Gaining industry experience and seeing how their research can have practical applications is important to early career researchers. Universities and industry are now working together to help provide graduates with the opportunity to work on commercial solutions for real-life problems.
Sally Bradford won the 2015 Showcasing Early Career Researchers competition, and is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Canberra. She developed an electronic mental health assessment app allowing physicians to diagnose and support their patients’ previously undisclosed issues. Bradford’s research is part of a larger collaborative project with the Young and Well CRC.
Perth-based cancer immunotherapy research group Selvax Pty Ltd has entered a commercial partnership with Curtin University. They signed a two-year contract to develop anti-cancer immunotherapy treatments in November 2015, after CEO Tony Fitzgerald saw value in Curtin Senior Research Fellow Dr Delia Nelson’s ten years of research into immunological agents.
“We want access to innovative research to make practical use of what researchers are discovering,” says Fitzgerald.
These industry partnerships aren’t new. “It’s a well-trodden path in the USA,” says Fitzgerald.
“But it’s not as common in Australia – we’re great at innovating, but not great at commercialising our work.”
Perth-based energy company Bombora Wave Power needed to know what sensors would work underwater with its unique wave energy converter (WEC), so they partnered with Edith Cowan University (ECU) through the university’s Industry and PhD Research Engagement Program, which matches Western Australian PhD candidates with industry. ECU graduate Gary Allwood researched ways of using optical fibre sensors to measure load and stress on the WEC system’s membrane.
“The partnership allowed me to do things that haven’t been done before, like use optical fibres as sensors instead of electrical sensors,” says Allwood, who will work with Bombora Wave Power to test the sensors.
There are other, similar Australian programs. CRCs offer a number of scholarships across 14 different fields of research, giving PhD students a chance to gain industry experience.
Monash University started its Graduate Research Interdisciplinary Programs (GRIPs) in early 2015, allowing PhD students to solve real-world problems through collaborative research.
The Chemicals and Plastics GRIP has 20 industry partners offering training and funding, including Dulux and 3M. One student is treating coffee grounds to create a fertiliser to improve the soil quality of agricultural land.
“This is an exciting and innovative model for postgraduate education that encourages interdisciplinary and industry-engaged practice,” says Monash University’s Vice-Provost for Graduate Education, Professor Zlatko Skrbis.
– Marisa Wikramanayake