What are the implications for innovation and scientific discovery of the consistently falling levels of federal research funding and corresponding shift to industry funding at many research universities? Alex Xi He, Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Maryland, is using the IRIS UMETRICS dataset to find out. Along with co-investigators Sabrina Howell of New York University and Tania Babina of Columbia University, He is exploring the quality and quantity of the patents produced by researchers who switch from federal to industry funding. He recently answered some questions about his work and the IRIS dataset.
Q: What prompted your interest in this area?
A: There has been a steady decline in the amount of federal funding in the last decade, while the share of university research funded by private companies has been increasing. How does this change affect the innovation being done by researchers in universities? Does the funding source of the researchers affect the amount, direction and quality of the research output? These are the questions that we want to understand in this project.
Q: How did you learn about IRIS UMETRICS data, and how helpful has it been for this study?
A: I learned about UMETRICS data first from a professor at my school [He received a Ph.D in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in June 2019]. Our research would not have been possible without UMETRICS data. It is the first comprehensive dataset with detailed information on the funding received by university researchers, and allows us to do a systematic study of the impact of funding sources on the innovation outcomes of these researchers.
Q: Are there other research questions of interest to you for which IRIS/UMETRICS data are potentially useful?
A: I’m also interested in the spillover effects of funding to university research on the research and business growth in local areas.
Q: What else excites you about IRIS data, and what would you tell other researchers about the value of the data and ease (or difficulty) of access?
A: Federal R&D spending accounts for about 1% of GDP every year, and the majority of non-defense federal R&D spending goes to university researchers. Universities are also the engine for innovations and ideas, and some of the most successful companies, including Google, are founded on university campuses. IRIS provides rich individual-level data that allows us to study these university researchers that we still know very little about, and this is really exciting.