Professor Kate Smith-Miles

The student benefits of a PhD industry internship are undeniable, but Academic Mentors are also gaining from the opportunity to engage directly with industry.

Academic Mentors – typically a student’s PhD supervisor – provide guidance and steer the student towards the internship’s research goals. During this time, they have the chance to learn about the problems industry are facing first-hand.

Professor Kate Smith-Miles, from The University of Melbourne, has mentored five PhD students through the APR.Intern program and credits the industry engagement for helping her develop some of the technology now on show at the ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Optimisation Technologies, Integrated Methodologies and Applications (OPTIMA) – of which, Professor Smith-Miles is Director and was awarded nearly $5 million by the Australian Research Council to lead.

“Some of the internships I supervised early on were not directly aligned with my research interests, but I am so glad I said yes because the opportunities broadened my horizons in terms of research techniques,”


Professor Kate Smith-Miles, The University of Melbourne

One internship, in particular, that helped shape Professor Smith-Miles’ career was a project she supervised on optimal design and production of ceramic fuel cells for electricity generation.

“At first, I didn’t know how to solve the problem. But together with the intern, we figured out how to solve it. We also learnt it wasn’t just this company that was facing the same mathematical challenge, at an abstract level, but many more,” said Professor Smith-Miles.

“The techniques we developed during this internship enabled me to broaden my mathematical toolkit in a direction well-aligned with industry needs, which years later led me to establish OPTIMA. Now, we are applying these techniques for other industry partners such as Boeing and AGL Energy,”


Professor Kate Smith-Miles, The University of Melbourne

“It’s so easy to dismiss an opportunity that’s not directly aligned with your research, but if you are happy and willing to learn new things, 10 years later you could find yourself a leading expert in a new area – you never know. That’s the journey I’ve been on,” Professor Smith-Miles added.

Professor Smith-Miles now specialises in industry-applied research. As well as being the Director of OPTIMA, she is a Professor of Applied Mathematics at The University of Melbourne, and Associate Dean (Enterprise and Innovation) for the University’s Faculty of Science, where she supports other academics to engage with industry to shape their research directions for maximal impact.