Re-thinking the Science PhD

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, is a big fan of the PhD. His speech on July 29th, at the Park Royal Melbourne Airport, available here, makes a powerful case for an expanded vision of it. The PhD should return to its roots as an experience that creates deep, adaptable and capable thinkers, fit for a challenging world beyond discovery research. PhD students are not just ‘academics in utero’. 

The speech was made to open a national forum convened by the ACDS and ACGR (Australian Council of Graduate Research). The forum was held to raise awareness of the  recommendations of the Review of Australia’s Research Training System, commissioned last year by the Federal Government from the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA).  

Their report, released on April 14th this year, makes recommendations about the conduct of postgraduate research that will have considerable impact on science faculties. The Chief Scientist’s speech provides an eloquent and entertaining insight into the imperatives driving such recommendations. 

He goes on to argue for changes to business incentives to collaborate with universities. He notes the opportunities for research students provided by the initiatives in NISA, and commends models such as the Canadian Mitacs and French CIFRE programs that connect research students with industry.