Spotlight on EMCR Groups—Future Industries Institute

the logo of the Future Industries Institute

Zlatko Kopecki
Future Industries Institute Foundation Fellow, Co-Chair FII-ECR group

The University of South Australia’s new multimillion-dollar Future Industries Institute (FII) focuses on building knowledge and capacity in core future industries and develops the University’s internationally competitive research capacity across four key strands:

  • Minerals and resources engineering
  • Energy and advanced manufacturing
  • Environmental science and engineering
  • Biomaterials engineering and nanomedicine.

FII fosters a research environment with the interdisciplinary capacity and agility to address research questions across a range of priority areas. Our four core strands are led by top researchers in their fields, and teams of researchers and research fellows collaborate across disciplines and work with industry partners to deliver innovative solutions. The institute officially opened on 14 September 2016 and today has 17 Research Leaders, 74 researchers and over 100 PhD students. Under the strategic and academic guidance of Director Professor Emily Hilder, FII fosters an intellectually rigorous yet agile research environment that offers partners a flexible, responsive approach focused on the opportunities and challenges they face. Besides providing a world-class research environment and several programs that facilitate research excellence and industry partnerships (e.g. Future Industry Accelerator and Mobility Grant Scheme), the Leadership team of FII has recognised the importance of nurturing EMCRs by providing 12 Foundation Fellowships in 2016, and more recently awarded three Fellowships for Female Researchers in 2017. Additionally, they have provided support and funding for establishment of the FII-ECR group in early 2017.

The FII-ECR cohort is run by EMCRs with support of the FII Leadership team. The FII-ECR group committee consists of a chair, co-chair, secretary and treasurer who work together to lead the group. Over the past 12 months, the group has organised several events that support the development of collaborations and research excellence among the EMCRs in the FII, comprising researchers working in interdisciplinary areas and the key strands mentioned above. The FII-ECR group has given an important sense of unity to the EMCRs, as well providing EMCRs with opportunities for collaboration, leadership, professional development and mentorship. The FII-ECR group is also a vehicle that provides EMCRs a voice, with the chair and co-chair of the group being part of the FII Leadership Group and Division Research Management Committee at UniSA.

One reason why this group has worked well is that the group has organised events that have targeted the topics of interest set by EMCR members. One of our first meetings involved a Q&A style session with the FII Director, Professor Emily Hilder (see image), whereby EMCRs were able to get to know the FII Director better and ask questions directly relevant to their research, as well as provide feedback on how the institute can support EMCRs better.

This was soon followed by workshops on topics such as writing an academic CV, teaching at UniSA, grant writing and fellowship applications. These workshops were run by invited experienced researchers or specialists in the field, and were complemented by discussions on what it takes to be a successful researcher, how to build a career in academia by boosting your track record, how to apply for a fellowship, and tips for writing your first grant.

Some of the topics we have identified that will be addressed in 2018 include how to be a better science communicator, intellectual property, and managing the work–life balance. One clear benefit of the FII-ECR group was getting the EMCRs to think about networking and mentorships; by working with the FII Leadership team most EMCRs now have an independent mentor. Additionally, as a group we were able to link with other ECR-orientated groups like RiAus ECR Network and attend some of the workshops they provided throughout the year. This sense of support and belonging has fostered an environment in which the group and EMCRs can thrive.

The Leadership team at FII has been very inspiring in helping EMCRs develop professionally by encouraging enrolment in the ECR Development Program run by the University, as well as providing a series of workshops to help us better define our research narrative and further develop our professional strategies for industry engagement, including workshops on: positioning yourself on non-traditional funding, defining your research narrative, research collaboration and leading external partnerships – industry funding simulation.

We are really excited to have this support and to see that EMCR engagement is becoming stronger, and that EMCRs feel supported and have a voice within the institute. Our workshops were generally followed by pizza and drinks, which always stimulates participation and has helped EMCRs get to know each other. We were also able to organise a couple of social events, including the Escape Room experience and drinks, which fostered EMCRs to participate in a team bonding exercise while also having some fun. For anyone considering organising an EMCR group at their institution we would strongly suggest they give it a go, as there are great benefits in professional development and social cohesion in helping EMCRs navigate through the challenging years in their career. The FII-ECR group has many more plans for the year ahead, including more workshop and social activities, and we are looking forward to what the future brings.

© 2021 Australian Academy of Science