PGR IAA Officer Spotlight - Yendle Barwise
Tell us about yourself, why you applied for this role, and what you expected to gain
I’m in the final stages of my PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering. With a background in forestry, my research focus has been on the relationship between green infrastructure (trees, hedges, etc.) and roadside air pollution. I’ve also co-developed a prototype public engagement tool named HedgeDATE. Please try it out and complete the user survey!
I applied for the IAA Officer role to gain a greater understanding of innovation at Surrey, and of the interface between academic research and commercialisation in general. I was also interested in learning about research projects and activities outside of my own department.
How would you define ‘innovation’, how does it fit within an academic environment, and how is it relevant? Has your definition changed since working in this role?
Before undertaking this role, I had thought of innovation as a fairly linear process, with natural beginning and end points (i.e., from conceptualisation, through R&D, to a novel end-product or service). I now understand innovation as a much more complex, iterative process, often involving different stakeholders and factors at different stages. I think that in academia there is a focus on discovery and adding to knowledge, or learning for the sake of learning, whereas industrial research tends to be more implementation-oriented. This means that academic researchers can offer divergent perspectives and approaches to industrial partners, and vice versa, which can facilitate breakthroughs. However, it has been interesting to find that many academics are passionate and excited about innovation and bridging the gap between their research and real-world practice.
I now understand innovation as a much more complex, iterative process, often involving different stakeholders and factors at different stages...it has been interesting to find that many academics are passionate and excited about innovation and bridging the gap between their research and real-world practiceYendle Barwise, Postgraduate Researcher
What do you think are the biggest barriers to innovation for researchers at Surrey, in particular within your Dpt or Faculty, and how do you suggest we address these?
It’s clear that realising impact from research has become more important in academia over recent years or decades. However, such ‘impact’ is often still determined or evidenced by more traditional metrics of academic success, such as number of journal publications. Although it appears that things are steadily changing (e.g., a shift in focus on the quality, rather than the quantity, of research papers), it will no doubt take time for the culture of academia to change. In the meantime, I think it’s important that Surrey continues to support innovation at each level, from encouraging Student Enterprise to recognising and rewarding innovative research staff.
How has your experience in the role changed your approach to innovation?
I’ve learned that outcomes, although important, are rarely end points. I now see innovation as an open-ended conversation
My experience as an IAA Officer has opened my eyes to the various facets and potential avenues of innovation. I’ve learned that outcomes, although important, are rarely end points. I now see innovation as an open-ended conversation, where ideas feed projects that feed new ideas that feed follow-on projects, and so on. My approach to innovation has changed from one that tended to assume clear-cut questions and answers, or problems and solutions, to one that recognises the entangled complexity of research and impact.
What things have you learned? Was anything unexpected?
failure is an integral part of the process
As already mentioned, I’ve learned a lot about ‘innovation’ as it relates to academic research. I’ve also learned a lot about the university’s approach to tech transfer. One thing that I’ve learned, which is perhaps counterintuitive, is that failure is an integral part of the process. Iterative development based on fast failures is often more efficient than development based on a ‘perfect for release’ perspective.
What would you say to a prospective ECR considering applying to work with the technology transfer team?
Go for it! In my experience, it’s been good to understand how innovation is supported by the university, how research outcomes can be commercialised, and various ways in which to formulate a successful proposal for commercially valuable research. It’s also been a great opportunity to other meet researchers from across the university and beyond.
Before your IAA Officer role, what was your practical understanding and application of impact, knowledge exchange and commercialisation activities?
Before your IAA Officer role, what was your understanding of IP?
Before your IAA Officer role, what was your awareness for the relevance of innovation to the academic career?
Overall, how do you feel about Innovation now?