I went to an interesting training session run by the Research, Enterprise and Development Team at MMU this week all about what our VC calls ‘third stream’ activities. As academics you may have heard this phrase bandied about and wondered what it refers to and how it could affect your working life, so I thought this blog would be a good place to explore that.
Discussion of the ‘third stream’ begs the question so what are streams one and two?! Well, they are the two main activities of universities namely research and teaching (in whichever order your institution prioritises them, and yes, that’s pretty controversial in itself). So, third stream is an idea that the government and our senior managers are asking us to think about. Basically they want us academics to start thinking of ways we could market our skills and knowledge to the commercial and public sectors. The response of many is ‘oh no, how on earth will I fit that it to my already hectic schedule?’, while others feel resentful that they are somehow being asked to commodify their pure academic endeavours.
In my opinion these are all valid responses, but we can’t all be like King Canute trying in vain to turn back the tide. Third stream activities (also known as ‘enterprise activities’) are here to stay and the sooner we try to use this, the better positioned we’ll be to take advantage of extra funding opportunities it might offer. For historians like me our work doesn’t naturally lend itself to commercial activities in the same way as that of scientists and social scientists. But there are still options. Offering continuing professional development courses (CPD) to companies who want to manage their archives, or boost their writing skills is one way of doing this. Liaising with schools to offer A level conferences to students and training days to teachers is another. Tailoring research projects so that they have direct benefit to different companies or community groups is another, and believe me, all these things will be made worth your while if you can get your head around them.
So what does this have to do with job seeking? Well, if you can show potential employers that you are already au fait with the current ‘third stream’ lingo (and there are a number of acronyms to learn if you really explore this field properly!) then you are much more likely to be chosen above a candidate who shows little awareness of this. At the highest level of management universities want to tap into this funding stream, so if you can show you’ve thought about it, well, the job’s as good as yours!