Student-Faculty Ties Examined

CHICAGO—Universities should regulate, and possibly even ban, some relationships between students and those faculty with financial ties to industry, says a Harvard physician who has studied ties between academia and industry. His 1985 survey of almost 700 grad students and postdocs in biotechnology-related fields found that a majority believe the benefits of increased financial support of students and faculty by industry outweigh the risks. A little more than one-third were getting such sup

By | March 23, 1987

CHICAGO—Universities should regulate, and possibly even ban, some relationships between students and those faculty with financial ties to industry, says a Harvard physician who has studied ties between academia and industry.

His 1985 survey of almost 700 grad students and postdocs in biotechnology-related fields found that a majority believe the benefits of increased financial support of students and faculty by industry outweigh the risks. A little more than one-third were getting such support, 20 percent directly and another 15 percent by working with industry-supported faculty.

But the effects of that support on scientists at the most vulnerable points in their careers, and in particular the pressure to keep results secret, are not receiving sufficient attention, according to David Blumenthal, senior vice-president of Boston's Brigham and Womens Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, who headed the study. At least 12 percent of those surveyed felt constraints on their freedom to discuss their work with colleagues.

Universities often have no explicit rules for the relationships of students with companies that support them, Blumenthal told a sparsely attended symposium, "Biotechnology and the Social Transformation of Scientific Practice," on the final afternoon of the AAAS meeting here last month. Faculty members holding equity in outside companies, or having exclusive consulting relationships with them, should be monitored carefully if they supervise industry-supported students, he said.

Most of those surveyed, including those supported by industry, expect to obtain academic jobs. Those receiving direct industry support published significantly less in peer-reviewed journals than those supported only indirectly or not at all by industry, but Blumenthal said the difference may be due more to individual productivity than to commercial pressures to keep research findings under wraps. The best students may find it easy to get government support, he speculated, while industry underwrites the rest.

Powledge is Editor of The Scientist.

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