This case study identifies initiatives undertaken to build a research community and program across conventional departmental and disciplinary structures. In this case the community was constructed under the umbrella of a Research Institute in which it was felt there was greater freedom to offer an enrichment program in addition to support offered by departments. The focus is on preparing researchers to be both knowledgeable in their research fields, as well as adaptive leaders able to meet the challenges of the future. The initiatives outlined in this case study are particularly relevant considering the annual survey of postgraduate research students (PREQ) consistently confirms that postgraduate students are most dissatisfied with the intellectual climate at Australian universities.
Genes to Geoscience is a research centre, made up of a federation of independent research laboratories encompassing a fusion of genomics disciplines: functional ecology, earth systems science and palaeontology. Research groups affiliate voluntarily with the research centre. There are about a hundred HDR students and about thirty to thirty-five academics involved each year.
Since 2005, the Genes to Geoscience Research Centre has been running a program for all research students called the Genes to Geoscience Research Enrichment Program (GGREP). The Director, who has an American education background, introduced the concept for the program, partly based in his belief that although the American style PhD system goes over a longer time period, students benefit from a broader range of experiences. He felt that this was really lacking in the Australian context. The Director was keen to get all students, but particularly the top 10% of students, more inspired by letting them see a broader range of cutting edge research disciplines.
One of the strengths of the GGREP is that a large proportion of the participating labs are leading-edge within their own fields, as measured, for example, by recent ERA Assessments. Each lab pursues its own external research funding and attracts its own PhD students, and each student is learning research through the intensive apprenticeship within their own lab that has always characterised the Australian PhD. These independent labs affiliate with GGREP on a voluntary and co-operative basis. The common conviction and voluntary contribution of the affiliated members and their research groups helped establish the philosophy and primary aim of GGREP which is to enhance postgraduate learning to produce the next generation of research leaders. GGREP’s leadership continues to articulate this shared purpose.
The primary aim of GGREP is to incubate future research leaders with a broad outlook scientifically and societally. The program aims to focus on a diverse set of skills not explicitly taught during the standard PhD experience. The idea is to enrich the research experience of postgraduates beyond just basic support so they get to see cutting edge research disciplines that they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. The program does this through a series of intensive masterclasses (or modules). Masterclasses increase breadth and excitement factor for research students and provide skills and research connections that they would otherwise miss. The aim is to produce researchers who are able to think and act independently, and to lead multi-disciplinary research fields for next 10 – 20 years and become leaders in the field. However the program is different to many similar programs in that it’s not just for postgraduates; it is actually for all the members of the Research Centre and that includes academics and postdocs as well. The aim is to develop a community where everyone looks after each other and provides support, and the HDR students can see how academics do things.
GGREP activities are designed to complement those of departments and of individual labs rather than compete with them. Through the masterclasses students and postdocs from different labs get to know each other. This flows on into other types of collaboration and social support. GGREP provides a microcosm within the University where postgraduate students feel they are part of a distinctive, supportive and nurturing community. This is made possible by voluntary time commitments from leading research groups. This voluntary co-operative approach is a key characteristic of this program.
The following links contain the ideas to build leadership in research education used in this case study.
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