Academic engagement with industry is a well-researched topic. However, research has focused on scholars in traditional university departments, overlooking more hybrid research contexts such as the growing trend of PhD students and their supervisors engaging in collaborative research projects with industry during their training. To address this gap, this study explores the early-career academic engagement of PhD students in university-industry collaborative research projects. It particularly focuses on research orientation and its association with scientific and inventive yield. Drawing on Stokes’ (1997) framework, the study investigates the extent to which the research orientation (basic research, applied research, and user-inspired fundamental research) is associated with scientific and inventive yield. The study is based on a review of 631 collaborative PhD projects with industry completed in France in 2018 through a national programme (CIFRE). It finds that the three research orientations are associated with different levels of scientific and inventive yields. While basic research is the most common orientation across the sample, the rarest, user-inspired fundamental research, is associated with the highest scientific and inventive yield. Moreover, the study highlights the critical role of PhD students’ taste for science or industry (and the potential change in this taste during the project) in the association between research orientation and projects’ yields. Overall, this study sheds light on an understudied area of academic engagement and highlights the significance of considering research orientation and students’ taste for science or industry when developing university-industry collaborations. This has implications for PhD supervisors, PhD students, their industrial partners, and policymakers.
To cite the article: Plantec, Q., Cabanes, B., Le Masson, P., & Weil, B. (2023). Early-career academic engagement in university–industry collaborative PhDs: Research orientation and project performance. Research Policy, 52(9), 104856. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2023.104856