While working for the past 20 years in various management capacities within the service industry, I had often wondered about the world of academia and research. Are they connected and what relevance does industry have to academia and vice-versa? I suppose these questions fuelled a hidden desire to explore and to experience what the other side was like.
My introduction to academia began when I had the opportunity to teach postgraduate students at the University of Nottingham’s Malaysia campus. Although I had no formal training in teaching, I found teaching to be an extremely rich and rewarding experience, more so because I was able to finally relate what I was practicing in industry to some aspects of academic theory. This led me to consider doing a PhD in management, and when the opportunity to do so presented itself there was no hesitation on my part. I must admit that studying for a PhD was nothing like I had imagined. Despite my years of industry experience, I found I had to retrain some of my skills to suit a more disciplined environment. The daily routine of formulating “quick wins” and “fire-fighting” tactics soon gave way to deep thinking and linking theories to practice. It was not easy but I enjoyed the challenge. I soon began to apply some of my industry knowledge to crafting what I wanted to say to help bridge the worlds of academia and practice. When I was offered the job at the UEA, I took it knowing that with my industry experience and new-found research capability, I might finally be able to achieve this.
As an academic I have now worked on numerous research projects with practitioners including BAE Systems, NHS and more recently with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Through these different projects, I have often tried to provide different lenses to examine the various phenomena in business. I have found that slowly but surely, I am beginning to make some progress in connecting the dots between the two rather different mindsets of academia and practice. What I find interesting is how different the act of consumption has become in the digital age in which we now live. I find myself increasingly working on collaborative efforts across different disciplines to understand better how as consumers, we are all connected.
Recently, one of my collaborative papers entitled “The determinants of value co-creation process in knowledge intensive business services” won the Best Paper award under the Innovation track at the British Academy of Management (BAM) conference. The paper, which examined the drivers of how value is co-created between industry and universities, borrowed extensively from different aspects of management theory including marketing, economics and entrepreneurship. It was clear testament that the different siloes in management are more connected than academics would care to admit.
Personally, I strongly believe that this particular piece of research plays an important role in promoting learning between industry and academia. I have often felt throughout my 20 years as a practitioner that there has been little transfer of learning between the two. In fact, one of my main motivations for pursuing my PhD in management was my desire to contribute towards that transfer of knowledge.
Furthermore, I am happy to say that from a research-led teaching perspective, one aspect of teaching that I look at in higher education is the concept of “value co-creation” which forms part of my research area. In exploring and applying these concepts, once again I approach it from a cross-disciplinary lens (marketing and higher education). From the behaviour of my students, I have noticed that they seem to appreciate the concept, and have begun to understand that they have to “co-create” their education with their respective lecturers if they are to achieve their own goals. The feedback that I have received from students whom I have taught at institutions of higher learning tends to reflect my beliefs.
Since winning the Best Paper award, I feel that my efforts in trying to work across disciplines are beginning to take shape. It has given my collaborators and I more encouragement and motivation to speak up for multidisciplinary research. In fact, we have been recently awarded a British Academy and Leverhulme grant to continue our research efforts in university-industry relations and how knowledge transfer is shaped. I hope that this is the start of many more to come!