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Can universities still produce innovations?

In a piece published on the Naturally Selected blog at, Morgan Giddings explains the frustrations that drove her to leave a tenured faculty job at a major research university. She makes a case for why the university research system is broken, and suggests how it might be fixed.

Giddings writes that universities are no longer the sources of innovation that they once were. She suggests that in the biomedical sciences, an emphasis on immediate translation of research into clinical applications is hurting the ability of researchers to focus on basic science.

While translating basic research into real-world applications is certainly a goal of this type of work, Giddings argues that universities are not equipped to handle this task. She points to three culprits: university bureaucracy that inhibits rapid translation of results; faculty members overburdened with other duties that take them away from their research; and the approval of grants by committee, which are rarely innovative.

Giddings supports a return-to-basics approach, in which university scientists would be allowed to focus on doing innovative research and the translation of their results would be up to companies or institutes. What can universities and grant-giving institutions can help make this happen? Giddings offers five suggestions:

  1. Instead of funding short-term projects, fund good scientists and let them innovate, even if they don't know how their research will play out.
  2. Limit the administrative and other non-research and teaching roles of faculty
  3. Stop requiring grant applicants to focus on short-term translations of their research
  4. Better communication with the public that good science takes time and resources, but is a worthwhile investment.
  5. Make science fun again by also funding work that does not have instant translational applications, but may be fascinating and inspiring.

Do you agree?

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