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John Elvin, Industry Programme Manager (Episode 35)

    John Elvin, Industry Programme Manager (Episode 35) | John is advocating for applied science

    For this episode of the Research Adjacent podcast Sarah is talking to John Elvin, Industry Programme Manager at the Royal Society. There he helps to champion the value of industry and applied science both within the Royal Society and out in the wider world.

    An advocate for applied science

    After completing a PhD and an academic post-doc John found himself drawn towards applied science and into the biotech industry. He then spent 25 years in the sector, ultimately progressing from a small start-up Cambridge Antibody Technology to biopharma giant AstraZeneca. During this time he also developed his role and moved from science towards teaching, business and outreach roles.

    One of his proudest moments from this time was creating a schools outreach project which ultimately involved 76 volunteers and reached 53 primary schools with over 3500 pupils. And it all began with a mechanical balance…

    “I went to a primary school teacher and I said, if a large pharmaceutical company could give you something that would be useful to teach science what would it be? And the answer that came back was a mechanical balance. And I said really? Yes. Why mechanical? Because it doesn’t need batteries.”

    From this they developed a project on measuring the energy content of food which led to poster displays, regional competitions, a final hosted at AstraZeneca headquarters…and an outreach award presented by Fiona Bruce.

    Encouraging collaboration

    John took redundancy from Astra Zeneca in 2021 and then applied for the role at the Royal Society. He now helps facilitate collaboration and innovation particularly between industry and academia via schemes like Entrepreneur in Residence, Industry Fellowships and Partnership Grants.

    “71% of all the research and development that is done in the UK is done in the business arena. It is not done in higher education. People don’t appreciate that. There is a lot of R&D going on in businesses – small businesses, medium size, international global businesses. The trouble is you can’t recognise what you don’t see. And quite a lot of that R&D, although it’s spending a lot of money and it’s generating a lot of knowledge, doesn’t necessarily turn up in the publication record.”

    John has learned a lot over the years about what makes for successful teams and collaborations.

    “Collaboration is when you share a mutual aim for what you want to do. You both put it both intellectual and material, some sort of effort into it. It’s usually more industry money, but there’s inputs from both sides and you both want to use the outputs. That’s true collaboration.”

    “Be straight, don’t have alternative agendas. Say what you want, and want what you say. And that’s more unusual than you might think.”

    The power of placements

    John is also passionate about the value of students having the opportunity to experience the industry environment. So much so that he would use his research-adjacent magic wand to secure placements for every science undergraduate. This is not just about what the students themselves learn but about the impact the students have on the company.

    “I’ve seen the impact that placement students have had on a company first hand. At the beginning, they struggle to know where the pointy end is on the pipette. But about halfway through they flip and they start changing processes in the company for the better. For six months you’re teaching, and then for six months you’re gaining.”

    Find out more

    Theme music by Vitaliy Levkin from Pixabay

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