A few weeks ago when I was visiting Dunedin I was in conversation with a new PhD student and her supervisor. The PhD student was saying how she felt everyone should help each other in their research – share all their data, share all their methods and know-how, to make the world a better place (or words to that effect.) Her supervisor, rather tongue-in-cheek, replied with the comment something like "You poor misguided thing – you’ll learn. We all started off thinking like that but in a few years you’ll be just the like the rest of us."
OK, so I haven’t remembered the words, but that was the gist of the exchange. The fact is, despite good intentions and probably a belief that we should share our skills and know-how more widely, there is a strong element of keeping-it-in-house when it comes to research. We all want to land those big funding grants, attract more PhD students, and so on, and to do that we need to be the best people in the country or world to do our particular job – so why tell others your trade secrets?
Well, the PhD student isn’t completely misguided in her wish. It does happen. On Tuesday, for example, I visited BrainResource – a company with their main office in Sydney. One of their core businesses is BRAINnet: collecting together a huge database ofelectroencephalograms – from healthy people, from people with various conditions (epilepsy, depression etc) – in various situations – e.g. resting, sleeping, carrying out particular tasks – for the purposes of facilitating research. This data is made available (in certain forms) to others. The idea is that the database helps bring in research grants – for both the company and for other institutions. Overall, the winner will be the governments and health services that fund these projects, as they’ll get a better outcome, as well as the BrainResource employees who get employed to do a fascinating job.
It’s an interesting model of doing business, but it appears to be working.