Research at universities engages faculty and staff and also provides a way to train students. The research tends to be basic and innovative. But agricultural research, including agricultural engineering research, is often more applied.
The results of agricultural engineering research are transferred out of the university in many ways. The most significant and most effective method is through the training of students who then work for industrial and commercial organizations. Graduate degrees, primarily masters and Ph.D. degrees, are one of the most significant products of USA university research. The graduates bring research experience and the knowledge gained during the research to their new employers. A current concern is that over half the doctoral students in engineering in the USA are foreign nationals. If the students do not stay in the USA, either from a desire to return to their homeland or from restrictions against immigration, they will export their knowledge and talents with them. Many of the students with graduate degrees want jobs in the private sector. This predisposition helps technology transfer if there are sufficient private sector jobs available.
The second most important method of technology transfer is through publications and technical presentations. Historically, faculty members have been evaluated upon their research publications. So there was a huge incentive to publish, commonly expressed as “publish or perish”. This is still very important. However, there is more emphasis now upon the faculty’s generation of financial funds. So there is more emphasis on getting grants and contracts, and less on publications. Another concern is the problem of less industry attention to publications and presentations. Due to shrinkage and consolidation of the agricultural equipment industry, there is less industrial participation in ASABE meetings and other venues. Part of this decline may also be due to the proliferation in the number of publications as smaller increments (some would say “least-publishable units”) of knowledge generation are covered in individual publications.
Universities in the USA have recently become more insistent on claiming intellectual property rights. A great emphasis is placed upon the potential revenue which might be gained from patents and copyrights. Accordingly, much information is not transferred as readily. Proponents of this increased emphasis say the securing intellectual property improves the chances that the knowledge will be commercially successful. However, critics and many neutral observers contend that the concentration on maintaining intellectual property restricts the dissemination of knowledge and hence the transfer to commercialization. For example, a typical warning to faculty is: “most countries require that applications be applied for before any disclosure or publication occurs. If the results of the invention are disclosed or published, the inventor runs the risk of losing the ability to protect their invention worldwide” (IFAS, 2007).
Universities in the USA are very concerned with the public’s perception of the quality of their research and teaching. Good perceptions lead to higher rankings, the ability to get better students and faculty, and the ability to get better financial resources through contracts and grants, donations, and governmental funding. The resulting public relations activities usually describe advances in knowledge and innovations generated at the university. As a side effect, the details of the knowledge and innovations are spread widely.