Situation: A researcher’s career is often associated with the lack of financial growth prospects outside employment at the best universities.
In fact: Incomes for R&D professionals can vary considerably. The difference is often determined by the presence or lack of entrepreneurial skills.
Natalia Shmatko and Valentina Permyakova, researchers from HSE ISSEK, carried out a study of the contribution of entrepreneurial skills to the social stratification of R&D personnel. The data for analysis was obtained by using methodology from the international project ‘Careers of Doctorate Holders’ (CDH), which is conducted by OCED, Eurostat and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. The sample included 1,742 respondents aged between 21 and 70.
It turned out that the presence of entrepreneurial skills and their application in work considerably impacts the incomes of R&D professionals. The most successful respondents turned out to be those aged 50-70, specializing in natural or technical sciences, who not only have entrepreneurial skills but keep applying them continuously. The research working paper is available on the HSE website.
Today’s researchers are expected to have competencies that not only help them actively carry out research, but also put it into practice. In other words, the paper authors say, a researcher’s portfolio should include not only special competencies, but skills for creating innovation, initiative and entrepreneurship, as well as multitasking and interdisciplinarity.
Entrepreneurial skills have a particular importance in research & development, since the practical application of research outcomes depends on them. At the same time, entrepreneurship is a skill that is not formally considered an obligatory part of the academic profession.
Economist and political scientist Joseph Schumpeter believed that ‘entrepreneurship is not a profession’, but a characteristic that is independent of class or social affiliation. An entrepreneur is someone possessing the desire for innovation, the ability to take risks, belief in ones own strength, and a sense of independence and autonomy. These skills have growing importance in the 21st century and are among the essential competencies in many different fields today.
But in Russia, the authors say, there is a gap between the growing role of innovative technological creation and implementation and a lack of mechanisms to commercialize knowledge and development.
On the federal level, the country has taken certain steps to fix this situation. In 2009, a special law was passed that allows academic institutions to commercialize and market their academic developments and discoveries. Universities have expanded their research over recent years. While in 2010, less than half of Russian universities were involved in research and development (46%), in 2019, this share had grown to 83.3% (603 out of 724 universities).
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), in 2020, 7.6% of start-up entrepreneurs in Russia had businesses in high tech, which was considerably higher than in 2019 – 2.4%.
ISSEK researchers believe that in this context, it is important to evaluate the role of entrepreneurial skills in a researcher’s work, as well as their correlation with social stratification in science. They emphasize that entrepreneurial skills are very ‘unevenly distributed’ among professionals employed in R&D.
The main hypothesis of the study was that entrepreneurial skills impact the stratification of the academic community. Individuals with better developed entrepreneurial skills demonstrate higher professional achievements and receive higher financial remuneration.
The study used the methodology of an OECD/Eurostat/UNESCO Institute for Statistics international project ‘Careers of Doctorate Holders’ (CDH). The multi-stage stratified sample consisted of 1,742 respondents. To visualize the results, mixed statistical methods and graphical representations of relationships and differences between key characteristics based on correlation analysis were used.
To implement the project, standard names of entrepreneurial skills that are used by OECD and were outlined by one of the World Economic Forums (WEF 2015) were reformulated into questions for respondents. The authors also used a complex index aimed at assessing the level of researchers’ entrepreneurial skills in seven indicators:
Putting forward new ideas, developing new products, technologies;
Finding practical applications of obtained results;
Establishing, maintaining and developing contacts and cooperating with colleagues, and partners from other organizations;
Managing the project: designing and implementing the whole process, resources, deadlines, cost;
Being autonomous at work: completing the task within the designated timeframe and with the allocated resources;
Studying, retraining, mastering new methods, technologies, installations, etc.;
Presenting publicly (to customers, colleagues) the results of their work, a new product, service.
In addition to the simple fact of possessing a certain skill, it was necessary to understand how they are really used in practice, which was assessed on a 5-point Likert scale: the lowest number of points for ‘I never apply this skill in my professional activities’ and the most for ‘I regularly apply this skill in my professional activities’.
The key considered variables, in addition to levels of entrepreneurial skills, were: academic degree, branch of science, scientific productivity (number of publications), average yearly income, age, gender, position at the main job, employment sector (higher education, public sector, business), and additional employment in the non-academic (entrepreneurial) sector.
The results of the analysis revealed several groups of researchers with different levels of entrepreneurial skills possession and application. Researchers with more advanced entrepreneurial skills comprise a separate cohort that accumulates the highest professional achievements in R&D.
They usually have a degree in engineering, natural science or mathematics; they publish papers actively and take high positions in their organizations or departments. In addition to their main job, they usually have one or two side jobs in the entrepreneurial sector. This might be contractual work in business companies, freelance jobs, consulting or individual entrepreneurship. The age of such academics varies from 50 to 70, and predominantly, they are male. This group boasts the highest average yearly income in the sample – 1,100,000 roubles and up.
The level of incomes for those who occasionally apply their entrepreneurial skills in professional activities varies from 500,000 to 1,000,000 roubles. And finally, researchers who rarely or never use entrepreneurial skills earn an average of 300,000 to 500,000 roubles or lower. Most often, they are young researchers, women, researchers in humanities or agricultural science who work in the public or educational sectors.
The authors also established a correlation between research productivity and entrepreneurial skills. Researchers who apply them regularly demonstrate a higher publication activity.
In general, among the surveyed Russian academics, a considerable part — almost one third — regularly apply entrepreneurial skills in their work. And only 4% never use them. The most common skill is time management. The least common skill among scientists is the ability to find practical applications for their scientific achievements.
Despite the fact that academic entrepreneurship has long been the focus of sociologists’ and economists’ attention, some important aspects remain understudied, the researchers say. One of them is the impact of entrepreneurial skills on social stratification of the academic community.
This study has demonstrated the monetary ‘return’ that scholars who have and use entrepreneurial skills get. The authors say that in further studies, it would be important to consider whether there is a reward for the possession of certain groups of skills not only in monetary, but also in an intangible sense, for example, in the form of peer recognition or prestige in society.
One of the possible practical conclusions from this study is that students should be taught not only purely academic hard skills, fundamental and in-deoth knowledge in their specialization, but also soft skills, to use training sessions and stimulate entrepreneurial initiative by all means. In any case, production of academic knowledge inside academia is not the only possible career path for a young researcher.