Tag Archives: culture

science and innovation

Crossing the cultural divide

Australia’s future health and economy is a vibrant, interactive ecosystem with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) at its core. STEM is central – and essential – to Australia’s ongoing success in the next 50 years. Australia is considered an incredible place to do cutting-edge research, pursue blue-sky ideas and commercialise innovative products. Pioneering discoveries fuel the innovation process. Students cannot wait to enrol in science and maths. Policies are developed using peer-reviewed evidence and broad consultation. Aspirational goals are backed by practical solutions and half of our STEM leaders are women – it’s the norm.

Sounds good doesn’t it?

To excel in science and innovation, however, Australia needs a major culture shift. We can all ‘talk the talk’, but as OECD figures demonstrate, we cannot ‘walk the walk’. Australia rates lowest compared to other OECD countries when it comes to business-research collaborations – not just large businesses, but small to medium-sized enterprises as well.

Academia blames industry. Industry blames academia. Everyone blames the government. It’s time to turn the pointing finger into a welcoming handshake and engage across sectors to actually make innovation happen.

Literally thousands of researchers in this country want to see our academic and industry leaders reach across the divide and make change happen. With every decision made, their future is impacted.

Paradigm-shifting science and innovation takes time and requires a diverse workforce of highly-skilled researchers and professionals that specialise in these fields.

The lack of a skilled workforce and poor collaboration are significant barriers to innovation. As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the industry engagement and impact assessment aims to incentivise greater collaboration between industry and academia by examining how universities are translating their research into social and economic benefits.

Australian academic institutions have begun to break down silos within their own research organisations with some success. In medical research for example, the breadth and scale of interdisciplinary collaborative projects has expanded exponentially – spanning international borders, requiring a range of skills and expertise, terabytes of data, and years of research.

Research teams have become small companies with synergistic subsidiaries – diagnostic, basic, translational and clinical teams – working toward a common goal.

Yet their engagement with industry is low. Industry struggles to navigate the ever-changing complex leadership structures in higher education and research. When you speak one-on-one with researchers and industry leaders, however, they seem almost desperate to cross the divide and connect! It’s a detrimental dichotomy.

How can we harness the full potential of our research workforce?

We can energise innovation by fostering a culture that values basic research as well as translation of discoveries to product, practice and policy. A culture that opens the ivory tower and is not so sceptical of industry-academia engagement. That responds to failure with resilience and determination rather than deflating, harsh judgement. That sees the potential of our young researchers.

We need to lose the tall poppy syndrome and openly celebrate the success and achievement of others. We must hold ourselves to higher standards and in particular, women must be equally recognised and rewarded for their leadership.

As a nation, we must ensure we are prepared and resourced for the challenges ahead. Not only do we need the best equipment and technologies, but we also need a readily adaptable workforce that is highly-skilled to address these issues.

To facilitate a culture shift and increase engagement with business and industry, we need to provide researchers the skills and know-how, as well as opportunities to hone these skills. Young researchers are ready to engage and hungry to learn; and they must be encouraged to do so without penalty.

They then need to be connected with industry leaders to identify the qualities and expertise they need to strengthen, and to extend their network.

We can change this now. The solution is not expensive. It is simply about letting down our guard and providing real opportunities to meet, to connect, to network, to exchange ideas and expertise – and to share that welcoming handshake.

Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea

Executive Director, Industry Mentoring Network in STEM, Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering, Melbourne

CEO and Co-founder, Women in STEMM Australia

Read next: Professor David Lloyd, Vice Chancellor of the University of South Australia, believes university and industry have a shared purpose.

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industry-school partnerships

Industry engagement must start at school

Robotics, artificial intelligence, advanced materials and biotechnology will impact business models from 2018 and employment in engineering, architecture, IT and maths is on the rise. Currently women are significantly underrepresented in these jobs. 

Schools have a major role in promoting female participation in the STEM workforce. The challenge for schools and educators is to help female students understand this new environment and evolve the skills and resilience to operate in the future STEM landscape.

So how can we support female students to pursue STEM careers?

Provide opportunities

A major challenge for schools exists around resourcing and updating teacher knowledge. The Victorian Department of Education established six specialist science and mathematics centres to help schools inspire students in STEM through student programs and teacher professional learning.

These specialist centres collaborate with research institutes and industry to showcase Victorian innovation and entrepreneurial pursuits in STEM. Providing access to research-grade technologies and expertise immerses teachers and students in contemporary science investigations.  It helps girls visualise new STEM pathways and ignites their interest in pursuing studies in science.


“Industry and research institutions can play a pivotal role in supporting schools to bridge the divide between STEM in practice, and STEM in the classroom.”


Enhance motivation

What motivates a female student to engage with STEM? At the very core our answer should include interest and relevance. Relevance showcases how skills and knowledge apply to the world around us. Interest is maintained when students understand and can actively use new skills and knowledge to analyse results, solve problems and discuss issues.

A student will quickly disengage if they do not experience success. A series of sequenced challenges designed to activate thinking and the linking of ideas to create new knowledge supports students to take risks and develop and test theories.

Promote dialogue and skills of negotiation

Girls enjoy learning as a social and collaborative exercise. In this way they can hold meaningful discourse as they interrogate ideas. Providing learning spaces that promote social interaction around artefacts provides a non-threatening method of testing ideas and refining knowledge.

Raise aspirations

Industries want to increase female participation in the workforce as this promotes diversity and has been shown to improve outcomes. Cited barriers to hiring and promoting women include unconscious bias in managers and women’s low confidence and aspirations.

industry-school partnerships
Credit: Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum

We all harbour learned stereotypes that are encultured in us and affect decisions. Meeting and collaborating with early and established female career scientists has a positive impact on women’s aspirations. It helps to break down misconceptions surrounding the role of scientists by highlighting the convergence of STEM where collaboration – rather than competition – is key.

Industry and research institutions can play a pivotal role in supporting schools to bridge the divide between STEM in practice, and STEM in the classroom. By partnering with schools to develop meaningful and relevant learning experiences for students, enriched by access to facilities, resources, technologies and expertise, students realise how exciting and diverse a career in STEM can be.

By communicating the need for gender diversity and nurturing STEM skills that will be most valued in the workforce, we can help raise female aspirations as they reflect on subject choice in their senior years.

Jacinta Duncan

Director, Gene Technology Access Centre

Read next: Captain Mona Shindy describes her journey as a pioneer in the Royal Australian Navy.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on industry-school partnerships using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.