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Handout mentality

Illustration: Sam Griffin

I just don’t get the handout mentality. A friend of mine is doing his Doctorate. His research institution and the university will own any IP generated, and he is immensely grateful for the modest stipend that he is surviving on throughout this process. Now, if you approached any entrepreneur and said, “I like your idea. How about you run the business for three years? You get a crap salary and no equity, but you get to mention it on your resume”… do you think you would get any takers?

Maybe it’s just me, but I think there is something wrong here. Of course, you could argue that basic research shouldn’t have a commercial focus, to allow creative juices to flow. I’m cool with that. However, if you are binding people to contracts about who owns the IP, then clearly there is a commercial focus.

But let’s get back to the handout mentality. Getting a handout creates a cushion between you and reality. Over time, it becomes all about securing the handout. Academics don’t want to risk industry placements because: “Who will apply for my grants?” Researchers rant about how pure research shouldn’t have constraints, but they never pursue pure research that they don’t think they can gain funding for. I’m thinking that handouts don’t improve creativity in research. There are two types of lessons in this world: lessons that you learn vicariously and those that require pain. Handouts prevent failure and therefore exclude those valuable lessons acquired through gritty experience. Entrepreneurs learn them (“my business model doesn’t work, that must be why I am broke.”), soldiers learn them (“my fieldcraft sucks, hence this sucking chest wound.”), so why can’t our scientists and researchers learn them?

My two cents: our research community will never make a profound contribution to Australia’s commercial success while it is nestled at the teat of government handouts.

Brendan Lewis is Executive Director of The Churchill Club. [email protected]

The views expressed above do not necessarily represent the editorial opinion of Australian Anthill.