UNSW Engineering’s new Industry PhD aims to bridge the gap between academia and industry.
One commonly-held belief about PhD graduates is that most will pursue a career in academia.
But according to Dr Megan Lord, Academic Director of the Australian Graduate School of Engineering Industry PhD program and Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering at UNSW, this tends to be the exception rather than the norm.
“More than half of our graduates go into industry upon graduation. Of the half that stay, they take up a postdoctoral position in a university but few would remain in academia beyond that,” says Megan.
“That means more than 75% of our PhD graduates will eventually end up in industry.”
Recognising a need to equip graduates with the skills to pursue positions outside of academia, UNSW Engineering recently rolled out an Industry PhD program.
“The PhD training enables engineers to conduct research in a framework that allows them to innovate and advance their careers,” says Lord.
“Increasingly, engineers need to create high-technology solutions to pressing societal issues that require a lot of innovation.”
Industry bodies also stand to benefit from the degree.
“This program gives them the opportunity to inform the training of future engineering graduates. For industry bodies that are thinking about partnering with UNSW, we have the expertise and infrastructure to help them tackle real-world problems.”
Since the Industry PhD program was rolled out, UNSW and industry bodies have already hit the ground running with some cutting-edge research.
“We’re currently working with Synedgen Inc, a medical technology startup in the United States, to develop treatments to restore blood vessel functions,” says Lord.
“We’re seeking to understand how biomaterials interact with blood vessels, so that we can treat people with vascular inflammation, which can be particularly pronounced for people recovering from COVID-19. We also want to use these biomaterials to treat patients with diabetes to have a healthier vasculature.”
One of the PhD students working with Lord will travel to the US to conduct research at the company.
“For her, a major drawcard to the Industry PhD was having industry involvement and the opportunity to understand how a small company works at the same time as building her academic skills. She’s witnessed the translation of her PhD into industry. Getting this kind of experience and insight will help our students with their career decisions.”
The Industry PhD also includes professional development in the areas of leadership training, commercialisation and entrepreneurship, as well as networking and mentoring opportunities with a range of industry partners.
“We’re also hoping to grow our industry-embedded cohort, so those students who are employed in the engineering industry can complete their PhD at the same time. That has benefits for the company in terms of staff development and retention, and the student’s unique understanding of the business can help to drive innovation.”
From an industry perspective, the program enables companies to explore ideas that aren’t business as usual, says Lord.
“Most companies are really busy with their regular services and products. This program gives them the capacity to develop new innovations. It allows for more blue sky thinking and to innovate in a way that they might not otherwise be able to do if they don’t have the skills or infrastructure in-house.”
Closing the divide
UNSW Engineering’s Industry PhD reflects a broader national trend towards bridging the gap between academia and industry.
“There is now a government incentive to have industry engagement in PhD training,” says Lord.
“That incentive comes by way of government funding to universities that are engaged in industry PhDs. While UNSW Engineering started to formulate this program about 18 months ago, we’re now seeing universities across the country introducing these kinds of programs.
“The government has realised the need to have industry involved in PhD training so that we can get the best out of our graduates for the Australian economy.”
For more information, visit https://www.unsw.edu.au/engineering/our-schools/agse/industry-phd
Email [email protected] to express your interest in enrolling in the Industry PhD or becoming an Industry partner.