Simplicity Can Be Misleading

The research enterprise of a leading academic institution is a complex system of human, physical and digital infrastructures that functions to support the production of new knowledge and the advancement and training of research practitioners.

I would expect to find this statement in an encyclopedia; it provides an all-encompassing comprehensive view of the ingredients and operation of a top-notch academic research institution. However, because of the need to be terse in its description, it drastically over-simplifies the complexities of being a “research enterprise” at a university. An alien to Western culture may misinterpret an academic research institution to be a well-oiled machine, being fed intelligent brains and pumping out knowledge down the assembly line. Unfortunately, gleaning the new knowledge collected by research involves encountering countless dead-ends, revisions, and set-backs.

While I agree that physical and digital infrastructures must be present in order for humans to produce new knowledge, this definition does not emphasize the importance of the interaction that occurs between humans and the infrastructures they utilize. A “complex system” insinuates that humans and the infrastructures they use are interconnected, but to me it lacks the implication that the components of the system are specialized and interacting in a unique way unlike any corporate research enterprise. An academic institution is special because it affords the members of the academy the opportunity to teach, which often spurs new ideas and perspectives. A corporate research enterprise lacks this opportunity or offers it to a lesser degree. If the interaction between the specialized parts were highlighted in addition to the distinction between a research enterprise at an academic institution and at a corporation, this passage would capture a more holistic representation of research at an academic institution.

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