Exploring Engineering Faculty Members' Experiences with University Commercialization Utilizing Systems Thinking
Hixson, Cory Allen
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Since the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, commercialization (e.g., patenting discoveries, licensing technologies, and developing startups) has become increasingly prominent at universities across the nation. These activities can be beneficial for universities as mechanisms to increase research dollars, unrestricted funds, student success, institutional prestige, and public benefit, while developing an innovation and entrepreneurship culture. However, although faculty members are a key source of human capital within the university commercialization process, studies of faculty members' experiences with university commercialization are scarce. To better understand these experiences, I conducted a multiple case study exploring engineering faculty members' commercialization experiences at three land-grant universities, using Activity Theory as an analytical framework. Each case consists of in-depth, semistructured interviews with 5-6 engineering faculty members, 1-2 university administrators, and a technology transfer officer, as well as university commercialization documentation (e.g., university commercialization policy documents and web resources). I analyzed the data using provisional coding (activity system elements, supports, challenges, and affect), inductive coding, and within and cross-case analysis techniques. The study's findings include characteristics of the university commercialization activity system, supports for and challenges to faculty engagement, and provisional recommendations to enhance the university commercialization work system. Key findings include faculty members' desire to make an impact with their work, lack of training and expertise relative to commercialization, conflicting attitudes towards commercialization from colleagues and administrations, and tensions about the place of commercialization within the university's mission. This study highlights an important and underrepresented voice in university commercialization research - "the voice of the individual faculty member. By understanding how faculty members experience university commercialization, university leaders are able to make well-informed decisions regarding the university's mission, culture, work structure, resource allocation, and incentive systems related to this increasingly-prominent faculty activity. Moreover, faculty members and industry collaborators interested in university commercialization can use the study's results to make decisions regarding if and how to best proceed with university commercialization activities. Accordingly, this work not only contributes to faculty work system design, but it also contributes a unique systems research approach to the university commercialization literature.
- Doctoral Dissertations