Research partnerships between university researchers and industry partners are becoming increasingly prevalent. For university researchers, maintaining autonomy is crucial. We explore how researchers strategically manage autonomy in collaborative research partnerships, using a framework to distinguish strategically planned and opportunity-driven behaviour in the process of selecting partners and executing research in partnerships. We then focus on the management of autonomy in setting research directions and managing the research process. We draw on insights from 14 management scholars engaged in collaborative Ph.D. research projects. Based on our analysis, we show that researcher autonomy has two facets: operational and scientific. Researchers are willing to compromise their operational autonomy as a price for industry collaboration. They have a strong need for scientific autonomy when deciding on research direction and research execution. Although they need funding, entering a specific relationship with industry and accepting restrictions on their operational autonomy is a choice. We conclude that researchers’ orientations towards practice and theory affects their choices in partnerships as well as modes of governance.
- Collaborative research
- Management research
- University–industry partnerships