What to Do to Set Up An Industry-Focused PhD Program From Scratch

In an earlier blog I wrote about the important parts of a CRC PhD Program. Some of you might be reading this and in the process of applying for or setting up a newly awarded centre or institute. Bearing that information in mind, when designing or implementing a supplementary or industry-focused PhD program consider the following in this order:

1. What kind of graduate do you want to create? PhD programs – particularly the type offered by CRCs, CoEs or other centres and institutes, have the potential to produce different types of graduates. A different type of graduate could be a researcher, an industry professional or a bureaucrat. These graduates all land in different careers immediately following their PhD. They could work in university, commercial partners, and government respectively. Of course, this does not mean they cannot become something or land somewhere else; but, the training within a PhD will have an impact in their Post-Doc (the early years post PhD). All of these career landing points require different training during the PhD to facilitate an easier transition. To determine what should be in your PhD program, make a list or mind map of the attributes desired in program graduates; bearing in mind there might be nesting or ordering of graduate attributes (i.e. some attributes might stem from or require others). For a CRC the ideal graduate is probably an industry professional. Or certainly someone capable and comfortable working in industry or across the university-industry nexus. Recognise that the decision you make will influence the kinds of researchers you want to supervise your students. Collaborative, industry-linked researchers are more likely to produce collaborative, industry-linked PhD graduates. The reverse is also true. It would also be worth seeking input from both the industry, and university partners of the CRC.

2. What are all students likely to receive? All PhD students will need to be enrolled in their PhD through a university. It is important to get an understanding of what each of the university partners offers its students – as compulsory, optional or paid training. Knowing what each university provides will help determine what the CRC, CoE, centre or institute should or should not do. It will also help determine what university students might be encouraged to go to in terms of their goals for their PhD and associated training requirements. Note that the relevant faculty, college, school or department may have additional support beyond what the university offers. To find out about each university’s PhD offering ask the contact from each university; as well as search the relevant web-pages. In the compiling process, think about the potential CRC research program, the students and the supervisors to ensure any training considered compulsory for the CRC is thoroughly investigated for its presence within a university partner. This process (of documentation) could be assisted by a list or mind map might. For most CRCs their university partners will offer a standard PhD1, with some support in areas such as scientific communication and project management. In most cases it will be up to the CRC to provide the extra support or training they deem necessary. Particularly as it relates to extracurricular development. That is, the non-research aspects of PhD training.

3. How will you create the ideal graduate? Step 1 helped described your deal graduate. Step 2 identified what the all students will receive, independent of the CRC. Thus, Step 3 is to determine what is missing and how you could bridge that gap. What does it mean or what is needed to create the kind of PhD graduate described at Step 1? What student or supervisor support is necessary? What about short courses? What kinds of supervisors are needed? What sort of projects are needed? Make another list or mind map. To train industry relevant and industry engaged researchers the kinds of programs to offer will include project management (if not offered by the university); financial management; leadership; as well as communication and engagement with non-researchers; social media training; not to mention career planning. Importantly, pastoral care for students, and supervisors should also be a major part of a CRC PhD program. Such supports, especially group-based pastoral care, help build a sense of belonging.

4. What does the CRC need to offer? Knowing how to create the ideal graduate is one thing, but most (if not all) CRCs will be resource constrained. Even more so, they are likely to be resource constrained when it comes to PhD training. Thus, you will need to prioritise your program components; making a decision of what is essential versus what is optional. Then, progressively move through the list to see if and how other CRCs (or universities etc.) are addressing that attribute. For example, if the CRC deems media training essential, there are many scientific media training organisations and courses out there. So, the CRC does not need to create that program. Rather, the CRC could seek expressions of interest and/or tenders for the work. You might even find the CRC’s researchers benefit from that training – thus budget could be allocated for researcher support, rather than PhD training. Project management might be deemed essential. In this case, you might find that a partner university is willing to make their course available to all CRC PhD students (i.e. those outside that specific university). Be sure to consult your partner organisations when prioritising your list as well as when determining how the training will be offered. Partners could be interested in delivery or sending their own staff along. To help make a decision score each option for its potential usefulness to the CRC (directly to the students as well as indirectly to other stuff) as well as the cost to deliver. This will give you a starting of programs you would like to deliver.

Building an industry focused PhD

program? Have an idea of how you’ll offer

the additional elements and training.

5. How will you offer it? Step 4 has probably already helped address this question, but there might still be choices to make. For example, two of your three partners might do project management training – thus do you seek collaboration to make that available to your third university partner? Or, do you host project management training yourself and ask that your students get an exemption from their host university training? In other cases, you might have several options available for the delivery of private training – what is better for the CRC? It is important you research all of your intended components. There have been many people and programs come before you, and it is highly likely that the components identified within your ideal program have already been built, described and refined. Find each and implement the best version of each model. Don’t reinvent the wheel. In this instance the CRC Association, and other CRCs are great starting points2. Beyond each component there is the need to create a connected whole, raising questions of timing and order. Does each student choose when they do each piece of work? Do they do their development plan once and then choose their additional components? Or do they do their development plan annually? Are all courses offered in the same week of the year to all PhD students – regardless of experience, age or stage? Does the program follow or precede the CRCs annual conference? Are students given a budget and undertake what they like? Or do they need approval? Or is the learning fixed (and free)? Of course, there will be tough decisions to make, perhaps even not offering certain components because they will be too difficult to put into practice and/or beyond the scope (budget, expertise etc.) of the CRC.

6. How will you put it into practice? It is important to create an implementation plan that puts the components of the program into place as intended. The plan should include timing, costs, goals and responsibilities. Bear in mind that most components should be in place (and perhaps operational) before the first student is enrolled.

7. How will you know it is working? Make sure you include a review or quality control element, so you can update the components of the program as you go. Again, many review templates have been created, so don’t reinvent the wheel. The review should cover the three main elements of any PhD – the students, the supervisors and the research – and how the program implemented by the CRC impacted each.

If you need help building your PhD program(s) or finding existing programs to make use of, get in touch with the CRC Association and/or Dr Richard Huysmans (Richard.Huysmans@ravencg.com.au, 0412 606 178). We can help you build, implement and operate the best PhD program for your CRC.

Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He knows the challenges of implementing an awesome PhD program as well as what it takes to complete a PhD. He is passionate about the #pracademic applications of PhD training, not just the academic outcomes. He is driven by the challenge of making a PhD to in-depth knowledge and what an MBA is to Business.

To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email (Richard.huysmans@ravencg.com.au) or subscribe to the newsletter. He’s on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).


1Monash University, Doctoral Program, https://www.monash.edu/graduate-research/future-students/phd, accessed 12 July 2018

2If you’d like to be involved in a CRC “education” networking group, get in touch with the CRCA who will help facilitate an introduction.