Last week, DabApps spent an afternoon at an event called "Creative Industries and Creative Researchers", organised by Vitae and held at the new American Express Community Stadium at Falmer. The subtitle for the event was "how university researchers and creative industries can work together".
Brighton is well known for its high concentration of digital media and creative businesses. The event focused on how interactions between academics, students and businesses can be mutually beneficial. Companies can capitalise on the ready supply of graduates, both for permanent positions and internships. Students can take advantage of employers for placements and career opportunies. Researchers can work with cutting-edge local companies to develop academic research into profitable product ideas. At the event, representatives of both Sussex and Brighton universities created stimulating discussions around these collaborative opportunities.
However, one topic of discussion was notable in its absence. Unmentioned in the presentations of the day was, in our opinion, the single most important opportunity for collaboration.
The real strength of Brighton's creative and digital culture isn't the companies, it's the people. Brighton has a vibrant, diverse and welcoming community of passionate, intelligent people who genuinely care about what they do. This community, at its heart, has a lot in common with the academic community.
Students and academics are willing to dedicate years, often decades, to a field of study that they are deeply passionate about. Brighton is full of people who are the same. We don't just work nine-to-five and then go home and put our feet up. We run groups, organise talks and conferences, meet friends and colleagues in the pub to talk about the minutiae of our favourite programming languages. We do what we love, and we love what we do.
The real tragedy of this missed opportunity was vividly illustrated during the "structured networking" part of the event. I spoke to three undergraduates on the BSc Product Design degree programme at Sussex University. All of them were dedicated, interested people who were passionate about their subject and looking for networking opportunities to give them a head start with their careers. I asked them all a simple question: have you heard of Build Brighton?
Build Brighton is "a Hackspace, a volunteer-run communal workshop where like-minded people can geek out about electronics, technology, crafts, robotics, engineering, manufacturing and design." It's located in the heart of Brighton, offers reduced membership fees for students, and provides access to laser cutters, soldering irons, oscilloscopes, drills, saws and all manner of other equipment. It's a product design student's dream. And yet none of them had heard of it.
My own experience with organising a community group, BrightonPy, mirrors this story. I know for a fact that researchers at local universities are using Python to build simulations and analyse data as part of their work. But rarely, if ever, have I seen anyone from academia at BrightonPy events.
This is sad, and it's frustrating. Lecturers and mentors should be shouting at students about the opportunities to get involved in the amazing community in Brighton. There's been a communication breakdown, and we need to do something about it.
Making a contribution
So, we decided to give it a try. We took a couple of days off from our project work, came up with a few ideas, and then started building. Today, we're proud to introduce the result: Brighton Brains.
We like to think of the site as a poster, or a flyer - the kind a bewildered fresher might have pressed into their palm in their first week of university. It's a focal point for raising consciousness in the local student and academic communities about all the fun stuff that's happening on their doorstep.
Of course, Brighton Brains is only a start. We need to spread the word. At the bottom of the page is a section on Getting Involved. If you feel as strongly as we do about this, please read it, and do what you can to help. We're going to be contacting the universities over the next few weeks and trying to get them to use their own information channels to tell everyone they can about the site.
As a final note, it felt right to launch Brighton Brains yesterday, on the day the world learned of the death of Steve Jobs. Jobs has been an inspiration to many people in the creative and digital industries, and I like to imagine that he'd have felt right at home in Brighton. He too was passionate about education and academia. iTunes University gives unprecedented free access to learning materials for students across the world. Apple's products wouldn't exist without research, both inside the company and in academia. Like Steve, we really feel that this is an important cause, and something worth working for. We'd love it if we can inspire more people to get involved.