Developing an EDGE: Supporting Skills Development Training for HDRs

By Katherine Howard

The research landscape in Australia is changing. Calls for improved levels of research translation, commercialisation, and collaboration with industry have increasingly become the foundation of government policy, largely driven by the Watt Review in 2015. This in turn impacts doctoral education, with one of the key findings from the 2016 Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) Review highlighting that transferable skill development in Australian universities was not as well established when compared with our international counterparts. 

The report also recognised that career options for HDR graduates have evolved to include more than the traditional academic roles, with many moving into both research and non-research roles in academic, business, government, and not-for-profit organisations. Indeed, many of the staff at Intersect have – or are very close to having – a PhD. 

Considering this focus on transferable – or employability – skills, many universities have implemented a skills training framework for their PhD candidates, and the University of South Australia (UniSA) is no exception. Through their membership with Intersect, delivery of UniSA’s Enhancement of Doctoral Graduate Employability (EDGE) program is supported with first-class training of eResearch tools and technologies. 

The EDGE Program

Unlike some programs of this type (e.g. CaRST at the University of Adelaide), there is no credit system to the EDGE program – that is, PhD candidates do not need a minimum number of credits in order to complete their EDGE program. Rather, students undertake a Development Needs Analysis (DNA), and in conjunction with a Career Coach, they craft a personalised development plan of webinars, workshops, and seminars to complement their PhD studies. There are some ‘required training’ courses, for example, in research ethics, but otherwise students are free to select what will benefit their studies and future employment ambitions the most.

The Intersect Involvement

As part of membership with Intersect, UniSA receives 15 days of training from Intersect’s expert trainers and eResearch Analysts across a wide range of topics, from beginner to advanced levels. As a new training provider to UniSA, we were conscious of the need to not increase the administrative burden on the staff already supporting the EDGE program, nor did we want that burden to pass to the eResearch Analyst. Although the EDGE program does not have a credit system, students still need to have their EDGE record updated with the activities they have undertaken in order to be officially acknowledged.

To this end, Intersect developed a fully automated Google Sheet with the names and academic unit (faculty) affiliation of all attendees, the course/s they registered for, whether they attended (or not), and finally their role/position (i.e. HDR (PhD/Masters), Post-doc, Academic etc.). The data is harvested from Eventbrite (the ticketing platform used by Intersect) and pushed to the Google sheet the following day. This collated data then allows the UniSA staff member to easily sort by role to ensure the students’ attendance has been recorded. A side benefit is that UniSA also has a rich source of data including FoR codes from which to interrogate if and when the need arises.

The Outcome

UniSA’s partnership with Intersect is off to a flying start, with 122 PhD candidates taking part in the seven courses offered so far since May this year. Coupled with the High Performance Computing (HPC) Allocation Service and continued expertise in research support, Intersect looks forward to being a part of shaping the next generation of researchers at UniSA.

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