Close cooperation between the maritime industry and higher education is essential for research to be relevant and useful for seafarers and shipping companies. That is the opinion of Scott MacKinnon, a Canadian HR expert and visiting professor at Chalmers’ Department of Shipping and Marine Technology.
Traditionally, colleges and universities have been very strict about academic integrity. Research should be an activity carried out independently, without influence from external actors. That is the way it should continue to be, according to Professor Scott MacKinnon. In addition, though, he believes that universities, industry and finance institutes should have closer ties to each other.
”Writing reports that are only read by a few research colleagues before they land on a bookshelf is pointless, in terms of economics as well as knowledge. Everything we do must be put into a context, and the results must be accessible to those who work in the maritime sector,” he says.
The working model that Scott advocates is called the Triple Helix. At his home university, the Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, Canada, it has been applied for many years.
”It works very well,” he says. ”Prior to a new research project or programme, we put together a working group with representatives from industry, research and sometimes finance institutes. The objective is to use research funds as efficiently as possible and to offer solutions to problems in the industry.”
Passion for seafarers
Since the beginning of this year, MacKinnon has been visiting professor at the Department of Shipping and Marine Technology at Chalmers in Gothenburg. The task is to support the maritime human factors group in its development of a strategic plan for continued work.
”We need to work more on communication between academia and industry. Methods need to be developed to systematically receive input on what sort of help industry requires, as well as creating channels for feedback of knowledge.”
According to Scott MacKinnon, the basis for those who work with HR-related marine research must be a genuine desire to create a better life for seafarers. A passion for ships and seafarers must be the driving force behind research, but equally important is the adaptation of language and formulation in the reports to potential readers.
”Producing texts that people can understand is a challenge for us researchers,” he says with a laugh. ”In the past only my colleagues were able to read what I wrote, but now I always think about who I am writing for.”
Scott MacKinnon is an ergonomist and wrote his thesis on work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) in shoulders. Even though he has been interested in the work environment throughout his research career, his focus has shifted from physical aspects to more psychosocial factors.
”My attention has turned towards cognitive aspects, and what happens when people are exposed to stress. But when something does not work, or people start to make mistakes, the root of the problem almost always lies in the surrounding systems, organisations or policies. It is about creating the right conditions for people to do the right thing.”
Collaboration between St
John’s and Chalmers began more than ten years ago, when Scott MacKinnon and Margaretha Lützhöft, a researcher at Chalmers, met at a conference. Since then the two universities have helped each other through the exchange of doctoral students, among other things. This is the first time MacKinnon has spent any length of time in Sweden, however. He likes it here, he says, even though some of the working methods are a little different from what he is accustomed to.
”I’m quite bossy, I’m used to saying what I think and making decisions. Over here, everyone must have their say and things are discussed backward and forwards. The others in the department usually wind me up, saying ”that’s not the Swedish way” when I voice my opinions,” he says with a broad smile.
Scott MacKinnon’s job at Chalmers ends in June, but the two universities will continue to collaborate.