Assessing differences between university and federal laboratory postdoctoral scientists in technology transfer

Haneul Choi, Hyunjung Yoon, Donald Siegel, David A. Waldman, Marie S. Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


While there are numerous studies of university technology transfer, there have been relatively few studies of technology transfer at federal labs. Moreover, studies of university technology transfer have focused on faculty, not post-doctoral scientists. They have also ignored identity and sensemaking theories in organizational behavior, which are relevant in the context of technology transfer. We fill these gaps by examining differences between university post-doctoral scientists and federal lab post-doctoral scientists, in terms of how they engage in technology transfer. Our qualitative analysis is based on extensive interviews of post-doctoral scientists and their supervisors/principal investigators (PIs) at two major research universities and four large federal labs. We find that federal lab scientists are more influenced by mission-driven research and their sense of public service, as compared to university scientists who are motivated more by curiosity-driven research. These motivational differences may constitute significant barriers to technology transfer in federal labs. As compared to their university counterparts, federal lab scientists appear to experience more cognitive dissonance in pursuing commercialization of their research and have more sophisticated resolution strategies for dealing with such dissonance. We also find that PIs at federal labs are not highly incentivized to engage in technology transfer. We discuss additional research needs, as well as the managerial and training implications of our findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104456
JournalResearch Policy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Federal labs
  • Public value
  • Role conflict
  • Technology transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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