Translating research

Under DCU’s last strategic plan, and also under its new plan that will be published shortly, the university commits itself to giving special support to ‘translational research’. This concept originally came from medicine, but has more recently been applied increasingly to other fields also. Broadly it means that the research undertaken should have the capacity to be used in practical contexts to support social, business, health or other needs. We have supported and developed the concept in particular because we are aware that the taxpayer, having made a major investment in university research, is expecting this to have an impact and to make a visible difference to society.

On the other hand, the academic profession has also maintained its historic commitment to basic or pure research, which is conducted at least initially for its own sake rather than because an application for it can be envisaged. A very good friend of mine, a successful professor in a major world leading university, has occasionally suggested to me that the most important research that an academic institution can host is ‘useless research’.

How we deal with both basic and translational research may become a highly significant issue. The public investment in research is being maintained right now through some very difficult times and it has become necessary for politicians to explain why this is being prioritised. This requires them to be able to say what benefits society will experience as a result of academic research. There is of course a major benefit flowing from basic research, but it is hard to explain this in a setting where public investment is expected to yield tangible results in the short term.

No serious university will ever withdraw from basic research as a fundamental academic activity. But in all its forms, research in universities is not some form of self-indulgence, it is something we do in order to produce important benefits for society. Planned translational research is therefore of great significance in demonstrating value and convincing the general public that research matters. Getting this balance right will in all probability determine whether public money continues to flow to support and develop Irish academic research. Without that research, we are destined for national mediocrity. We must not let that happen.

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One Comment on “Translating research”

  1. Jean Says:

    I think it is very difficult for non- academics to buy into the need for funding research because most of the time it is not seen as applcable to their lives. In this economic climate it is difficult to argue for research funding that has no impact on their lives. I think translational research and community based research have significant benefits. Perhaps there needs to be more workshops for faculty/staff on these topics, particularly community based research since that are many examples which are translational. I know funding is an issue especially now with all the cuts in Ireland but the role of the university in the community is a long term topic for discussion. In the US, the landgrant university system is a model of how third level institutions operate with research, teaching and community

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