Demystifying academics to enhance university-business collaborations in environmental science

John K. Hillier (Corresponding Author), Geoffrey R. Saville, Mike J. Smith, Alister J. Scott, Emma K. Raven, Jonathon Gascoigne, Louise J. Slater, Nevil Quinn, Andreas Tsanakas, Claire Souch, Gregor C. Leckebusch, Neil Macdonald, Alice M. Milner, Jennifer Loxton, Rebecca Wilebore, Alexandra Collins, Colin MacKechnie, Jacqui Tweddle, Sarah Møller, MacKenzie DoveHarry Langford, Jim Craig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


In countries globally there is intense political interest in fostering effective university-business collaborations, but there has been scant attention devoted to exactly how individual scientists' 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, a tension exists between opportunities presented by working with business and non-optional duties (e.g. administration, 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 realworld 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 days/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 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 literatures 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, 'user guide') may serve as templates for how people may act differently to work more effectively together
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalGeoscience Communication
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

John K. Hillier was funded by NERC grant NE/R003297/1. We thank the attendees at NERC's KEN workshop in June 2018 for participating. Mark Reed's comments much improved an early version of this paper, as did James Esson's comments on a later version. We are grateful to Richard Westaway and Anson Mackay for their thoughtful and constructive reviews of this work. All views are those of individuals and not the organisation(s) they represent.


Dive into the research topics of 'Demystifying academics to enhance university-business collaborations in environmental science'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this