By David Kilroy

Over the past year I have carried out research with Colgate-Palmolive as part of my PhD in the SFI Centre for Research Training in Machine Learning. The research consists of using machine learning techniques to try to identify trending topics on social media a) when they occur and b) as early as possible before they occur. This type of research benefits a company like Colgate-Palmolive in the sense that it allows them to find out more about what the general population are interested in, thus allowing them to make more data-driven decisions when deciding to put new products on the market. For example, if there was an increase in discussion on social media on the topic of “charcoal toothpaste”, then Colgate-Palmolive would like there to be a system put in place where it would alert them of this occurrence.

After my first year of research I’ve been able to identify the top three benefits of doing research with an industry partner.

1: Clear and Interesting Research Direction

As part of being a researcher with an industry partner, the day-to-day tasks carried out slightly deviate from that of a regular researcher. As with that of a regular researcher, the general tasks of reviewing the literature and developing novel solutions to problems still apply, however as part of my role with an industry partner I’ve also had to learn to pay special attention to what the business requirements of the company are. These requirements are obtained by having meetings with representatives from Colgate-Palmolive in order to learn more about company-specific information so that the research can progress. Before starting my PhD I thought the tasks associated with being a researcher for an industry partner would be very demanding, however this was not entirely the case. As Colgate-Palmolive have a clear vision about what they want from the research it has actually alleviated some of the pressure associated with picking a PhD topic whilst also giving the PhD an interesting research direction.

2: Data

One of the advantages of being a researcher for an industry partner is the availability of company-owned data. Not having to wait a long time to generate/obtain data has been a pleasant experience. Also having the ability to work with different data sources has been interesting and challenging.

3: Interest in PhD

After reading a few articles where people discussed their opinions after being a year or two into their PhD, a common theme that kept occurring was that people felt that others weren’t interested in the work they were doing. I feel that this theme would generally be less frequent with students who take on PhD opportunities with industry partners. This is especially the case in my scenario with Colgate-Palmolive already knowing the problem they wanted solved months before I had started my PhD. By having pre-defined problem they wanted solved, there was an obvious interest by people in the company over my PhD. This can of course be of added pressure at times however at the same time it’s exciting to have people be so interested in the work you’re doing.

Continuing on in the future with Colgate-Palmolive, I plan to keep exploring and researching methods that provide business value to them. If the rest of my PhD is anything like the first year, I’ll be a happy student!