Doctorate program helping industry link with researchers

Australian Postgraduate Research Intern (APR.Intern), Australia’s only national, not-for-profit all-sector, all-discipline, PhD internship program is helping to push industry innovation via collaboration with universities.

APR.Intern matches companies with PhD students and supervising academics to undertake three to five month, tightly-focused research projects. Delivered by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, the program is open to all universities, small-to-medium and large enterprises, and government bodies.

APR.Intern works with over 31 universities as well as government agencies such as the Australia Bureau of Statistics, Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO, the Defence Science and Technology Group and the Reserve Bank of Australia. A recent partnership with the Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (IMCRC) has further deepened its impact in the manufacturing sector.

As part of the program, the Australian Government currently offers a rebate of 50 per cent off the cost of a PhD internship.

Cate Ballard, national program manager at APR.Intern said that with PhD supply growing rapidly across Australian universities there are no longer enough jobs in academia.

“With many of these very bright, solution-oriented thinkers eyeing industry opportunities, we needed a pathway to ensure they complemented expertise with workplace skills. APR.Intern uses a model similar to Canada’s globally respected MITACS program, with the goal of accelerating STEM innovation and strengthening essential academia-industry collaboration,” Ballard said.

“In the wake of the 4th industrial revolution, the Australian manufacturing sector faces the real challenge of maintaining a competitive edge while responding to digital disruption, rapid tech advancement, and managing big data. Collaboration enhances innovation capability for both academia and industry, opening new areas for investigation, and accelerating application where new technologies and processes are needed most.”

Ballard said that Australia has globally recognised universities that are producing world-leading researchers, and that access to this repository of high-level expertise is essential to accelerate innovation and ensure sectors – such as manufacturing – remain competitive amid rapid tech advancement and the evolution of advanced manufacturing techniques.

“The benefits of the APR.Intern program for industry are enormous. The tightly-focused research projects target current innovation challenges. This innovation is accelerated through access to specialised skills through our national academic network. The best part is that industry retains the IP and benefits over the long-term. The program closes the gap on university and industry collaboration,” she said.

“APR.Intern acts as a powerful gateway that allows industry to engage with academia on a national level. Rather than taking problems to individual universities, and hoping they have the skills required, industry comes to us. We translate the problem into an academic scope, and then advertise the project across our network. We bring back the skill set required by the industry partner, and provide a panel of students and academic partners for interviews.”

According to Ballard, it is important for industry to understand what they need and how they can benefit from PhDs.

“We have placed over 400 students throughout the life of the program, of which 35 per cent have been offered employment at the conclusion of their internship. Interestingly, 18 per cent of these roles have been newly created positions—the program really is quite phenomenal in terms of creating new jobs,” said Ballard.