Academic applied research is… unapplicable

While pure theory is wasteful, bringing applied research to academia is equally wasteful!

Applied research seeks to produce applied results. These results are good or bad depending on their real-world application. But in academia, success is defined by peer review. Peers do not test real-world applications! Moreover, researchers have an approximative idea of real-world problems.

Hence, I cringe every time I hear about a new academic applied project. Professors are rarely good at solving real problems! A better option is to use the world around us as a stimuli for research ideas.

To put it bluntly, you cannot live in an ivory tower and pretend to tell others what to do. Instead, use your tower to have a bird’s eye view on the world! Study the world! But be humble about what you can do to transform it!

8 thoughts on “Academic applied research is… unapplicable”

  1. Couldn’t applied research be useful is it involves partner projects between university theorists and real world practitioners?

    Professors help design the study and consult on theory, while practitioners bring the problems and discuss the viability of solutions.

  2. One reason I like to call myself a “very applied mathematician” is that I work on math that is actually applied. A lot of what is called “applied math” is pseudo-applied math, unrealistic problems with some physical terminology thrown in.

    There’s a continuum between pure theory and real application, and people are located all along the continuum. I started out on the pure end and have moved to the applied end. It would be interesting to speculate on the distribution of professionals along the continuum. Maybe it’s a bimodal distribution with relatively few people in the middle.

  3. I think it really depends of your area of research, as a design researcher I almost deal exclusively in observing the world outside and how my subsequent theories relate to actual users. Are they useful? Are they a genuine contribution?

    Consequently, as I perceive it you don’t have a theory unless it is an applied theory. In much the same way, you are only a businessman if people actually use or buy your products or services. As they say, anyone can have an idea, the real test is being able to put that idea into practice. I don’t see academics as being exempt from that way of thinking, your publications are your product, your teaching is your service.

  4. @Fergus

    As they say, anyone can have an idea, the real test is being able to put that idea into practice.

    I agree. Hence my statement that pure theory is wasteful.

    I almost deal exclusively in observing the world outside and how my subsequent theories relate to actual users.

    And that is the best form of research! See my concluding remark:

    Instead, use your tower to have a bird’s eye view on the world! Study the world! But be humble about what you can do to transform it!

  5. From the beginning of this article, I can’t agree it! Pure theory doesn’t mean it is not test in the real problem! From my point of view, I think theory is underlying every rule in daily life!

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