Friday, November 30, 2018

Increasing Engagement and Impact of Research

Greetings from the Canberra Innovation Network, where the Australasian Research Management Society (ARMS) is holding an Engagement and Impact Assessment Panel Discussion. The panel is asked to reflect on how a recent Impact and Engagement assessment of research went and what could be done better. The panel was also asked making the public aware of, and engaged in, "the value of the tertiary sector and research in general".

The question I put to the panel was:
'Would engagement and impact be improved by increasing the number of "professional" doctorates? As the AQF points out, these involve research, but emphasize practical outcomes.'

Background, in my Higher Education Whisperer blog:"
The panelists generally seemed to think this was a good idea. However, one of the audience asked what a professional doctorate was, the concept not being as well known in Australia, as the USA. As the University of South Australia puts it:
"A professional doctorate is a rigorous program of advanced study and research, designed to meet the needs of industry and professional groups. ... Professional doctorates usually blend coursework and research ...".

In contrast research doctoral students undertake less coursework, and focus on research. However, as one of the panel pointed out, 80% or more of these research doctorates end up not working in academia on research. ANU has researched what industry jobs research graduates would be suitable for.

As the Australian Academy of Science pointed out (AAS, p. 152, 1974):
"The PhD degree was established in Australia in 1948 specifically to help staff Australian universities."
The number of PhD students has increased far faster than the demand for research staff at universities, government and industry. Even those working at university are spending only part of their time on research, with time spent on administration, teaching and staff supervision. PhD students receive no training in any of these fields as part of their degree program (unless this happens to be their research topic).

Some research doctorates do have a more practical orientation than others, for example it is easier to demonstrate engagement and impact of graduates in engineering. ANU's Dr Lachlan Blackhall, in an opinion piece in the media today, outlined what needs to be done to secure reliable, affordable, electricity supply for Australia. In addition to his energy research work, Dr Blackhall co-founded a company which has built a system to help make this future possible. By setting out clearly what the community needs to do, and building a company to help get there, Dr Blackhall has demonstrated more engagement and impact than by writing a thousand research papers.


Australian Academy of Science. Science, & Industry Forum. (1974). PhD education in Australia: the making of professional scientists. The Forum.

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