An increasing focus on applied research, a shrinking pool of government funding and a growing need to work effectively in multidisciplinary teams means that today’s researchers need skills beyond academic expertise.
Enter Associate Professor Tapan Rai, Director of the Researcher Development Program in UTS’s Graduate Research School. Rai and his team deliver a range of skills development courses that prepare UTS researchers for the challenges of a research career.
“We’re in a changing landscape compared to, say, 20 years ago, when academic researchers focused more on the academic impact of their work than the benefit to society or the economy,” says Rai.
“We have a larger cohort of students than we used to, but they’re not all going into academic careers beyond their PhDs. So a lot of it is getting them to think about developing a career in applied research that facilitates the solutions to industry problems.”
PhD and masters by research students can access both general and research-specific skills development modules. From project management to finding funding, working in interdisciplinary teams and understanding research ethics, these programs support the development of skills that can be applied across a range of professional environments.
There are also targeted programs available for early- and mid-career researchers. These offerings, called ECR Connect and MCR Boost, reflect the fact that no two stages of a research career are the same.
For example, says Rai, “ECRs are people who’ve finished their PhDs, but they’re also quite clearly pursuing an academic career while they’re here.
“The ECR program might be more related to ‘How do you pitch your own research to industry?’ or ‘What are the kinds of things you need to include to make yourself stand out?’.”
MCRs, meanwhile, might focus more on long-term research career planning, reputation building, and managing intellectual property. Women in research programs are also available at every stage of a UTS research career. And supervisors get a look-in too, with modules on intercultural and interdisciplinary research relationships, as well as refresher courses on UTS regulations and the UTS Doctoral Framework.
Though Rai is only a few months into the job, he has big plans for the next couple of years. He’s already teamed up with other units across the university to implement a new mentorship program that will pair research students and ECRs with industry mentors, increasing their understanding of industry-based research.
Similarly, media training and developing a data science training strategy are also future focuses. The development of online modules will also support researchers to study when and where they like.
“For researchers, it’s a matter of finding the time investment. We know students would prefer to actually do some modules in their own time, so we’re looking at offering what we’re doing online,” he says.
“Any experience that you gain in terms of developing yourself as a researcher and not just looking at things narrowly from your own research project perspective is going to be useful to you in your career.”