Building bridges between industry and research
“I have extensive experience with mentoring and coaching internally in Schlumberger. With us, it is often the case that a technical expert is mentor and advisor for a junior employee. However, being a mentor for a researcher is something completely new, and it is very exciting”, says Solum and nods towards Ernesto Jimenez-Ruiz, who has been his mentee since last April.
“In academia it is often the case that a professor is mentor or advisor for doctoral students and junior research workers. Having a mentor from industry gives a completely different set of insights and a new contact network”, replies Jimenez-Ruiz.
Ten mentor-mentee pairs
SIRIUS, which is a centre for research-based innovation (SFI), has set up a project with ten mentor-mentee pairs. The University of Oslo leads the centre, and Schlumberger, a large international oil service company, is one of the industrial partners.
Jimenez-Ruiz is a researcher in semantic web technologies. Solum also has an IT background, but in a different field to the UiO researcher. However, Solum can introduce him to colleagues with similar background and skills.
A centre for research-based innovation (SFI) called the Centre for Scalable Data Access in the Oil and Gas Domain.
Financing is around 300 million kroner from the Research Council of Norway, participating universities and industry partners.
- University of Oslo (manager), University of Oxford, NTNU, Simula Reserach Laboratory.
- Statoil, Computas, Schlumberger, Kadme, IBM, OSIsoft, Numascale, Evry, Dolphin, DNV GL, SAP.
“It will be very interesting to see if there is a group that I can work with. Perhaps we can develop something new, or set up a new collaborative project. Nevertheless, it is good to learn about what people are concerned about and how work is done in industry. In academia we are often very focused on the next publication”, says Jimenez-Ruiz.
He believes that the mentor-mentee program can be good for his career. Even though he enjoys academia, he doesn’t reject the idea of a job in business at a later stage.
“Building networks with key people in industry gives me a unique skill and makes me more attractive on the job market”, he says.
Can lead to more long-term thought
Solum noted that many in industry know little about what happens in university research groups.
“It is important for us in industry to get an insight into new research and how researchers work. We have a busy daily routine. There is lots of day-to-day work, often to meet short-term ends”, says Solum, who believes that a mentor program can contribute to more long-term thought.
“We can step back and dive deeper into development and challenges that can be important for us in the longer term. This applies to everything from software development to more fundamental changes in methods. We see the value of developing teams that consist of people with different backgrounds and perspectives."
Personal development of mentees
SIRIUS’ mentor-mentee program
Mentors are senior managers and technical leaders from Statoil, Schlumberger, IBM, Evry and Numascale. The mentees are Ph.D. students and postdoctoral research fellows at UiO and NTNU.
- Mentor-mentee program lasts 12 months.
- Pairs are arranged based on profiles and meet 1-2 times each month.
- Other activities are seminars on personal development, arenas for networking and social interaction with the other pairs to share experience.
- A Mentor master class was held to prepare the mentors before the programme started.
“Personal development and career planning for doctoral students and postdoctoral researcher is, in general, something we see very little of in academia. This is central in this rather rare mentor-mentee program”, says Associate Professor Ingrid Chieh Yu, who is responsible for running the project.
She also hopes that innovative projects can be conceived because of the mentor-mentee program.
“SIRIUS is a centre for research-based innovation, and it is therefore central for us to find new ways of stimulating innovation, not least finding ways for researchers and industry to do this together. At the same time, we hope to be able to build an interdisciplinary network between industry and research.”
She has just held a meeting with mentees from UiO and NTNU, where they shared their experience of the program.
“What has the experience been thus far?”
It is still a bit early to say. We will do a detailed evaluation in April, but we are very pleased thus far.
She concluded this summary by emphasising that this initial project is a pilot project.
Communication is the key
Ingrid Chieh Yu noted further that good communication is often the key. This can be a challenge when the mentor and the mentee come from different countries and cultures.
“We have worked a lot with this and have used external experts to help. It is important to gain experience on what is needed to build a good partnership and how we can get people from different cultures to work together”.
The aims of the Mentoring Project
- Offer researchers a personal development strategy and cultivate future research leaders.
- Exchange of expertise, values, perspectives and attitudes, with network building.
- Encourage collaboration, engagement and building of skills on both sides of the mentoring relationship.
- Develop and exploit the diversity of culture, age, gender and skills in SIRIUS.
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