Collaborating for Innovations: A NIST Scientist’s Personal Experience

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I had a great discussion with a NIST researcher about federal researchers and their experience with collaborating on their innovations to push their projects from the labs to the commercial market. This is what he had to say. From his experience, he noticed that some scientists adopted a “researcher mentality,” wherein they are subject matter experts in their field and feel confident sending out their completed research and then returning to the lab for new and continued projects. The better move, sometimes, is to not rush back to the lab, because one might miss opportunities for critical and practical feedback from those that will ultimately consume or benefit from the technology. Getting away from the “lab mentality,” as he calls it, and encouraging a more collaborative mentality is where he and his teams have found success over the years. So, how does he recommend going about this way of thinking?

  • Identify stakeholders and understand the perspectives of those who would be invested in the product.
  • Seek out continuous feedback from the target population that the innovation is aimed. Doing this allows for continued improvement and learning throughout the research and technological development process.
  • Figure out the external things, felt by the stakeholders, that are costing extra time and money and resolve those issues.
  • Go to conferences and seek out those with similar research or domain interests. Exchange publicly available data sets, findings, and development processes. If the mutual interest is there, one can more easily seek out collaborations.
  • Know the public benefit of your product and how it can positively affect target demographics.
  • If there is a mutual benefit between multiple parties, and the interested prospect(s) wants to work with the federal researcher and their innovation, then a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) could be a viable mechanism to support joint activities.
  • As he says, “you must be able to advertise your research,” and this can be done through networking.

The NIST researcher emphasized the importance of networking. He stated that networking is critical in federal research and there are many different ways to go about it. Attending conferences and virtual workshops can get a foot in the door with others who are interested in the specific field of research. From there, one can have a multitude of products that would interest collaborators, and these can include: a website, publications, data sets and papers to name a few. It’s all about marketing one’s self and research efforts. By putting one’s foot in the door, it can possibly lead to new leads for partnerships, CRADAs, and overall collaboration efforts.

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