Competing Cultures? Economic and Scientific Mindsets and Practices in Biotechnology


Research problem and questions

This research project is concerned with the transfer of scientific knowledge and expertise from academia into industry. Scientific discoveries rarely turn into technological innovations over night. Taking a new idea out of the laboratory and turning it into a marketable product requires scientists and entrepreneurs to actively engage with each other. Our previous observations, however, suggest that even in the commercially driven field of biotechnology, the cultural and social gap between academic science and industrial application in Germany is much bigger than previously assumed. Incompatible mindsets, values and practices impede the flow of knowledge between universities and industry. This poses a fundamental obstacle to technological innovation in the life sciences. Nonetheless, both “social worlds” are entangled with each other. Scientific work depends more than ever on third party funding, while new findings in basic research have become the lifeblood of biotechnology firms.

How do scientists position themselves in this tense field of relations? What constitutes the cultural and institutional boundaries between the worlds of academia and business? What organizational and epistemic prerequisites does it take to cross these boundaries?

Main content

Research design and methods

We are using a mixed methods approach that combines bibliometrical analysis, quantitative survey methods and various qualitative methods. By employing a bibliometrical analysis of all publication data and patent registrations in the field of biotechnology, we map out the German research landscape that has emerged over the past two decades. Furthermore, scientists in academic biotechnology are being asked through an extensive online survey about their professional values and attitudes toward the industrial application of science and their own entrepreneurial experiences. The survey is being conducted in cooperation with the Centre for European Economic Research in Mannheim.

Our main emphasis lies on the qualitative part of the study. In a series of focus group interviews, we invite post-doctoral fellows to discuss their career goals and individual priorities. We believe that the perceptions that young researchers have about their role in the chain of scientific and commercial innovation are crucial to obtaining a more general understanding of the cultural and social tension between academia and business.

Contact: Alexander Wentland