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Exploring Applied Research vs. Academic Research

Canadian businesses have a unique opportunity to enhance their research and development (R&D) projects through collaborations with the country’s world-class post-secondary institutions. By tapping into the extensive resources and expertise available at universities and colleges, companies can accelerate innovation, reduce costs, and achieve superior outcomes. This blog explores the different types of research support available, the process of collaborating with academic institutions, and the benefits of accessing government funding for these projects. 

Types of Post-Secondary Research Support 

When planning a research collaboration, it is essential to understand the differences between academic and applied research. Each type offers distinct advantages and is suited to different project goals. 

Academic Research 

Academic research is exploratory and aims to expand our understanding of the world. It is often theoretical, driven by curiosity rather than commercialization. It focuses on developing or enhancing hypotheses and understanding relationships between variables. Typically, academic research is divided into two main types: 

  • Research on a Field: This type aims to find best practices within an industry and develop theories about optimal operations. 
  • Research for a Field: This research expands an industry’s understanding through new theories, products, services, and processes. 

Characteristics of Academic Research: 

  • Conceptual Questions: Academic research seeks to add to a larger body of knowledge through theoretical exploration. 
  • Public Findings: The results are usually shared publicly, contributing to further research and knowledge expansion. 
  • Peer Evaluation: Findings are evaluated through peer reviews and shared via scholarly publications and conferences. 

Examples of Academic Research Projects: 

  • Investigating the feasibility of airport-based surveillance programs for COVID-19 rates. 
  • Developing machine learning methods to improve ESG scores and responsible investment decisions. 
  • Joint research on the future architecture of the Internet of Vehicles and Internet of Things. 
  • Evaluating a blockchain-based identity management system using multiple case studies.
  • Modeling Generative Adversarial Networks (GaN) for electric vehicle applications.  
  • Record-keeping on Canadian cow-calf operations. 

Applied Research 

Applied research focuses on solving practical problems using existing theories. It is driven by the need for development and commercialization, providing immediate, tangible benefits to businesses. 

Applied research is usually categorized into three types: 

  • Formative Research: Identifies and understands problems in products, processes, or services to develop actionable plans. 
  • Monitoring Research: Tests the effectiveness of solutions to problems and compares them with other potential solutions. 
  • Summative Research: Evaluates the effectiveness of solutions and adopts the best practices that consistently produce favorable outcomes. 

Characteristics of Applied Research: 

  • Practical Problems: It provides solutions for immediate organizational issues. 
  • Internal Findings: Results are often kept private, used internally for decision-making and strategy formulation. 
  • Targeted Sharing: Findings are shared through internal reports, professional conferences, and industry publications. 

Examples of Applied Research Projects: 

  • Enhancing mine safety and productivity through critical research and development. 
  • Personalizing cancer treatment using machine learning. 
  • Developing new canola types for potentially higher crop yields. 
  • Identifying optimal methods to improve building energy efficiency. 
  • Determining appropriate pesticide usage for maximizing agricultural profitability. 
  • Reducing product defects and scrap in manufacturing processes. 
  • Evaluating export markets for the highest success potential. 
  • Improving food packaging systems to extend freshness. 
  • Establishing ideal storage temperatures for food products. 

Process of Working with Post-Secondary Institutions 

Collaborating with a post-secondary institution involves several key steps. Each institution may have unique processes, but most partnerships include common stages: 

1. Defining the Research Project 

Begin by outlining your project specifications and determining whether academic or applied research is more suitable. This helps narrow down potential collaborators and ensures your project aligns with the strengths of the chosen institution. 

2. Finding a Qualified Partner 

Identify institutions and researchers whose expertise and facilities match your project needs. Consider factors such as the type of research, available equipment, and the institution’s past experience with similar projects. 

3. Accessing Funding for the Project 

Government funding programs can significantly offset the costs of collaborative R&D projects. Explore funding opportunities such as grants for hiring, as well as multi-year project grants. 

4. Extending and Completing the Project 

Ensure that the project plan includes timelines, milestones, and clear objectives. Regular communication with your academic partner will help keep the project on track and address any challenges that arise. 

Government Funding for Research Collaborations 

Canadian businesses can benefit from a variety of government funding programs designed to support collaborative R&D projects. These programs can reduce financial barriers and provide access to top-tier talent and resources. 

Funding Opportunities: 

  • Collaborative Semester and Multi-Year Projects: Grants that support long-term research collaborations. 
  • Hiring Co-op, Intern, Master’s, and Doctoral Students: Funding to bring skilled students onto your research team. 
  • Additional Funding Resources: Explore the SR&ED tax credits and other research funding directories available through Mentor Works. 

Access More Research Funding Opportunities 

Distinguishing between academic and applied research is essential for effective collaboration and innovation. By leveraging the strengths of both research types, businesses can drive growth and development while contributing to the broader body of knowledge. 

To further explore the benefits of research funding, compare Canada’s two most popular funding programs for innovation projects: the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) grant and the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credit. Download our free IRAP vs. SR&ED slide deck. This guide provides a detailed analysis, covering: 

  • An overview of research requirements;
  • Comprehensive insights into IRAP and SR&ED;
  • A comparison of IRAP and SR&ED; and
  • Strategies for stacking IRAP and SR&ED funding.

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  • Hiring and Training: Offset hiring and onboarding costs with programs like the Canada Job Grant. 
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