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A View from the Ground
The Equifax Data Science Research Lab at Kennesaw State University was established in 2016 and engages faculty, doctoral students, and master’s-level students. Equifax established the lab (one of several university lab relationships) for the dual purpose of developing innovative research to eventually “productize” output for the benefit of their customers and to develop an ongoing pipeline of analytical talent (primarily at the master’s level).
Christopher Yasko, Equifax Vice President, Innovation Office
Equifax’s Data and Analytics Center of Excellence has an established academic partnership with various leading colleges and universities to advance analytics, explore data science, and experiment with big data. We work with faculty and students in various configurations to expand our core research, explore innovative topics, and contribute to the greater good, including:
Faculty Research - collaborate directly with professors and staff researchers to complete mutually beneficial core projects;
PhD Candidate Internships - deep multi-year engagements supporting part- time employment to identify PhD dissertation level challenges that can be solved with Equifax unique assets.
The Equifax Data Science Lab has actively supported multiple academic institutions around our home state of Georgia, plus institutions in New York, California, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Missouri. I have been leading the Equifax Data Science Lab for the past four years having started and significantly grown our academic research ecosystem for big data and analytics. I’ve learned a few things that worked exceptionally well, and a few things that have been teachable moments.
Our multiyear academic partnership with Kennesaw State University (KSU) has been productive and continues to grow in scope and impact. We sponsor the university with an annual stipend that covers most of the cost for two PhD students, one master’s student, and a part-time faculty advisor. The students become part-time employees of Equifax, requiring the same background screening and strict on boarding requirements of any lab employees. The program started four years ago, but without a clear roadmap on the specific research topics my company was seeking assistance. After developing a multi-year research roadmap, it provided both Equifax and the university a clearer set of expectations on required skills, prerequisite courses, and faculty advisor background to be successful long term. My lab also has alumni from KSU, who eagerly contribute time and energy to assisting KSU student projects. Successful PhD alumni enjoy giving back to their alma mater, enjoy physically being on campus once again, and enjoy the distraction from their daily desk stress. I highly recommend a multi-year research roadmap pairing alumni with university researchers.
One tangible benefit with a state college partnership is the mutually favorable terms in our research contract for sharing intellectual property. I’ve learned that universities will typically require three separate contracts of intellectual property: institutional policy, faculty assignment, and student assignment. All three can be drastically different. KSU has allowed Equifax to jointly own intellectual property, acknowledging the industry collaboration time required to be jointly innovative, and I realize the need for inventor recognition and the institutional rights. We are actively filing several patent applications with KSU, leveraging the Equifax legal department resources, plus external patent council, and we name KSU faculty and students as the inventors. KSU has the opportunity to pursue each patent and share the application costs or opt out. I’ve learned that each university is unique and understanding the details of intellectual property assignment policy is a critical engagement criterion.
I treat our academic partnerships holistically as an investment portfolio for my company. The portfolio shares the investment across multiple universities, with a purposeful combination of PhD and MS-level project research, and appropriate expectations for scope versus engagement duration. As a leader of an industry data and analytics research lab, I focus on tangible and measurable university deliverables including patent applications, industry publications that name our company, and placement of students upon graduation.
A summary of the key points that has contributed to the ongoing success of the Equifax Data Science Research Lab successful includes:
■ Clearly articulated objectives, deliverables, and timelines.
■ Regular meetings to review progress and discuss obstacles. In this context “regular” means 1—2 times per month. We have seen other research labs fail because of a forced “Agile” process with 2-3 “check-ins” per week.
■ A collaborative approach to Intellectual Property rights, including a clear understanding of what each party needs from the research products.
■ An ongoing pipeline of master’s-level candidates to be considered for fulltime positions.