Thursday, 19 July 2012

ESOF 2012

The largest general science conference was held in Dublin last week - EuroScience Open Forum 2012. It was a great coup for Ireland to land such a prestigious event and there were close to 5,000 participants in attendance.
The Science to Business track was the main reason that I attended, although it was difficult not to be distracted by speakers such as James Watson and Craig Venter, as well as Mary Robinson, Maire Geoghan Quinn and Bob Geldof!
First up at 8am on Thursday was 'Female researchers and entrepreneurship, why does gender matter?'. An early start but the presentations and panel discussion made sure to hold the attention. Some of the key points raised were the need for entrepreneurial role models for female researchers and need for more confidence in terms of capabilities. Other presentations that day included 'Partnerships driving innovation' and 'What are the important criteria for successful open innovation?'. Trust is a key issue here for both building partnerships and open innovation and this is only built over time.
The time between talks was spent in the exhibition hall, a really easy way to lose a couple of hours with the number and quality of exhibitors. There was a speakers cormer as part of the exhibition, but it made speaking with the exhibitors in that section quite difficult when there was a presentation on stage!
Day 2 kicked off at 8am also (coffee required), with four presentations I wanted to attend all on at the same time - 'How can tech tranfer drive innovation' won out marginally over 'Scientific advice for European policy', 'Master class: bringing research to market' and 'The future of innovation policy - forging policy in uncertain times'. The keynote that day that I was able to attend was given by Maire Geoghan Quinn on 'Collaboration, competition, connection - evidence of intelligent deign in European science policy?', it was followed by a panel discussion and provided some fascinating insight into European scince policy decisions. Concluding presentations for that day included 'How can more SMEs engage in Horizon 2020' and Paradigms of Innovation that transform economies'. I met Conor Lenihan (former Fianna Fail TD) at the latter presentation, he is now Vice President of the Skolkovo Foundation in Russia. The Foundation, which was a focus of one of the speakers, is a high-tech innovation centre in Moscow, and Mr Lenihan is responsible for international partnership development.
The final talk I attended was 'The usefulness of useless knowledge and how to find uses and users'. A bit of an odd one, but basically Dr Helga Nowotny, president of the European Research Council, was reminding everyone that basic research is very important, and just because something doesn't have a commercial application straight away doesn't mean that it won't play a key role at a later stage.
An interesting comment that arose from the conference appeared to be a broad concern about the difficulty in getting academia/third level to collaborate with industry. I found it a bit difficult to relate to this as Shannon ABC's remit is to collaborate with industry (as it is for the other Applied Research Enhancement Centre's based in the Institutes of Technology around Ireland), perhaps this Industry pull model is one that Universities should consider if they really want to engage with industry? In contrast to this, many of the eminent speakers at ESOF 2012 seemed at pains to drive home the message that basic research should not take a back seat to applied research as vital break-throughs will not happen if the focus is entirely on applied outcomes. It begs the question, has Irish scientific policy moved too far in the applied research direction?