How Mentorships can be Mutually Beneficial for Industry and Academia

Date Posted
four men stand in a lab
From left to right: Kelly Knorr, Muhammad Imran, Qingwang Yuan and Dr. Fanhua Zeng. Photo courtesy of the University of Regina

Research programs that foster collaboration between industry and academia are an effective way to support industrial and social innovation while offering mutual benefits to organizations, academic institutes and the students involved.

Organizations can improve their research with fresh talent, solve challenges, build crucial relationships and access university resources that may otherwise be unavailable, while students can develop professional skills relevant to their career goals, create new networks and receive recognition for successful research projects.

One example of a collaborative research program is a fellowship that developed between SRC, the University of Regina (U of R) and Mitacs, a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 18 years.

From April 2016 to November 2017, Qingwang Yuan, a postdoctoral fellow at the U of R Department of Engineering, committed himself to the Mitacs Elevate Postdoctoral Fellowship and worked with SRC to look for new methods of heavy oil recovery. Qingwang worked under the mentorship of SRC employees Kelly Knorr (Operations Manager, Energy) and Muhammad Imran (EOR Field Development, Energy) and was supervised by Dr. Fanhua Zeng (U of R).

SRC has been investigating potential solutions to challenges faced by Saskatchewan’s oil industry since 1979. During his time working at SRC, Qingwang researched methods of oil recovery by developing a computer model to simulate how solvents and heavy oils react, which enables oil companies to understand how to improve their oil recovery processes.

As a result of his promising research project, Qingwang won the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation — Postdoctoral. He has accepted a postdoctoral fellowship position at Stanford University. 

We interviewed Qingwang and Kelly to learn about their experience working together and how this mentorship has benefitted both Qingwang’s career development and SRC’s research in oil recovery.

What were your roles and responsibilities during this mentorship?

Qingwang: During this project, I developed a highly accurate, mathematical simulator that enables me to investigate factors that affect heavy oil recovery, including diffusion, dispersion, viscosity ratio, displacement rate and capillary pressure. Further development of this research will enable more accurate reservoir simulations to be conducted from lab scale to field scale, which would be beneficial for recovering more oil from the field.

Kelly: My areas of focus were to represent SRC’s objectives, which were two-fold. First, to develop an area of comprehensive knowledge to help Saskatchewan’s oil industry recover more oil from existing fields and second, to make sure the technical publications were up to a sufficiently high standard.

What did you enjoy the most about working together?

Qingwang: It was a great and enjoyable experience to work under Kelly’s mentorship, with Muhammad’s help in conducting research. One of the things I enjoyed the most while working at SRC was learning how to improve my skills and abilities through constructive suggestions from Kelly and Muhammad. For example, I learned the importance of writing publications that meet exceptional standards. It’s rewarding when our manuscripts get accepted by journals or conferences, especially knowing my colleagues are proud of my achievements.

Kelly: There were many important things that stood out about Qingwang. He is very intelligent and understands the need for practical approaches to solve problems. He wants to do well and puts in the work to make it happen and he is willing to take constructive criticism – such as numerous changes and suggestions for the technical papers we wrote. It was a pleasure to work with him and see him succeed. I am very happy for Qingwang – very proud of him, much like you would be of a son or daughter who has accomplished remarkable things.

How did the opportunity to accept a position with Stanford come about?

Qingwang: I discovered the Stanford postdoctoral opportunity on the website of SUPRI-B (Stanford’s Reservoir Simulation Research program), which I will be joining. Working at SRC has given me the perfect opportunity to improve my research abilities, achieve more accomplishments, develop advanced communication skills and become a stronger team-player. This helped improve my confidence when pursuing this position and dealing with interviews.

How has working with SRC fit into your long-term career goals?

Qingwang: While working with SRC over the last year and a half, I’ve learned how to work with industrial partners and research institutes to achieve mutually-beneficial outcomes. I think this will help my career development, in addition to building wide networks and connections with companies, institutes and universities.

What is the overall benefit for organizations to embrace mentorship opportunities?

Kelly: SRC gained a lot in recognition and reputation from this collaboration between the U of R and Qingwang/Mitacs. Building positive relationships and developing credibility is essential for organizations that depend upon their brand awareness and know-how to provide specialized premium services.

Do you think there will be opportunities to collaborate in the future?

Qingwang: The research I will be doing at Stanford is different than what I’ve currently been working on, but I do expect to work with SRC on research projects in the future. I hope this represents a new beginning of our future collaborations, as we know each other, we trust each other and we enjoy working together.

Kelly: Although Qingwang is taking a position at Stanford, he has ensured that his work can be continued for the benefit of SRC, the U of R and western Canadian oil producers. Hopefully, Qingwang’s positive experience with the U of R and SRC will be shared with his co-workers at Stanford University and anywhere else he chooses to go in the future.

When various industry and academic institutions collaborate, such as by participating in mentorship programs or fellowships, new opportunities regarding business growth, practical research, professional development and personal achievement can emerge. As Qingwang embarks on his new venture at Stanford University, his research contributions will continue to be valued and built upon to solve the oil industry’s many challenges.