Working in Research and Development (R&D) and being a University Professor is personal challenge and a key decision for any XXI century University, because they are key institutions for the global development of our society, due to their impact on science, innovation (applied science), and the capacity to influence the economy and the lives of others. Consequently, these aspects that are decisive in the long-term strategy of any university. In fact, the main objective of a modern University is to do research and development (R&D), maximizing impact on scientific evolution (aiming to attract competitive R&D funds and continuous support from funding agencies), but also to use the generated knowledge to dramatically improve the quality of its courses (which includes quality of course programs and related teaching – aiming to attract the best and brightest students), to lead innovative initiatives with industry and economy (aiming to attract support and funding from the most innovative companies and institutions) and finally to spread knowledge throughout the society in which the University operates (contributing to a better world, without demons[1]). Consequently, the medium-long-term objectives of a modern university – which bases its strategy on knowledge – must be measured by the sustained impact in science and in our way of life (real impact).

Throughout my professional life I have always guided my choices – about career and about the relationship with the scientific, academic, economic and social environment – based on the above listed university goals and in the way I personally understand the role of a University Professor and Researcher in the national and international reality. In fact, having a clear perception of reality, as well as the dimension and difficulties of the economic space we live in, is essential for designing a sustainable strategy for the future and for making conscious choices that have global impact: for the communities we serve and not merely personal impact.

Scientific production and innovation strategy

My choices (reflected in this website) are permanent beginnings, trying to be disruptive in the way I do science and technology, in the way I gather and manage R&D teams, in the way I teach, and in the way I try to be active in processes of industrial, economic and social innovation. My choices reflect a clear understanding of the main role of a University Professor as an element of trust and support to ignite (creating and leading teams), accelerate (defining the strategy) and develop (providing the funding opportunities) scientific, academic and innovation projects.

In science and knowledge generation, I always look for competitive activities (innovative and scientifically relevant R&D projects) where it is possible to make high quality developments with the potential to generate disruptive knowledge. This means the ability to bring teams and consortia together, guide advanced training, obtain competitive funding (public and private), create differentiating laboratory spaces and publish with very high-quality, peer-reviewed, competitive locations (scientific journals, scientific conferences, technical magazines and books from the best and highly recognized editors and publishers).

I also look carefully to select publication locations that have mixed audiences, i.e., places where the academic and scientific audiences can be reached, but also the industrial and innovation ones. I always had the clear perception that the pursuit of sustainable impact, which necessarily involves the competitive (knowledge-based) industry, needs to address the dilemma that pulls the economic and industrial world away from the purely scientific world: many scientists write articles in their own language, without worrying with its applicability, and industrial researchers and development engineers look for usable knowledge. This means that we must diversify our knowledge production, trying to shorten this distance and trying to be involved in innovation processes. That has always been my perspective. That is why I have diversified my publications into articles in international journals, conference articles, books and book chapters (which I consider to be essential vehicles for communicating advanced knowledge), but also articles for scientific and technological dissemination. That is also why I always try very hard that my scientific projects (production of knowledge) proceed as far as possible towards industrial prototypes and direct collaboration with industry (application of knowledge, i.e., innovation).

Teaching strategy

In teaching, I always guarantee that my courses and disciplines/subjects (I have designed several disciplines/subjects in the area of robotics, control, automation and instrumentation, and also a few 1st level (undergraduate), 2nd level (master) and 3rd level (Ph.D.) courses in Engineering – Bologna style) have the following three main components:

1) High-quality scientific and technical information, based on state-of-the-art knowledge: this means that part of the transmission of knowledge must be done in formal sessions, in the classroom and in the laboratory, with the necessary conditions to present and discuss scientific and technical information. It also means the selection of up-to-date and state-of-the-art information that can prepare and inspire smart people to be successful and competitive in a world where knowledge is critical;

2) High-quality laboratory facilities consisting of state-of-the-art equipment: teaching engineering means being able to experiment and test concepts using technically advanced equipment. This requires agreements with equipment manufacturers so that their most advanced equipment can be available in research and teaching laboratories. In addition, students should be involved in R&D environments, which means that teachers and researchers should make R&D equipment available for teaching tasks. Case studies, based on relevant and current scientific and technical issues, should be prepared to engage and motivate students in the effort to learn deeply the subjects presented in the discipline/course, but also to autonomously search for complementary information and connections with other scientific and technical subjects (multidisciplinary dimension), etc.;

3) Provide technical and scientific challenges that students must address during the discipline/course time: This means that part of the learning effort, from a certain level, must be dedicated to solving a challenge that must include research, design and practical construction of solutions. When applied to students in recent years of undergraduate, masters or doctoral degrees, these challenges must be based on real problems and be prepared to allow students to propose solutions, build them and demonstrate them.

Knowledge transfer and industry cooperation strategy

In terms of the relationship with industry, economy and society, I generally look for projects that allow me to apply the knowledge generated with my R&D projects in an effort to actively participate in the modernization of my country, but also to transfer competitive human resources to industry (which I believe is the most efficient way to promote innovation). That is why I was involved with a very high number of industrial projects, carried out with national and foreign companies, where the general objective was to significantly improve the competitiveness and efficiency of the production aspects, or, in a broader view, the overall operation of the target company. This way of understanding R&D and innovation pushed me to accept the challenge to design, plan, fund and build a Science and Technology Park (iParque) in Coimbra, with the objective to be the catalyst of the relationship between the university innovation capacity and the industry. The iParque project, supported by the Rectory of the University of Coimbra, took me five years of almost full dedication and corresponded to an investment of over 11 million euros for a space of 70 ha.

Science, technology and innovation dissemination strategy

In addition, I have always sought to disseminate science in society at large, as this effort is essential for creating a culture of innovation that enables us to achieve higher levels of competitiveness, sustainability and the ability to resist to obscurity. My scientific and technical outreach activity extends to all types of publications in journals, magazines and websites, to radio and television programs, as well as lectures at schools and other educational and social and professional institutions.

Finally, promoting a culture of innovation implies acting more effectively in civic and social think-tank forums (presence in the media and willingness to act with social, professional and economic organizations, for example), editing and managing technical-scientific publications (creation, edition and managing of journal “Robótica”, for example) and promoting initiatives that disseminate and reward good examples and good practices in national companies (creation and management of the EMAF/Exponor Innovation Contest – the largest national industrial exhibition on robotics, automation and related technologies), namely those resulting from cooperation projects between industry and academia

Strategy for the near future with impact on advanced M.Sc. and Ph.D. courses

The recent efforts in additive manufacturing, being an ongoing initiative that already has significant scientific and technical results, is a quite good example of a new beginning (an obligation for those in the competitive world of science and technology) with high potential for innovation and competitive differentiation, in an area that follows on from my long activity in automation and robotics. But also, another example of my ability to plan R&D initiatives, gather first class teams and find the necessary funds to develop those initiatives, which characterizes my profile as professor, researcher and citizen.

J. Norberto Pires

[1] Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, “The Demon Haunted-World”, Ballantine Books, ISBN: 0345409469, New York, 1997