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Blend idealism with realism (and more wise words from Elizabeth Hopkins)

She’s worked for multinationals like Pfizer, as well as smaller startup organisations and within government, including the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. But as of late 2013, Elizabeth Hopkins has shifted her focus to academia with her appointment to the role of director at Lincoln University’s Research and Commercialisation Office.

elizabeth hopkins lincoln university rcoHopkins’ experience at the chief executive and directorship level in both the UK and New Zealand will no doubt serve her well in this role. She explains what attracted her to the job, what challenges lie ahead and what she’s learned from working in lean, corporate and governmental environments.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned from working in each of these environments:

Multinationals?  Grab every opportunity for training that you can as it will be the best education you can get on someone else’s dollar.

Startups? Listen to your customer, ensure that what you are selling is something they want and can afford, and  don’t be wedded to your original idea.

Government? You need to be able to blend idealism with realism – there’s what you aspire to achieve and what is actually achievable and you need to maintain a good sense of both.  The best policies and strategies in the world won’t yield results unless they are practicable and understandable.

What is it that drew you to this role at Lincoln University’s RCO?

Well it wasn’t the share options or the company car! The main attraction for me was the ability to be exposed to a new area of the science ecosystem, namely academia, and to be able to apply the skills I had learnt in previous roles to its benefit. Lincoln University’s appetite for further developing its land-based, industry relevant position was tangible during my interview and I was impressed by the real feeling of “family” and caring for staff  that I encountered on that visit.

I also felt that despite the challenges Lincoln University has faced post-earthquake, its focus as a university with real-world relevance, puts it in a unique position to positively drive the prosperity of New Zealand’s primary industries and hence its economy, and this is something I care deeply about.

What was the first action you took?

The first thing I did was to meet individually with all the research and commercialisation staff, and as many senior managers as possible, to get an idea of the organisational culture and university’s business status.  By learning these things I could adapt my style to suit the situation and identify the key actions that I need to put in place to keep driving positive change.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your position?

The overarching challenge for my role is to work with others to grow Lincoln University’s research revenue by 5 percent p.a.

In addressing this challenge we must:

•       Develop systems to further encourage academic staff to carry out research, in addition to their already considerable teaching and administration loads, that are motivating, rewarding and empowering.

•       Ensure that the research we undertake is consistent with the university’s role as an independent voice of conscience and its pursuit of academic excellence.

•       Look beyond our current sources of income and ensure that we build the correct networks and relationships for success in a rapidly changing funding environment.

•       Integrate the research and education sides of our business to maximise synergies and support each other.

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