Big ideas to spark collaboration

These ideas were developed by the EMCR Forum to support the careers of early- and mid-career researchers (EMCRs) in the research sector as it changes in response to the push for collaboration and drive for innovation.

The Career Flexibility Project is an online database to enable collaborations between industry and organisations which focus on research, to help EMCRs identify and gain skills which promote mobility and to highlight the skills of STEM EMCRs to industry and government.

FIRE—Fellowships for Industry–Research Exchange are five-year fellowships for mid-career researchers to ‘deep-dive’ into an industrial setting; includes non-traditional metrics in selection criteria.

The Innovation Centres for EMCRs are incubator-style research institute that exclusively house early-mid career STEM researchers with innovative, high reward approaches to addressing issues of national interest.

The Career Flexibility Project

Challenge

In Australia opportunities for career ‘switching’ between research organisations, industry and government are limited. EMCRs find it challenging to move between sectors, resulting in career instability. This lack of cross-sector mobility is inhibiting our scientific innovation and commercialisation potential.

Research training is still overwhelmingly tailored towards an academic career resulting in an oversupply of HDR graduates who are unsure of other career options and an exodus of highly qualified researchers from the Australian STEM sector, as they seek opportunities overseas or in other sectors.

How can we promote mobility between sectors and plug the leaky pipeline?

  1. Highlight a range of clear career paths that are more accessible to STEM researchers
  2. Help EMCRs diversify their skills and think about different prospective careers
  3. Provide opportunities to industry and government sectors to identify potential new staff or collaborators with PhDs and research backgrounds.

What is the Career Flexibility Project?

A collection of resources for researchers and businesses which promote mobility and enable collaboration:

  • a centralised online database of Australian STEM EMCRs to allow industry partners to easily find EMCRs with the required expertise. It would also facilitate dialogue allowing EMCRS to  pitch solutions to the “big questions” or problems facing industry or government
  • resources for EMCRs to obtain new, relevant skills to pursue careers outside of their current sector
  • video and online content to educate industry and government about the skills of STEM EMCRs, to increase the employment options for PhD-qualified individuals
  • video and online content to help EMCRs recognise their ‘non-traditional’ experience, using the UK example: www.vitae.ac.uk as a model
  • profiles of individuals who have successfully ‘switched’ between universities or research organisations, industry and government, including short video stories to be shared online and on social media.

Benefits to Australia

  1. Career flexibility and mobility that will lead to increased innovation and commercialisation of STEM research in Australia.
  2. Increased collaboration in STEM across research organisations, industry and government.

FIRE—Fellowships for Industry–Research Exchange

Challenge

Mid-career STEM researchers are currently challenged by a lack of targeted funding. Researchers who are 10-20 years post-PhD are highly skilled and their extensive, training and knowledge equip them to answer ‘Big Questions’ relevant to industry and government using innovative approaches. However, there are limited opportunities to move between sectors.

How do we enable effective collaborations with innovative outputs?

A targeted funding scheme providing mid-career researchers with salary and operating expenses for collaborative projects with an industry or government partner would open up both sectors for meaningful collaboration and lasting engagement.

Fellowships for Industry–Research Exchange (FIRE)

We propose 5-year competitive fellowships that support researchers to ‘deep-dive’ into an industrial setting, allowing the researcher to not only learn what to research, but also how their work can be of value to industry. For example, in the development of the plastic car mirror by UniSA and SMR Automotive, researchers learnt what coatings to fabricate and how these coatings would impact SMR’s bottom-line.

The fellowship would fund the following which would incentivise the participants:

  • salary provided to an employer such as a university that would employ the STEM mid-career researcher
  • project seed funding to the industry partner for support activities

The aim is to kick-start a long-term collaboration between the researcher and industry and initiates a project that feeds into the Innovation Connections, CRC, ARC Linkage or similar schemes.

Benefits to Australia

  1. This scheme would facilitate mid-career STEM researchers working with industry without them having to re-locate, solving an issue for non-Group of Eight and regional universities that industry partners may not be within close proximity.
  2. Career flexibility that will lead to increased innovation and commercialisation of STEM research in Australia.
  3. Increased research organisation, industry and government collaboration in STEM.

Innovation Centres for EMCRs

Challenge

The Australian STEM sector is built up of ‘silos’ of universities, industry and government. Funding for research is distributed via a merit-based system that does not reward innovative high-risk, high-return research.

Disruptive ideas are needed to promote innovation

We propose establishing research institutes that are comprised of early- and mid-career STEM researchers with innovative, high reward approaches to addressing issues of national interest.

What does an Innovation Centre for EMCRs look like?

  • Ideally physical, but potentially initially virtual institute
  • A start-up / incubator type environment which is very interdisciplinary and collaborative
  • Encourages blue-sky big ideas and research focussed on tackling areas of national interest
  • Businesses would provide input to mentor and shape the translation of the research
  • Early-career STEM researchers would be appointed for up to of 5 years of ‘high-reward, innovative’ research. A proportion will roll out of the program each year.
  • Experienced senior scientists act as mentors
  • The individual researchers might need to retain access to a lab for technical equipment needs, but are day-to-day working in central innovation precincts
  • Central hubs could be located in major Australian cities

The Francis Crick Institute in the UK runs under similar principles with groups led mostly by EMCRs on long term contracts of up to 12 years. These contracts are non-ongoing to ensure turn over.

Benefits to Australia

  • Disruption of the traditional STEM sector to address national interest issues from new, interdisciplinary perspectives.
  • Fosters the future of science by providing a fertile training ground for young researchers.

© 2017 Australian Academy of Science

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