How to identify the right partner institution?

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By Downing Thomas

Formal linkages or informal connections between institutions of higher education can help faculty identify collaborators who are working on common research areas, provide expanded capacity (people, lab space, technology), and give access to cultural or other information not available at home. Most often, individual faculty will meet colleagues at professional meetings, exchange email, and develop a connection over time, often leading to reciprocal visits, jointly-sponsored colloquia, and eventually co-authored publications.

The UI College of Engineering signed a formal agreement with the Korea Institute of Construction Technology (KICT) in fall 2012. The partnership focuses on collaborative research and projects. Pictured are President Woo of KICT and Alec Scranton, dean of the College of Engineering.

But sometimes you may find an opportunity to travel to a country that is unfamiliar or to an institution at which you have no existing professional connections. In those instances, International Programs can help identify other University of Iowa faculty who already have a knowledge of the area and who may even have long-standing connections at the particular institution you plan to visit. So, if you are traveling in unfamiliar territory, we may be able to help provide you with a calling card and additional information about UI activities there that could be of use to you.

It is most common for ties to colleges or universities to be based on the fact that the institution abroad has a similar academic profile to the UI, where there are well-trained faculty with active, cutting-edge research programs on both sides. These are natural partnerships, where the faculty on both sides "speak the same language." Why, one might ask, would the University of Iowa want to partner with an institution with limited infrastructure or whose faculty do not have the same research-intensive expectations or pedagogical background as ours?

In some cases, such partnerships may be useful for the purpose of student exchange, where it would be beneficial for UI students to be able to travel to that particular country or region, and where students from the other institution would be qualified to spend time on our campus.

But there are also situations in which the UI may want to partner with an institution whose infrastructure and research capacity is lacking. Access to archives or fieldwork sites can be invaluable for UI researchers in a variety of humanities, social sciences, and science fields; and these archives and sites exist in a variety of places, not only at the world's top universities. Access to distinct populations outside the U.S. for socio-cultural or linguistic study, or to develop larger and more diverse data sets for medical and particularly for genetic research, can be of crucial importance.

Furthermore, there may be individual faculty who, while they may not hold appointments at the most prestigious research-oriented institutions, have expertise that is valuable to UI faculty. There are many outstanding faculty at non-research-intensive institutions who have received degrees from prestigious U.S. universities. These faculty may make excellent research partners, or partners for faculty exchanges.

Finally, connections to local business, industry, or government agencies can be of signal importance when it comes to opportunities for technology transfer and commercialization of research. We cannot assume that all such opportunities simply await us locally, here in Iowa.

In sum, there are many obvious institutional partners for the UI in institutions around the world that are the cream of the crop. But there are also other strong partners out there that may be "under the radar," but where there are nonetheless benefits in such partnerships to be had on both sides.

Downing Thomas