Picture Source: Tomasz Machnik

The Australian Technology Network of universities will expand its industry-linked doctorates on the back of Gillard government funding for the rollout of doctoral training centres.

The aim is to better link PhD students to real industry settings.

In its newly launched doctoral training centre in mathematics and statistics, the ATN is embedding generic skills such as research management and ethics into coursework to create more practical cohort experience.

Mathematician Oliver Czibula is among the centre’s first students. He said the industry connection had him grappling with problems that he would never have encountered if he had simply taken on the “pet project” of a professor.

Mr Czibula is a student at University of Technology, Sydney, and a full-time contractor at NSW electricity network Ausgrid. He develops mathematical programs to solve scheduling problems, from juggling training seminars for thousands of staff to scheduling maintenance and capital works. Through the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute he secured the five-month internship last year.

His work even had to take account of interdepartmental politics over the sharing of conference rooms. “That would definitely not be part of an academic thesis,” he said.

ATN chair and Curtin University vice-chancellor Jeanette Hacket said the aim was to go beyond producing”singletons”, or PhDs who are highly specialised but lack sufficient practical and generic skills. The new centre has 10 students drawn from across the ATN. They do coursework through the ATN’s online E-Graduate School based at Queensland University of Technology and will take some residential courses. It is anticipated 25 students will enrol each year.

Students receive a $30,000 annual stipend, with industry partners contributing $10,000 for each student.

The government plans to invest up to $1 million a year in each of up to 50 industrial transformation training centres to be established during the next five years.

As part of the program it will award up to 600 industrial PhDs for students embedded in industry. Funding will be sourced from within the Australian Research Council’s existing budget.

Private industry participation will be key to the initiative succeeding, but could prove the main challenge. At the launch of the ATN centre last week, Australian Bureau of Statistics statistician Brian Pink said it was “disappointing” that the centre’s founding industry partners, the ABS and the CSIRO, were both government agencies.

However, AMSI director Geoff Prince said he was optimistic companies would take advantage of research and development tax breaks to take on PhD students.

Source: The Australian
By: Andrew Trounson