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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Interdisciplinary tech management education

Last Thursday and Friday, I was fortunate to be invited (due to a last minute cancellation) to attend a workshop at Georgia Tech on “Graduate Education in Technology Commercialization.” The annual workshop is funded by the Kauffman Foundation and hosted by Tech’s TI:GER program.

The major theme of the 24 hours was interdispclinary (or multidiscplinary) cooperation on campuses for delivering technology management education. One of the Thursday dinner dinner speakers were Mark Allen, Senior Vice Provost for Research and Innovation at Tech. Like Allen, I really liked the idea of combining research (generating new knowledge) and innovation (in this case, commercializing knowledge) under one vice provost.

The other dinner speaker was Andrew Comrie, who lists among is various titles “Director of Graduate Interdiscplinary Programs” at Arizona. He argued that the central mission of universities — knowledge creation and knowledge transfer — require creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Multidisiplinary programs allow creating new knowledge. One example is the professional science master’s, such as the combined biotech/business degree offered by UA and SJSU. The PSM — once a pet project of the Sloan Foundation — is inherently interdisciplinary, often including a business component to better prepare scientists for industry careers.

The discussion of the two specific curricula — at Georgia Tech and Harvard — were also clearly interdisciplinary in both the teachers and the students. (I hope to post more later).

An important point made by host Marie Thursby was that universities are organized around discplinary lines, but companies (and real world problems) are not. At some schools crossing disciplinary silos is harder than others. In my experience, it tends to be a double whammy — an overriding loyalty to disciplinary identity also crowds out an interest in solving real (often interdisciplinary) problems, as the Sidney Harris cartoon suggests.

The program continued with a panel discussion of the interdisciplinary technology management centers at various universities, starting with Ikhlaq Sidhu and Ted Schielman of Berkeley. The panel continued with Sherry Hoskinson (of Arizona’s McGuire Center) and Jay Kesan, who talked about their Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Management at Illinois.

Clearly much of the progress here is due to Kauffman funding teaching initiatives and transfer of best practices. But it also depends on the willingness of various faculty and universities to take a risk — going beyond the conventional disciplinary silos, norms and rewards systems — in search of programs that will best prepare students for work in a multi-disiplinary world.

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