Research groups operate as firm-like entities

One of the sources I have drawn from in my research on the pre-history of hacking in the university is Henry Etzkowitz. His research into the history of MIT and ‘entrepreneurial science’ was especially useful and interesting. As something I want to come back to at a later date, I’ll leave you with this quote from his paper, Research groups as ‘quasi-firms’: the invention of the entrepreneurial university, Research Policy 32 (2003) 109–121 (PDF). I was reminded of this by an article in Tuesday’s Guardian newspaper.

Research groups operate as firm-like entities, lacking only a direct profit motive to make them a company. In the sciences, especially, professors are expected to be team leaders and team members, with the exception of technicians, are scientists in training. As group size increases to about seven or eight members, professors who formerly were doing research are typically compelled to remove themselves from the bench to devote virtually full time to organizational tasks. Often persons in this situation describe themselves as “running a small business”. To continue at a competitive level with their peers, they must maintain an organizational momentum. Once having attained this goal, it is extremely difficult to function again as an individual researcher, so every effort is made to sustain leadership of a group.

Research groups within universities operate as small businesses lacking only a direct profit motive. Discuss!