The one with a first-year undergrad student challenging me to show the relevance of academic research

I teach 4th and 5th year students only, but last week, a first-year student came to my office. He wanted to talk about a grant competition for students that the university is offering. Students need a professor who will sign off their applications and, in case a student is selected to receive the grant, that professor needs to supervise the student's initiation into research. The idea is to take advantage of synnergies - that is, to get students involved in an ongoing research project a professor has.

The project I registered under the student research program is one that looks at marginalized consumer collectives and their attemps to change a market. So I started to tell the student about the research project: "The idea is to look at collectives of consumers who, for one reason or the other, are not being well-served by the market. But we also want to look at collectives of consumers who are not only dissatisfied with their choices on the market, but who are doing something about it. They are engaged in efforts to change the market." And then I told them about the Fatshionistas - a collective of consumers who blog about plus-size fashion. And I told the student he could choose to work on this project, or to identify another collective of consumers who was being marginalized and made attempts at getting better offerings from the market.

We then talked about what his engagement with research would look like. "The criteria for applying to the grant says a student should work in the project for four weeks only, so we can't have a research goal that is too broad," I say, "because four weeks is very little time." "Really?" - the student responds, looking very surprised. "I think this was a lot of time."

That got me started into how slowly a research project progresses in academia, and how years may pass from idea through data collection, through writing, to publication. And I told him it takes time to publish in a research journal that is relevant. "It is very difficult, you know, they reject most of the papers they receive. Like, 95%" The student looks awfuwly puzzled as he asks:

"And who reads these journals that are so important?" 

"People read it. Like, other professors who also do research and publish on the same journal. Or in other journals. Oh, they also tell students to read those articles published in those journals, so all this goes into teaching - and if you teach MBAs, it may get to companies as well." He didn't seem convinced. "But where else can you publish it that it won't be so difficult to get in and to get people to read it?"

I told him there is a bagzillion of journals and magazines where we could publish research - and that we present it at conferences, and I pulled a copy of the school magazine where an abridged version of the first article I wrote on the topic was published. "You see? It's here - take it home, you can read it!"
And then he told me what he really came up to my office for: "I was hoping research could help me find the solution to an issue my business is facing."