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A Case for Factoring Tech Transfer Activities into Promotion and Tenure Decisions

When you think of tech transfer, what comes to mind? Probably words like innovation, startup, commercialization and entrepreneurship.

What about these words: promotions and tenure. No? Well, several tech transfer professionals and academics are trying to change that.

Macbook, iPhone, journal and coffee mug hugged by two hands on top of wooden table

Why Promotion and Tenure Should Include Tech Transfer

In a panel discussion at AUTM’s 2019 Eastern Region Meeting, Laura Schoppe from Fuentek, Daniel Stancil from North Carolina State University and Justin Streuli from University of North Carolina at Greensboro made a compelling case as to why academic committees should consider tech transfer activities when making promotion and tenure (P&T) decisions about faculty.

The most obvious reason as to why committees should take into account the transfer efforts of faculty is the fact that universities want to encourage entrepreneurship, and, as emphasized by all panelists, that’s exactly what tech transfer does.

Typically, faculty are evaluated by several categories, including:

  • Scholarly Works
  • Teaching Effectiveness
  • University Service

Panelists argued that the University Service category should include tech transfer efforts, i.e. entrepreneurial activity. Committees can evaluate that activity by reviewing disclosure of patents and provisionals, and even engagement from online audiences. As one panelist noted, “a blog post with 20K views can be more valuable than a journal article.” All of that data should be considered.

The way faculty can get committees to pay attention their entrepreneurial endeavors? Explain why it benefits the university as a whole, as well as specific departments.

“Tech Transfer offices are like translators. They have to translate the benefit of tech transfer activities to campus groups and departments. How will an innovation fund or a tech transfer office benefit the university or your department?”

The panel also recommended that faculty celebrate their entrepreneurship publicly. Advocate to include them in departmental annual reports.

For new faculty looking to establish a path towards P&T, panelists recommended that they pursue tech transfer activities first, then commit to a larger, higher risk project, such as writing a book.

What To Consider Before Factoring Tech Transfer into P&T

Even though some institutions created tech transfer policies 10 years ago, many departments don’t factor tech transfer activities into tenure and promotion decisions.

Panelists suggested one reason for that is because universities aren’t sure how to create tech transfer policies for faculty without tech transfer offices becoming inundated with requests.

Along with tech transfer offices (TTOs), faculty themselves may face challenges when being encouraged to engage in entrepreneurial activities.

Committees and TTOs need to collaborate to “think through what changes you’ll have to make to support faculty,” panelists said. For example, implementing commercialization P&T could hurt underrepresented faculty. “How can you create more representation in the invention process?”

Panelists also call for committees and TTOs to create a streamlined way of collecting data. “Will you have a portal for inventors to get to?” they ask.

When it comes to factoring tech transfer activities into P&T decisions, panelists agree that while “the mission of universities is to have an impact and grow the state’s economy—that’s what tech transfer does…including tech transfer is step zero. You need other people in place to support you.”

Written by Sarah Greenberg on Nov 4, 2019, 11:00:00 AM

Sarah Greenberg is the Senior Content Strategist at BCC Research. She creates our blog, social media and email content.