Written by Joanna Hughes

Thousands of students receive PhDs in Australia every year. And while there is a great need for their talents in the private sector,  woefully few of them end up working outside of academe. According to a recent opinion piece in the Financial Review by mathematics professor Geoff Prince, who heads up the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, this is a problem in need of correction. Here’s a closer look at his reasons.

Beyond the Public Research Sector

Nearly 10,700 postgraduate research students received PhDs in 2016; of these, 37 percent were international students. While many of them aspire toward academic jobs, there’s a shortfall of available positions. This isn’t to say their talents aren’t needed. Rather, PhDs offer tremendous value outside of academia; yet, they are largely unaware of the potential awaiting them in the private sector.

Proposes Prince, “Our private sector under-utilizes PhDs compared to Australia's competitors, while our public sector does the opposite. And while our universities are preparing PhD graduates for employment outside academia, the career opportunities in business are unknown to many undergraduates thinking about taking a PhD.”

A Call for Collaboration

In order to maximize the intellectual capital of its PhDs and to integrate them into the country’s innovation system, PhDs need to aspire to private sector jobs. A large part of furthering this agenda rests with universities. In addition to arming students with the business, communication and research management training the need to work outside of the public sector, universities must also deliver the message that there are research career paths in industry.

At the same time, the private sector must become more open to research-trained staff. Programs like the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute’s Australian postgraduate research internships bridge the gap by creating more opportunities for collaboration and engagement between academia and industry.

The overall takeaway, according to Prince? “If Australia is to disrupt, advance and reshape knowledge transfer its innovation system must transform itself into one that welcomes PhDs and values their frontier skill sets and fearless problem solving.”

For a closer look at the issue of how PhDs add value in academic and non-academic career paths, click here.



Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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