Dr Vahid Vaziri is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Applied Dynamics Research (CADR) at the University of Aberdeen. He gave us his insights on working with industry on oil and gas research – advice we think is practical and valuable for researchers and businesses alike.
1 Take the jump – there are plenty of opportunities out there
Although oil and gas is a relatively conservative industry, cost-cutting pressures and more ambitious drilling plans have created many opportunities for new ideas and research. If you can prove an idea is beneficial for the sector, the oil and gas industry will come to show interest.
2 Learn about industry’s needs and language
Researchers might often have more flexible, independent working environments. The oil and gas industry is used to practices such as regular meetings, presentations, progress reports and deadlines. It is reassuring for industrial partners, and builds trust, if they see that researchers follow their practices.
3 Communicate your ideas and find common ground
Many project managers in industry know precisely what they want from the project, but many don’t. It is important to understand what they want and what they are flexible about, and to design a project that suits both parties.
During a project, the time often comes when a researcher is very much tempted to take the research in a more fundamental direction. This is okay and may even be appreciated by the industrial partner. However, it needs to be consulted on carefully and in detail with the funders, with the aim of building a good working relationship and trust.
4 Push things forward and take control
Another piece of advice I would give to researchers is to take charge of the project in the sense of pushing it forward, no matter whether anyone from the business side is following it closely all the time. They need to see that you have everything under control at all times. This approach builds trust and encourages companies to invest in collaboration. But don’t forget to give regular updates.
5 Persevere when finding projects
Many initial discussions never get to the second round and many initial proposals never get any feedback. It is difficult to recognise the real and false opportunities for collaboration, but you need to be ready and spend time on each opportunity because it might be the one.
6 Try to get some freedom in your research
In my experience, businesses should be clear about their needs and about what they know and don’t know.
I would also recommend giving some flexibility to the researchers, and recognising the differences between academia and their typical industry clients. Some freedom to the researchers is likely to help the results and bring benefit to the businesses in the long run.
7 Get the right team together
It’s helpful if businesses put thought into who will work with researchers from the company side. In meetings, it’s beneficial when there are industry experts in the room, as well as the industry project manager. Each can bring something to the table.
8 Think long-term
If either the business or the academics see the collaboration as a one shot, rather than looking for a long-term relationship, the danger is that the only success becomes delivery of the project but misses out on a more creative delivery and the potential for further developments.The partners are better off trying to understand the others’ approach to the project and finding common ground.
Nothing comes overnight. Some of our relationships with current project partners started ten years ago with a single initial project, with further projects reinforcing the trust between both sides at each stage.
9 An OGIC project manager can help
The OGIC project manager, who has run most of our projects, has facilitated the projects from the defining stage and during the research, and managed both sides’ expectations up to final delivery and beyond, into follow-up and future steps.
I can recall several occasions where projects may not have succeeded without the professionalism, patience and enthusiasm of the OGIC project manager who handles our projects.
10 There’s a lot left to do
I am hoping for much closer links between academia and industry to tackle the challenges ahead of us, such as emerging technologies, climate change, ageing population and so on. I hope both businesses and researchers will play their part.
Dr Vahid Vaziri is part of a team at University of Aberdeen working on seven OGIC projects, worth more than £1.3 million and involving five companies, aiming to develop new technologies for use in offshore drilling operations. You can read more about the projects here.