organically. That is not the case when it comes to addressing big challenges that require really a lots of collaboration and a willingness to move at great speed. And so, you know, to the extent that that the leadership of the world can get together to solve big problems and let the people know below them, that it will be okay to, to act on these. I think that would be something that will help accelerate solutions to some of these really big problems that we're having.

Gabriel (36:56):

Thank you, Tony. I mean, I, I echo that and I'm grateful to say that, you know, I I've seen our leadership at Elsevier answer that call in the time of COVID, most notably contributing all of our COVID based data to the COVID-19 dataset, um, at a speed that I had not witnessed in years past, it was hugely inspirational and gave all of us such a sense of purpose. And certainly we want to encourage that kind of catalyzation across all the key stakeholder groups that we work with. I for one, am really grateful to UIDP for being our partner in so many of these discussions. And I thank you for being here today. I'm really looking forward to UIDP 2020 later this month. And, um, look forward to continuing discussions further. Any final comments for our audience today?

Boccanfuso (37:45)

Yeah, no, I just, uh, maybe I'll end on a positive note, which is, I, I think there are a lot of really good, uh, experiments and, and new approaches being tried, and some of them are going to be adopted. And I am extremely hopeful that we take the lessons learned from how we can collaborate in ways that we hadn't done traditionally through this COVID crisis, that we can take the learnings from this experience and make them a standard practice to solve these big societal problems that exist.

Gabriel (38:20)

Well, thank you, Tony. Maybe we should revisit this conversation in a year and see how we did.

Boccanfuso (28:24)

Absolutely. Thanks again for having me today.


Mancini (38:27)

For Tony, it’s clear that there are many benefits to be gleaned from industry/academic collaborations, from sharing hard-to-source data science and AI skills, to improving gender equality and research impact. While Tony acknowledges that nurturing these collaborations is not without challenges, he urges faculty to find the time, highlighting the extra income that they can attract to their labs – both now and in the future. In fact, an increasing number of funders require evidence of an industry partnership strategy as part of the submission process.


It’s also clear that Tony believes that industry/academic collaborations have never been so important – that they offer a promising path to solving some of the grand challenges our society faces today. And that the rapid spread of COVID-19 has only made the need to work together more urgent. Importantly, Tony is also hopeful – he believes that the pandemic has helped people find a way through some of the bureaucracy traditionally associated with these partnerships. And he points out that innovation is no longer limited to the findings of these collaborations - people are also finding novel ways to work together; for example, co-recruitment of researchers. He believes this willingness to be flexible and think outside the box will be crucial among all the key players – universities, companies and government - as we move forward into an uncertain future.


We’d like to express our gratitude to Tony Boccanfuso for joining us here on Research 2030 and our thanks to Ann Gabriel for hosting this episode. I’m Giacomo Mancini - thank you for listening. 


Research 2030 is an official Elsevier podcast. Subscribe now via the usual podcast channels so you don’t miss an episode.