More people with PhDs should work outside academia, according to new UniSA Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research and Innovation (DVC: RI) Professor Tanya Monro, who has just been appointed to the Commonwealth Science Council.
Prof Monro will play a pivotal role in the future of science, technology and innovation in Australia as one of only 10 members appointed to the Council, which was established by the Federal Government to be the pre-eminent body for advice on science and technology in Australia.
According to Prof Monro, who currently also holds an Australian Research Council (ARC) Georgina Sweet Laureate Fellowship, the Council will develop new ways of lifting Australia’s competitiveness through science.
“The Council’s role spans from restoring the focus on science and maths in our schools to driving the economy of the future by improving the connectivity between our research organisations and industry,” she says.
“I would like to see an ecosystem developed in which more of our science graduates and people with PhDs work outside academia. Our companies need support in engaging with our research capacity.
“We also need to partner entrepreneurs with our students and researchers to increase our understanding of how we can get clever ideas out of the lab and into the real world.”
Prof Monro says research organisations partnering with industry is critical, and only by academia and industry working together will Australia gain a globally competitive edge.
“Some universities already recognise the importance of industry and research partnerships and here at UniSA, where our vision is to be the Enterprise University, partnering with industry is one of our core values,” she says.
“This is where we need to be going as a country – we need to encourage, foster and recognise these partnerships.
“Over the past five years the Excellence in Research for Australia process has gone some of the way, sharpening Australia's focus on the importance of research. This has been a brilliant way of prioritising areas of strength and fostering critical mass in the country and in individual universities.
“What I think we need to do now is to recognise research teams with strength in working with industry and delivering impact. This is an area in which we have a lot of potential for improvement, and this focus will help our nation to grow its capacity to create high-value jobs and create future industries.”
With a global decline in the number of young people choosing to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Prof Monro also stresses the importance of getting a diverse range of students engaged in the field.
“We need to improve the numeracy of our children and we need to encourage capable, science-trained young people to become teachers,” she says.
“One way of achieving this is by increasing the diversity of students participating in STEM. An obvious area where there is a gap is women in science, and another area is Indigenous participation.
“As long as we have low participation from these groups, we are losing opportunities to ensure our best young minds are engaged in creating our future through science, technology and innovation.”
In what has been a huge few months for Prof Monro, the researcher has also been named the winner of the 2014 Australian Optical Society WH (Beattie) Steel Medal in recognition of her leadership and significant contribution to the field of optics, particularly in the realm of micro-structured optical fibres constructed from a variety of glass materials.
Winners of the prestigious award must have a strong and sustained record of authority, enterprise and innovation in the field of optics. Prof Monro’s work in optical physics has led to the development of new forms of optical fibres for use in telecommunications, biology, health, food and wine production, and the environmental monitoring and defence industries.