The following is an excerpt.
CASA gets down to the second half of the SFI period. It is time both to sum up and to adapt for the future.
«When you have reached a world-leading position. What should you do to keep that position? It is easier to tear down than to build up», says Centre director Magnus Langseth.
AFTER CASA – THEN WHAT?
Nowadays, he puts a lot of energy in preparing the post-CASA period. The question raised is: What Happens when the SFI-chapter closes?
CASA builds upon more than 30 years of research. How to secure the continuation? How do we prevent loss of knowhow and crumbling of competence when the RCN financing period is over in 2023?
2019 was a busy year at CASA. From September to November 6 PhD candidates defended their theses.
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The Centre’s peak season stretches way into 2020. This year, 7 new candidates will earn their degrees. 5 of the fresh doctors from last year have signed up for postdoc positions. Hence, further progress for the final years is well taken care of.
In spite of that, we all know that there Ain’t No Such Thing as A Free Lunch. Not at least, Magnus Langseth knows that it is all about hard work.
The Centre had a fresh start on the new year. The whole staff went to the city of Røros. The event started with an inspiring guest lecture from one of Norway’s most famous speakers, Ingebrigt Steen Jensen (to the left on the photo). The topic was «What can we learn from the best»? The backdrop was Langseth´s (right) engagement for taking care of and bringing forward CASA´s success when the SFI period is over.
NO PLACE FOR PRIMADONNAS
– Why is this so important?
«I want to preserve what we have built up. I want the group to continue to do cutting edge research and interact with the industry. In this manner, the way we run the Centre is essential. We are co-located. Employees and staff cooperate and are very well coordinated. Besides, our competences are complementary. We eat our lunch together. The spirit is good. Here, there are no primadonnas nor one-man-shows. The Midway Evaluation concluded that CASA «is an excellent competence centre with many examples of best practice in its research training, organisation, and industry support operations. We have established a world-leading centre in our field. We have an ideology and a good sense of community. In my opinion, having all this helps to take care of the group».
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THE CENTRE IS ON TRACK
-How would you sum up halfway down the road? Is CASA ahead, on, or behind schedule?
«In the light of what we promised in our project description, we are on track. Both when it comes to the scientific work and – not at least – the interaction with the partners. Putting the research to use is challenging. We have 14 partners, and they have different needs and different skills when it comes to utilising research. We established The Industrial Reference Group, with representatives from each of them. That was a smart move to tackle challenges that come up along the way. So, we put a lot of effort into this part, but the road from research to innovation is absolutely not straight forward. Also, in my opinion, putting resources into communication has paid off. Visibility, even outside academic journals, is essential. The Midway Evaluation confirms that we have succeeded in that manner, too».
SPINOFF, IMPACT, QUALITY
– What kind of milestones are passed?
«When it comes to virtual processes on product development, we are getting there. Especially within the field of aluminium, we have covered a lot of ground. We will soon be able to offer our partner´s fully digitalised product development. If asked 5 years ago, nobody would have imagined that we could come so far. Our first commercial spinoff ENODO, was established in 2018, and we have made the Impello report on innovation. The report estimates the realised and potential impact of 15 technologies and methods originating from the Centre. Another notable achievement is that our partners acknowledge that long-term research is starting to pay off. The industry demands that the research they put to use should be published in scientific journals. This is a way to secure that the methods are proofed to have the highest quality standard before implemented. To me, this confirms the importance of keeping a firm hold on scientific research».
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– What is the greatest challenge of running a Centre for Research-Based Innovation?
«To perform cutting edge research and have it published in top international journals, and at the same time, make sure that the work leads to innovation in the industry. This is the main challenge. We have put a lot of effort into it. I think we are starting to see that the effort has helped the research to start take on wings. Education is another challenge. We need to clarify that the Centre’s play an important role when it comes to offering research-based education. We have an enormous need to enhance competence. Still, the announcement of the SFI schemes does not at all address the importance of educating MSc students».
SKILLED PEOPLE AND PREDICTABILITY
– When someone asks you, how to achieve the best possible research, what is your response?
«Skilled people and predictability in the way research groups are supported financially. They must be allowed the opportunity to stack one stone on top of another steadily. For us, as an SFI, giving the industry the research that the industry needs is essential. We depend on recruiting the best people. Thus, we must offer them an excellent working environment and colleagues with complementary skills. And of course, resources to do the research. Today, the funding of a PhD candidate is normally three years. In my opinion, that is not enough time. People need time to think, rethink, reflect and mature. And they do need to thrive in an environment that let them take their time to do so. That is why the PhD period in CASA is 4 years. 3 years of research and 4 months of mandatory work for the institute. Then there are 8 months where the candidate can work closely with the industry and eventually help to implement technology and put their research to use».
«8 YEARS IS NOT A VERY LONG TIME»
– The SFI scheme aims to increase innovation in the Norwegian industry. A centre is supported financially for 8 years. You have governed 2 centres in a row. What is your experience with transforming research into innovation on this time schedule?
«If you should fulfil The Norwegian research Council´s criteria for success, 8 years is not a very long time. Let me illustrate: In CASA, the PhD period is 4 years. Then comes the period when the research should be adjusted and adapted. To put new technology to use, the industry partners must learn how to use and to implement the tools. All this takes time, and presto, the period of the Centre is over! Therefore, the SFI-period should last longer, simply because transforming research to innovation, takes time».
Cutting edge research takes time, but it pays off
NOT A «DUGNAD»
– You have said that in general, you think it is necessary to be more explicit on what kind of industrial partners that fit in the SFI Concept?
«Yes, I think this is a critical point to make clear. For instance, the Damvad-report, which is an evaluation of the SFI Scheme, encourages a stricter screening of the industrial partners. One challenge is that only a few of them conduct research themselves. The innovation of many of the companies is based on experience, not research. Damvad recommends considering whether the potential participants must document research skills or make visible measures to obtain this competence. I agree with that. It should be made clear that an SFI is not what we in Norway call «dugnad», or voluntary work. Partners who want to attend must be genuinely interested and actively taking part».
NURSING THE EXCELLENT
– What could be done do to sustain the SFI’s when the journey has come to an end? How to prevent that knowhow built up through decades disintegrate?
«The university and the Research Council should put up a framework and a strategy that allows nursing unique research groups. If we had such means to help excellent groups to continue to flourish, a lot would be achieved. In Norway, research groups are evaluated several times. Those who pass with excellent remarks should be given resources to keep up the excellent work and flourish further. In my opinion, a certain percentage of the SFI Centre’s should be allowed the opportunity to prolong the period».
«CUTTING EDGE RESEARCH TAKES TIME»
-SFI CASA has continued to build upon what is achieved through more than three decades of research at the Department of Structural Engineering. What kind of opportunities are you looking into, to be able to keep up the good work when the SFI period is over?
«All I can say is that we work along different tracks. Already in autumn 2018, we started the first discussion with our partners. It is a positive dialogue. All of them see that what we have achieved is unique. The industry is keen to harvest and put the technology to use. At the same time, we need funding to continue to do cutting edge research.
It seems like we have to offer a full package, that consists of education, research and implementation. It is no longer enough to educate people with a doctoral degree. We have to show how the research can be put to use. Our task is to develop a technology platform which is used by the partners in their daily engineering work. Cutting edge research takes time, but it pays off».