Tag Archives: Research funding

science policy

Make your expertise available

Featured image: President of Science & Technology Australia, Professor Jim Piper (left), hosts a meeting between Science meets Parliament delegates and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (centre) in 2016

Darren, what’s your particular area of research and how can it help to inform policy in Australia?

I am a medical researcher, working to understand the biology of cancer and neurodegeneration, and use that knowledge to design new therapies. Both diseases have a huge health and financial impact in Australia and internationally, and with an ageing population this impact will only increase, with obvious implications for health funding and policy.

When you first attended Science meets Parliament, how did you prepare for your research pitch?

I really didn’t know what to expect so I was actually pretty underprepared. I won’t make that mistake this time!

Did your pitch have the desired outcome? What would you do differently next time?

I had a great discussion with a Greens senator from Western Australia who had a strong interest in environmental issues. We talked about the importance of science in understanding the environment and gathering data as a foundation for drafting good evidence-based policy in areas such as fisheries management and forestry. In some ways I didn’t really have to do much convincing! 

This time I plan to research the electorate of the parliamentarians I’ll meet and the issues that might be important in that context. I’ll make sure I understand the issues they have flagged as important to them and think about how my background and research interests might align with those issues. I also plan to ask them questions to find common ground for discussion.

Describe your experience at Science meets Parliament (SmP). What did you think of the event?

I was really enthused by SmP, and impressed by the level engagement of the politicians and policymakers who attended. I found it an invaluable learning experience and a fantastic opportunity to meet scientists across a broad spectrum of specialities.

Seeing the workings of government up close (if only briefly) was a real eye opener and the various briefings and workshops were constructive and informative. I still draw on the things I learnt there.

In many ways it was a catalyst to me becoming much more interested and active in science policy and communication.

What advice do you have for other researchers who are trying to turn their knowledge into action?

Keep a constructive mindset and focus on how science might help, rather than just presenting a list of problems or complaints.

Listen to the concerns and issues that are important and make yourself available as a source of expertise and advice on the process and outcomes of science by fostering relationships.

Be aware that politics and policy development work to different timelines and use different language to science.

Try to take a bipartisan approach.

What have been the major challenges in getting your science heard by policymakers in Australia, and how have you overcome them?

The most difficult barriers to progress have been the relatively regular turnover of ministers, a challenging funding environment (which always seems to dominate discussions) and hostile attitudes to evidence and rejection of “expertise” in some quarters. 

Overcoming these is really challenging and incredibly time-consuming. My approach is to attempt to build dialogue wherever possible, and to be proactive in making science relevant and interesting to the general public.

I take every opportunity I can to tell people about the outcomes and process of science. Public support for science might eventually translate into it being heard at the policy level.

How do you think the relationship between science and politics in Australia compares with other countries, and what lessons could we take from overseas?

I believe we can learn a lot from other countries. For example, we could benefit from aspects of science and policy partnering schemes employed in the UK, science diplomacy schemes in the US, and the appointment of ministers with relevant experience and qualifications in places like Canada.

Most government departments in the UK have a Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) to provide scientific advice and PhD students can undertake three-month internship placements in the Government Office for Science.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have a Centre for Science Diplomacy which aims to use to promote scientific cooperation as an essential element of foreign policy.

What are you most looking forward to at Science meets Parliament this year, and what do you hope to see more of in the future?

I look forward to meeting interesting and driven people, gaining new insights and hopefully gaining some traction with politicians about the importance of science and its ability to help drive the health and prosperity of Australians.

Click here to find out more about Science meets Parliament.

research and industry partnerships

What you can do for industry

My team and I have just run a two-day workshop at a Sydney-based university aimed at empowering academic researchers to engage professionally, effectively and sustainably with industry, and it was an eye-opening experience for us all.

As always happens when I teach, I learnt a lot, even though technology transfer is my expertise. I learnt more about what holds researchers back from beneficial partnerships with industry, and shared the joy of ‘A-ha!’ moments, when they realised what they could change or start doing, to seed the relationships they need.

From 1 January 2017, academic researchers will need those ‘A-ha!’ breakthroughs more than ever, as the Australian Government intends to introduce new research funding arrangements for universities that give equal emphasis to success in industry and other end-user engagement as it does to research quality.

After two days exploring industry imperatives and restrictions, and developing skills in market research and commercial communication, I interviewed the 16 participants, to determine any leaps in understanding they had made during the workshop. I found two major developments in their thinking:

1. Looking at the relationship with industry from the other side

‘I need to engage with the needs of the stakeholder,’ said one participant.

‘Go with open questions – don’t make it about you,’ said another.

To paraphrase JFK, academics should ask not what industry can do for them, but what they can do for industry. Only by identifying and understanding the needs of businesses (driven by the needs of customers), can academics think about how outcomes of their research – innovative ideas or new technologies – might solve some problems faced by industry. This is the first step in building a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

A particularly switched-on workshop participant realised the value of talking to industry before starting a new research project, then designing the project to deliver a real-world solution, identifying the ‘importance of prior planning – allowing time for the relationship to develop’. A-ha!

For many, the breakthrough came when they realised that this is not selling out – that commercialisation is not the dark side of research. Commercialisation is how researchers can turn their potentially life-saving or world-bettering discoveries into real products or services to make an actual difference in medicine, the environment, space, communications, data, energy, or wherever their passions lie. I have written more about this here.

2. Appreciating the importance and value of social media – especially LinkedIn – in finding industry contacts and maintaining industry partnerships.

‘I need to advertise myself better,’ was one participant’s succinct take-home.

Yes! Otherwise industry will struggle to find you, even if your R&D capabilities are a perfect fit for their needs. It came as a surprise to several academics that the kings and queens of commerce do not spend hours trawling ResearchGate, seeking potential partners, or in many cases even know of it. They hadn’t considered that ResearchGate is a closed door to non-researchers. In contrast, a targeted, professional and proactive presence on LinkedIn will rapidly get a researcher’s foot in the right industry door.

Other breakthroughs in learning about research and industry partnerships

One workshop participant found it enlightening to think about research outcomes ‘in measurable terms’.

Another experienced ‘surprising results from acting outside my comfort level’ when they were tasked with approaching and engage strangers in conversation.

Engaging with industry can be confronting for researchers, requiring investment of time and some additional knowledge and skills, as I know from personal experience, shared here. But what if you consider the potential comfort of ongoing funding from a productive industry partnership, plus the satisfaction of turning your research findings into measurable real-world benefits..?

A-ha!

– Natalie Chapman, Managing Director, gemaker

You might also enjoy this post on research and industry partnerships:

Engaging industry in research

Australia's innovation sector

Rethinking Australia’s innovation sector

Tony Peacock takes a closer look at Australia’s innovation sector compared to the rest of the world. 

Innovation and Science Australia, the new body created in last December’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, has not sat idle during the election period. The Office of Innovation and Science Australia wound up a series of strategic workshops in Canberra yesterday, developing a 15-year Strategic Plan for Australia’s innovation sector. The plan will develop over the next year and will be a vitally important guiding document in setting direction for Australia’s innovation sector to 2030.

As is the case with many workshops, the facilitator asked each participant to make an opening observation, and mine surprised the person next to me. I was surprised at her surprise. It was basically that even the depiction in graphics of innovation as a linear process that moves from knowledge creation to knowledge transfer through to knowledge application can be fraught. It can over emphasise the expectations on universities in our innovation system. Our system is relatively highly reliant on universities already and we have to be very careful not to expect them keep doing more and more. The primary role of universities is to teach and their biggest impact in the innovation system is to develop talent. All universities also conduct research, but in Australia, we rely on university research much more heavily than most countries.

To illustrate, I’ve pulled out the OECD figures on who performed R&D in four countries in 2013 (the latest year with information for Australia, the USA, Germany and Israel). I chose these particular countries because we often hear comparisons between their systems and ours. Relative to other countries, Australia is roughly twice as reliant on universities to perform our total national research effort. Business in Australia performs relatively less research than business in the other countries but it is important when framing strategic directions to remember that in Australia, businesses still do double the research of our universities. Business is absolutely not sitting at the end of a knowledge generation process waiting to be fed.

This is not at all a criticism of universities. Australian universities are an unmitigated success. They do a brilliant job of teaching Australian and international students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. They do brilliant research. There is no doubt they can do better at engaging with industry, but most have lifted very significantly in that space already. How much more can we genuinely expect? Many universities are expressing concerns that they are cross-subsidising research with teaching dollars already (a fraught argument itself because students are attracted to high reputation universities, who largely drive reputation through their research profile). But they are probably leveraged about as far as possible.

Surely the key strategic issue in Australia’s innovation sector is to drive more business innovation? Relative to the rest of the world, our businesses do less research, but they are still the largest part of the innovation system as a whole. We need to think of business as the main player it is in performing R&D and how we can encourage yet more business research to enhance national prosperity. The people at the Office of Innovation and Science Australia are on to it and they acknowledge that there is “no simple way to fully describe its (Australia’s innovation sector) components or dynamics”. Perhaps that’s because in many ways it is not a “system” at all, which makes the task of strategic planning that much more difficult. It is certainly a task worth supporting.

This article was first published by the Cooperative Research Centre Association on 13 July 2016. Read the original article here.

Australian research funding

Australian research funding infographic

Featured image above: CSIRO has received significant budget cuts in recent years. Credit: David McClenaghan

The election is rapidly approaching, and all major parties – Liberal, Labor and Greens – have now made announcements about their policies to support science and research.

But how are we doing so far? Here we look at the state of science and research funding in Australia so you can better appreciate the policies each party has announced.

The latest OECD figures show that Australia does not fare well compared with other OECD countries on federal government funding research and development.

As a percentage of GDP, the government only spends 0.4% on research and development. This is less than comparable nations.

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But looking at total country spending on research and development, including funding by state governments and the private sector, the picture is not so bleak: here Australia sits in the middle among OECD countries.

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Over the years, there have been hundreds of announcements and new initiatives but this graph indicates that, in general, it has been a matter of rearranging the deck chairs rather than committing to strategic investments in research.

The Paul Keating Labor government made some investments. During the John Howard Liberal government’s years, there were ups and downs. The Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard Labor governments were mostly up. And in Tony Abbott’s Liberal government, the graph suggests that it was mostly down with science.

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Over the past decade, there have been some minor changes in funding to various areas, although energy has received the greatest proportional increase.

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This pie chart reminds us that the higher education sector is a major provider of research and is highly dependent on government funding. It also tells us that business also conducts a great deal of research.

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The timeline below shows that the government does listen and respond when issues arise. It has recognised the importance of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS), the Australian Synchrotron and sustainable medical research funding by different initiatives.

But, sadly, one must remember that funding is effectively being shifted from one domain to another, and it has seldom been the case that significantly new commitments are made. The balance of red and blue shows how one hand gives while the other takes funding away.

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This useful graph highlights the fact that Australian Research Council (ARC) funding now amounts to little more than the National Health and Medical Research Council’s funding.

This is remarkable, given that the ARC funds all disciplines, including sciences, humanities and social sciences, while the NHMRC essentially focuses on human biology and health.

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This graphic also highlights the lack of any sustained funding strategy. The only clear trend is that the investment in the ARC has gradually declined and the NHMRC has grown.

This, in part, reflects the undeniable importance of health research. But it is also indicative of effective and coherent organisation and communication by health researchers. This has been more difficult to achieve in the ARC space with researchers coming from a vast array of disciplines.

– Merlin Crossley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education and Professor of Molecular Biology, UNSW Australia
– Les Field, Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science, and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, UNSW Australia
This article was first published by The Conversation on June 22 2016. Read the original article here.
research funding

$22.6 million research funding

The Australian Government just announced that it will invest $22.6 million in new research funding for 11 CRC-Projects (CRC-Ps), with funding to start from July 2016. The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science received ninety-one applications in the first round for CRC-Ps, speaking volumes to the level of interest by business as well as the highly competitive nature of the bid process.

CRC-Ps were developed by the government in response to the Miles Review handed down last year. David Miles recommended that three rounds be held every year. The next CRC-P round is expected to open in August 2016 with outcomes announced in November and funding from January 2017. The schedule for anticipated CRC and CRC-P funding rounds can be found here.

“Improving collaboration between researchers and industry to cultivate a more innovative and entrepreneurial economy is a key pillar of the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda,” said the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, The Hon Christopher Pyne.

“We’ve placed industry at the front and centre of the CRC Programme so we can build on our strengths in high quality research to improve the competitiveness, productivity and sustainability of Australian industries.”

Successful CRC-P 1st Selection Round Projects can be found here.

Funded Projects

  • The future integrated driver monitoring solution for heavy vehicles
  • Hydrocarbon fuel technology for hypersonic air breathing vehicles
  • Printed solar films for value-added building products for Australia
  • Translational R&D to accelerate sustainable omega-3 production
  • CRC-P for Innovative Prefabricated Building Systems
  • An antibody based in vitro diagnostic for metastatic cancer
  • High performance optical telemetry system for ocean monitoring
  • Combined carbon capture from flue gas streams and mineral carbonation
  • Strengthening Australia’s radiopharmaceutical development capabilities
  • Innovation in Advanced Multi-Storey Housing Manufacture
  • Future Oysters CRC-P

Outcomes of stage one of the 18th selection round of CRCs are expected in July and applications will open for those invited to Stage Two. Final outcomes are expected to be known by the end of the year.

This article was first published by the CRC Association on 22 June 2016. Read the original article here