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Orla Kelly, Knowledge Exchange Manager (Episode 9)

    Orla Kelly, Knowledge Exchange Manager (Episode 9) | Orla talks about encouraging innovation and connecting people

    Research Adjacent Orla Kelly Knowledge Exchange Manager

    “How do we get our students and staff to have the entrepreneurial mindset and how does that fit in? A lot of people will never call themselves entrepreneurial because they think that means starting a business, but actually entrepreneurial doesn’t quite mean that. It means problem solving and thinking creatively and doing things differently.”

    In this week’s episode of Research Adjacent, Sarah is talking to Orla Kelly. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Orla is Scotland’s Knowledge Exchange and Innovation (KE&I) Collaboration Manager. Her role is hosted by the University of West of Scotland, but she works across all 19 higher education institutions in Scotland. Orla supports fellow knowledge exchange professionals to encourage collaboration and coordination around activities like research commercialisation, industry partnerships, and staff and student enterprise.

    Connecting people and holding space

    Orla is fundamentally a connector, bringing people together, raising the profile of enterprise activities in universities, and helping teams engage with the wider innovation world including businesses and the Scottish Government.

    “There’s some small things I do that I think have been useful. Helping people to have peer connections and facilitating conversations that you wouldn’t necessarily have in your day to day. I’m glad I’m in a position where I can enable that to happen because it can be hard for people to do off their own back. They just need that little bit of encouragement.”

    An entrepreneurial mindset

    Orla got into this work almost by accident. Like so many research-adjacent professionals she began her journey with a PhD. This led to a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) where she led a collaboration between the University of Bristol and scientific detection company Photek to develop spectrometers. A change in family circumstances triggered a move to Scotland and Orla took up a knowledge exchange job at the University of Dundee. This role morphed over the years as Orla turned her entrepreneurial mindset to taking on new opportunities and challenges which ultimately led to her current role.

    “You waste a lot of time measuring and monitoring stuff and to what end? So someone said to me recently, that you don’t make the pig fat by weighing it. And it really stuck in my head – we want to make the pig fat. Do we really need to weigh as often as do?”

    Challenging perceptions of knowledge exchange and innovation

    It is a common theme in this podcast, but Orla feels that the current academic research system often stifles knowledge exchange and innovation as academics and researchers are stretched thin with little capacity to explore new ideas and build partnerships. But there are beacons of light – as you’ll hear from this conversation, Orla absolutely loves her job and works with some inspiring colleagues. In particular, she highlights some projects including SHIFT and ASPECT which support students and staff to explore entrepreneurship and commercialization in the social sciences, humanities, and arts – nicely illustrating that KE&I isn’t all about the sciences.

    Find out more

    Theme music by Vitaliy Levkin from Pixabay

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