Media Release
11 December 2020


Fifty of Australia’s brightest PhD students have been placed into Defence research projects as part of an ongoing partnership between Australian Postgraduate Research Intern (APR.Intern) and the Department of Defence through the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG).

As Australia’s only national PhD internship program, APR.Intern partnered with Defence to support and strengthen industry-university collaboration within the sector.

PhD students from all of Australia’s leading universities have been matched with Defence R&D challenges and given the opportunity to transfer targeted research expertise from theory to real-world application.

These 3-6 month research placements have brought a wide range of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills to the forefront of Defence innovation, with projects undertaken ranging from algorithm development for improved human-machine integration, and autonomous underwater vehicles, to forensic intelligence collection and beyond.

This 50th placement milestone highlights the importance of utilising postgraduate-level research skills to advance Australia’s innovation capability.  As one of Australia’s largest employers of scientists and engineers, DSTG recognises the importance of equipping university graduates with STEM industry experience – in turn, forging the path for a career-ready workforce.  With Defence set to invest over $3 billion of capability investment in Defence innovation, science and technology over the next decade, engaging PhD-trained research specialists to sustain Defence technology is crucial.

To further deepen its presence within the sector, APR.Intern has also partnered with state-based Defence research networks including Victoria’s Defence Science Institute (DSI), NSW’s Defence Innovation Network (DIN) and WA’s Defence Science Centre (DSC).

While an Australian Government rebates is available to all businesses through APR.Intern, these state-by-state partnerships provide local Defence SMEs with an additional subsidy to further ease the cost of a PhD student placement.

The symbiotic nature of APR.Intern’s PhD student placements ensures both the academic and industry parties benefit from the collaboration; industry gains a specialist skillset, while students are empowered to thrive in a practical research environment.  After discussing a business’ research needs, APR.Intern utilises its national network of PhD students from 34 Australian universities to source the perfect match.

Originally known as ‘AMSI Intern’, the APR.Intern program was founded as the industry arm of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI), dedicated to increasing the deployment of PhD mathematics graduates into industry.  With the support of the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment through its ‘National Research Internships Program’, APR.Intern has since expanded to service all disciplines and industry sectors with a focus on supporting more PhD women into STEM careers.

The Defence sector accounts for 14 percent of APR.Intern’s projects, and the program looks forward to connecting DSTG with even more postgraduate-level research specialists.  Trained to think logically, tangentially and creatively, DSTG’s first 50 PhD student placements have brought a renewed perspective to R&D challenges.

Continuing academic collaboration is critical to ensuring the ongoing delivery of innovative solutions for Australia’s defence and national security.


Case Studies

‘Mathematics Assists Fleet Planners’

Defence engaged University of Melbourne PhD student, Nick Davey in a 5-month research placement to improve workloads for fleet planners.  Throughout this placement, Nick applied mathematical optimisation skills developing a method that quickly generates feasible schedules for maintaining large fleets of aircraft, while considering real-world constraints. Following the successful project, DSTG offered Nick full-time employment in a newly created role

“The project provided a robust predictive capability, which will significantly reduce the workload for fleet planners,” said Dr David Marlow, DSTG Senior Operations Research Scientist and Nick’s Industry Supervisor.

PhD Intern Dives into the Deep Learning End’

When an R&D project required specialist deep learning knowledge, APR.Intern matched DSTG with Ana “Daysi” Ruvalcaba Cardenas, a PhD student at RMIT University, to explore object recognition using low-resolution data, augmenting Defence’s latest camera technology.

“The purpose of my project was to investigate deep learning techniques to identify different objects in a certain area. I implemented and reviewed several techniques with good results,” said Daysi.

‘Accelerating Defence Innovation’

Defence welcomed PhD student, Ryan Green from the University of South Australia, in a research placement demonstrating goal-driven autonomy applied to a notional Deep Ray Glider as a proof-of-concept.

“The opportunity to apply my skills to a real-world project was the exact opening I needed to start my career”, said Ryan.  “it gave me practical experience and contacts in the industry,”

“Ryan provided a valuable role to my team that was previously lacking and has allowed the project to advance much more rapidly than I had expected”, added Dr Martin Oxenham, DSTG Discipline Leader Machine Cognition in DSTG’s Joint Operations and Analysis Division and Ryan’s Industry Supervisor.


Media Contact
For more information, please contact: 

Jo Piltz
Marketing & Communications Coordinator, APR.Intern
P: 0424 004 553