Monday, June 18, 2012

The Future of University Research

Margaret HardingGreetings from the Australian National University, where ANU Research-Fest is underway. Professor Margaret Harding, the new ANU Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at ANU is talking about "Measuring High Quality Research Training". Professor Harding pointed out the definition of "quality" for research will differ depending on the stakeholder. The Graduate Research supervisor, the government, the student and their parents will have different goals from research. She suggested that an important skill is for researchers to be able to explain what their research is about and why it is important in terms a layperson can understand. She joked that a topic like Byzantine History may be hard to explain (it turns out ANU does run courses in Byzantine art, cultural institutions and patronage from AD 330 to AD 1204).

Professor Harding defined a PHD as a significant and original contribution to knowledge. She suggested that students should look to how the work in their field is disseminated. This could be respected journals or publishers. Some commercially valuable material might need to be protected before publication.

Professor Harding discussed the difficulties of communally used measures of quality: "Forcing students to go to courses does not make a good supervisor". She suggested it was not a good idea to use a lack of criticisms from reviewers of a thesis as a measure of quality, as this is part of the academic process.

The Group of Eight Universities (which includes ANU) has issued papers on Research Performance in Australia and Maintaining an effective research environment in Australia. Professor Harding suggested that students should have access to support to training courses on how to do research but one rigid program is not suitable for all students. Next semester I am looking at how to do research supervision online. My previous efforts at using Moodle for supervising short student projects, suggests that something more flexible will be needed.

Professor Harding looked at what PHD students themselves thought was important, citing the work "PhD Graduates 5 to 7 Years Out: Employment Outcomes, Job Attributes and the Quality of Research Training" (Matthias Kubler, 2007). She pointed out that one benefit of the ANU's reputation for research was the large number of world class visitors and urged students to take advantage of this. She urged all students to have a 60 second pitch and 3 minute talk on their work ready at all times, should the opportunity to talk to a decision maker arises (this is something I get my students to practice).

This was an inspiring and also down to earth talk. About the only lack I saw was it only addressed PHDs and research. This is a very high level of study which few people can aspire to. It would be worth looking at other forms of postgraduate education, which enables more social inclusion. The ANU offers a Master of Philosophy (Mphil) as well as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) by Graduate Research.

No comments: