Not in the Job Description: The Commercial Activities of Academic Scientists and Engineers

35 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2018

See all articles by Wesley M. Cohen

Wesley M. Cohen

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business; Duke University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Henry Sauermann

ESMT European School of Management and Technology

Paula E. Stephan

Georgia State University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: June 2018

Abstract

Scholarly work seeking to understand academics’ commercial activities often draws on abstract notions of the academic reward system and of the representative scientist. Few scholars have examined whether and how scientists’ motives to engage in commercial activities differ across fields. Similarly, efforts to understand academics’ choices have focused on three self-interested motives – recognition, challenge, and money – ignoring the potential role of the desire to have an impact on others. Using panel data for a national sample of over 2,000 academics employed at U.S. institutions, we examine how the four motives are related to commercial activity, measured by patenting. We find that all four motives are correlated with patenting, but these relationships differ systematically between the life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering. These field differences are consistent with differences across fields in the rewards from commercial activities, as well as in the degree of overlap between traditional and commercializable research, which affects the opportunity costs of time spent away from “traditional” work. We discuss potential implications for policy makers, administrators, and managers as well as for future research on the scientific enterprise.

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Wesley M. and Sauermann, Henry and Stephan, Paula E., Not in the Job Description: The Commercial Activities of Academic Scientists and Engineers (June 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w24769, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3206444

Wesley M. Cohen (Contact Author)

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

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Duke University - Department of Economics

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Henry Sauermann

ESMT European School of Management and Technology ( email )

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Paula E. Stephan

Georgia State University - Department of Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 3992
Atlanta, GA 30302-3992
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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