Policy, Practice and the Ph.D: Research training for impact

Year: 2017

Author: Thorpe, Karen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Politics has always played a significant role in setting research agendas. In particular, research funding is tied to social and political definitions of "what matters'. In the current Australian political context the measure of what is important in research is not only linked with the problem focus and the quality of the research delivered but demonstration of rapid uptake and impact. This prompts the question: How do we prepare our research higher degree students for postdoctoral employment in this environment?

We are currently working with two models of research training developed by our research team, implemented within our externally funded research program, that provides opportunities for students to maximise their engagement with end-users and acquire skills to support ongoing research uptake and impact. Both models facilitate learning and experiential opportunities and professional practice that may enhance employability and position graduates for jobs outside the higher education context, given the reality of a tight academic labour market. The first model engages students with industry partners throughout their candidature both to inform their research and to facilitate acquisition of skills beyond academic writing to include contributions to policy and professional practice. The second model brings staff working in policy and practice settings into the research environment to provide research training.

We report on our learnings from these two approaches based on researcher and student feedback recorded through emails and recorded conversations. These include the selection of students who are likely to benefit the most from these less traditional approaches to research training, the supervision experience, and outcomes to date.

While engaging in broader, impact-focussed research training can be demanding for research higher degree students their post-graduate options and impact are improved. Model 1 has been well received by students who have undertaken this approach with significant post-graduation success. To date our experience with Model 2, which has focussed on Masters by research students, has been the initial step in research training for those entering the Program from Industry. One completed student is now enrolled in a PhD. University expectations and milestones based on a traditional thesis approach are a potential source of conflict for supervisors and a concern for students. We suggest that there is a need for universities to offer alternative training models and commensurate expectations in order to facilitate the development of technical and soft skills, knowledge, networks, and personal attributes that enhance student employability.