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The Purpose and Process of Science: Contrasting Understandings in UK Research Establishments

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This paper is based on an ESRC-funded study into scientists’ perceptions of management. Changes in the organisation, purpose and process of science were heralded with the publication of the White Paper (Cm2250 1993). However, to date there has been little empirical work into how research scientists understand such issues. Our research, based on qualitative interviews conducted with scientist/managers in seven government-funded research establishments, found that scientists’ notions of scientific purpose varied, not just according to the nature of their work, but also evolved as careers progressed and the contexts within which they worked changed (in particular as the need to generate income through commissioned work has increased). The data also reveal a diversity in scientists’ understanding of the relationship between discovery and applied science. Of central importance to R&D managers is the extent to which these scientists saw their aspirations as achievable within the changing context of public sector science. From the data we generate an Ideal Type model of approaches that may be taken to reconcile the imperatives of applied and fundamental research and develop an understanding of the key role of senior management in creating an effective interface with external stakeholders and the development of culture and vision within the laboratory that will enable effective synergy.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: 1: The Business School, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK, 2: Leeds University Business School, UK, 3: Sheffield Business School, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

Publication date: 1999-07-01

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