Strategy Nine (August 2012 update)

Agree coordinated strategies for identifying, developing and supporting research talent from undergraduate students to research leaders

Our aim is to create and sustain an environment in which our research talent is supported through technical disciplinary training, but also in more general training in research leadership and management, in skills in commercialisation and communication, and in developing cross-disciplinary research capabilities. We must also provide support and development that is tailored to each stage of the researcher career pathway, from the undergraduate student to the senior researcher.

Our progress under strategy 9 means our future research graduates will be better placed to join the next generation of leading researchers through improved training, support and supervision.

9(a) Embed discovery-based learning in all curricula, with opportunities for research experience appropriate to discipline and level.

As reported under strategy 3, the principles developed for curriculum reform address the need for research-enhanced teaching, which, on implementation, will facilitate the embedding of engaged enquiry in all curricula.

9(b) Develop coordinated faculty, divisional and University-wide programs for researcher induction, and for research training and mentoring at all career stages.

Later in 2012, we will begin to roll out a targeted program for a high-quality multidisciplinary cohort of NHMRC early-career research fellows and ARC Discovery early-career research fellows we have committed to support during the grant application process. These researchers are mostly first-time grant holders, so they require support relating to grant management, but we will also provide career development and support the development of funding applications. We intend the program will stimulate further cross-disciplinary interaction. In addition we are providing, through the research compacts process (see strategy 6), strategic support for around five early- and mid-career researchers in each of six faculties.

9(c) Extend the standard full-time duration of the PhD program to four years to provide scope for broadening methodological and generic skills training, where appropriate.

We decided not to extend the standard full-time duration of the PhD program to four years for a number of reasons. First, we decided to focus on the quality of PhD training to ensure better-prepared graduates who are more attractive to industry. Second, imposing a longer minimum completion time could prove unattractive to prospective students: in particular, there was concern among the clinical faculties about the impact of a four-year PhD on their HDR students, many of whom have already studied for significant periods and are concurrently working in clinical settings during their PhD studies. Finally, despite having the most PhD candidates in the country, Sydney already has the second-shortest average completion time at 4.1 years.

Instead, a program to be introduced in 2013 will ensure all new PhD candidates will benefit from enhanced support and skills training to make them more rounded and work-ready by the time they graduate. The changes will help candidates to enhance their international competitiveness, and to better meet their career and research-related needs.

As part of our new training needs analysis, candidates will meet with their supervisors annually to identify areas where they need to ‘upskill’. As well as developing interdisciplinary perspectives, they will be able to pursue training in areas such as oral and written communication to specialist and non-expert audiences, research integrity, professional responsibility, intellectual property, commercialisation and project management. They will also have the opportunity for career development, including networking with peers and industry partners.

Two faculties will trial the training needs analysis in Semester Two 2012.

9(d) Develop clearer pathways to the PhD from honours and alternate prior programs.

A working party examined pathways to the PhD during 2011. However, because of sectoral moves towards a master’s-by-research degree under the Australian Qualifications Framework, and because the University has more students who meet the government’s funding criteria for an Australian Postgraduate Award than there are scholarships available1, we decided not to consider this pathway in more detail at this time.

9(e) Establish discipline-specific guidelines and training for supervisors, including provision for co-supervisors.

We have started to implement policy changes that outline the minimum levels of University support of supervision, induction, training, specific infrastructure support, and development opportunities for all PhD students (changes are also underway to co-supervision policies). The Institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL) has streamlined its ‘Foundations of Research Supervision’ course to provide better engagement with discipline-based supervision issues and expertise. The ITL is also implementing a new faculty-based professional development strategy for experienced supervisors. These initiatives provide a more coherent University-wide policy framework and a mechanism to better coordinate faculty activities in the area of supervision.

9(f) Charge the Graduate Office with enhanced responsibility for candidate administration, monitoring of consistency of practice and policy, and procedural development across the University.

The Graduate Studies Office (GSO) now coordinates responsibility for candidature management and provides data to support monitoring and improvement of research training and higher degree by research (HDR) programs. The GSO also coordinates a network for faculty HDR managers to promote consistent best practice across the University, and manages a shared HDR student space.

9(g) Develop a more transparent model for the allocation of income from research students, consistent with the University Economic Model.

Funding the cost of research training remains a challenge in an environment where current federal government funding is insufficient to cover those costs in full. Analysis of how funds received through the federal Research Training Scheme (RTS) are allocated under the University Economic Model has confirmed that, in general, there is a lack of transparency in current allocation. The next steps are to await the government’s planned RTS review (expected late 2012) before further consideration, which will include analysing how to overcome the current barriers to cross-faculty HDR enrolments.

9(h) Develop programs to extend the leadership skills of researchers heading major research initiatives.

Through the new Future Research Leaders Program, new and emerging chief investigators (mostly nominated at a local level) are able to learn from highly respected researchers at face-to-face sessions, backed by online modules. The program also provides access to one-on-one, discipline-specific advice on research proposal writing, career development and mentoring support from senior, highly experienced researchers. In 2011, six modules were delivered to 96 individuals. Almost 90 percent of respondents to a feedback survey (70 percent response rate) would recommend the program to colleagues.

1. At present the federal government Australian Postgraduate Awards scholarships are awarded to students undertaking higher degrees by research on the basis of first-class honours or equivalent.