Technology and knowledge connecting university and business
Issue 17 | Year 7 | NOVEMBRE 2017



University-trained researchers increasingly important for company R&D

Versione stampabile
Flavio Deflorian
is the University of Trento Deputy Rector for the Support of the relationships with the business sector.
New PhD graduates offer great potential for transfer of knowledge, helping to create new work opportunitites and make a fundamental contribution to innovation.

A PhD course in Italy, as in the rest of the world, is a university programme aimed at training students in research. For a long time in Italy the natural career progression after completing a PhD was limited to the area of publicly funded research, particularly academic research.   In recent years, people have started to understand that the impact of a PhD is much wider, and is of particular interest for businesses, where departments focused on research and development, and more generally on innovation, can receive a significant boost from the contribution of a PhD graduate. In countries that are more economically and technologically advanced, it has long been recognised that people who have completed a PhD offer great potential for transfer of knowledge.

This kind of vision is essential, both to offer interesting work opportunities to new PhD graduates (academia can offer career opportunities to only a very limited number of PhD graduates), and more importantly, to make a fundamental contribution to innovation. This possibility is open not only to PhD graduates from science and technology disciplines, where it seems more obvious, but also to those in the social sciences and humanities. 

To be effective, this process of moving closer to the broader world of work needs to be supported and fostered during the doctoral programme. For this reason the University of Trento has developed a range of initiatives, including courses open to all PhD students, to develop entrepreneurship skills, the capacity to develop new startups, and awareness of tools for the protection of intellectual property.  One initiative that has run successfully for a number of years now is the “Crash Course on Research Funding, Intellectual Property and Startup Creation”, organised by the Scientific Research and Technology Transfer Division of the University of Trento, which aims to provide essential knowledge and skills for effective knowledge transfer.

Another successful initative is IPSP, Industrial Problem Solving with Physics, involving collaboration between companies and doctoral students (as well as students and young researchers).  This is a week-long event organized by the University of Trento in collaboration with the Trento federation of industry Confindustria Trento, and the mechatronics and Trentino development hub Polo Meccatronica – Trentino Sviluppo. See the article on page 11, “Young minds at work”.

A current topic of discussion is how to effectively transfer the knowledge generated by scientific research to the community in a way that maximises its impact on innovation. The knowledge transferred to society needs to improve the quality of our life in economic, technological, social and human terms. It’s a difficult task and a great challenge.  Those who are doing a PhD, or have just finished one, are ideally placed in this process, because they have the freshness, the enthusiasm and the talent to meet this challenge. The University, for its part, must provide the necessary tools and support the process.