PhD 2.0 – Industry partnership, social impact and commercial success
Dr Phil Blythe, CEO of GreenSync, opened the Monash PhD 2.0 event with an Acknowledgement to the Country in the Greensync Greenroom, collaboration space for tech companies, utilities and regulators to explore innovations and solve problems. He introduced GreenSync, tech company that has been around for about 10 years. He encouraged businesses, academics and students to think carefully where we need to be in 20 years…
A panel discussion followed with Dr Sarah Goodwin (Monash University) presenting herself and her own background that lead her into academia. She chaired the panel discussion with Dr. Sam Perkins (Engineers Without Borders), Dr Scott Watkins (Pollinate Group) and Dr Katrina Swalwell (Aurecon) that lead us through their academic journey. They discussed the benefits of doing a PhD, if they knew they wanted to do a PhD in advance, how to manage your supervisor, how do you ensure you have the same goals, …
Grab the right opportunity when it presents itself! Dr Sarah Goodwin
Sarah mentioned that the pathway to a PhD can vary, from getting into it from honours or master’s or have some experience first and returning to academia. After her honours degree she worked as a Data Analyst with Geographic Information Systems and was always looking to increase her skills to develop her career opportunities. She says she got a PhD scholarship almost “by mistake”, as she was not actively seeking to do a PhD, but an opportunity came up with a really inspiring research group in the UK. Learning from them and developing new skills was the goal, not following an academic path, but she has since continued on an academic journey in Australia. She ended up coming to Melbourne because she met academics from a Monash group at a conference during her PhD and was inspired by their research. She is now an academic at Monash university working with the same research group on data visualisation and energy topics and is part of the Monash Energy Institute, because she wants her research to be industry relevant and have an impact (full academic profile here).
“So, if you find some inspiring group when you finish your honours or masters and if scholarship opportunities are available, grab those. What's available now might not be in the future. You can learn anywhere, but active learning by collaborating with experts in the field and be able to focus on a subject without too many distractions is a totally different experience”.
The confidence you gain with your PhD can be applied to anything! Dr Sam Perkins
The desire to understand the aerodynamics of racing cars and how to improve their performance got Sam into engineering. He studied at the University of Tasmania (UTAS); starting with honours in Mechanical Engineering and continuing with a PhD (sponsored by Rolls Royce) in Aeronautical Engineering between UTAS and the University of Cambridge in the UK. After completing a postdoc with Hydro Tasmania, he moved to Geneva and found a volunteering opportunity that became a paid job. He then worked for the United National High Commissioner for Refugees looking at new approaches to improve refugees’ access to energy. For him, a PhD is an incredible personal and professional development. It makes you more flexible, able to move from one sector to another. The confidence you gain in being able to learn and solve challenges, can be applied to anything.
Be selective about your supervisors, as they will have a huge role on how you will experience your PhD. Be selective about your subject, be passionate about it and to be active during your PhD by asking industry for training, by going to partners events, etc. Treat your PhD like a job with a 8-4pm or 9-5pm workload every day. Focus on your thesis as a personal and professional learning opportunity with a research outcome, contributing to the field. “My PhD was complicated, it was interesting, challenging and rewarding, but it didn’t fulfil me. I would have loved doing a PhD across disciplines, a multidisciplinary challenge (technical, commercial cultural perspective) allowing you to work in various countries in a field that supports Sustainable Development”.
Your PhD gives you credibility! Dr Katrina Swalwell
Since she was a kid, Katrina was interested in the energy sector and wind turbines. A group came to her school when she was in grade two and talked about environmental disasters. She was furious and perplexed. She didn’t see the purpose of telling an eight-year-old about those problems, while solutions existed out there and she felt fixing the problem was what they should be doing instead of talking about it. She thought about studying chemistry and working in battery storage, but she enjoyed mechanical more than chemical engineering. That’s why she decided to follow an undergraduate Science-Engineering degree at Monash University with an exchange to Denmark as final year project. She continued her journey with a PhD at Monash University where she benefitted of the expertise of researchers and resources/ facilities available (i.e. Wind Tunnel). She realised a PhD could lead her to more interesting work rather than going to industry as a graduate.
There is still a lot of inequity and in-access to electricity specifically. That security in supply and access to energy for the emerging economies is a huge necessary step. After her PhD, she went into consultancy in wind energy. She wanted changes on the ground faster than she thought she would get in academia. She has been working in the wind industry for about 15 years. When she started wind was entirely dependent on government subsidies. Now, renewables are the cheapest form of generation, so they are implemented, the question is how you get the financial models to work especially around variable supply in a cost-effective way.
Position yourself as someone who can solve problems! Dr Scott Watkins
Dr Scott Watkins did a PhD in Chemistry and now is Chief Marketing officer of Kisco, a Korean chemical company. He lives in Melbourne and spend 40% of his time in Korea. During his PhD, he didn’t have any industry interactions. “I kept going from 3rd year to honours to PhD with the same University. You can do way better with industry interactions, and that’s proposed in current PhDs. My career would be more applied, diverse, networked, interconnected… When I finished my PhD, I went to the U.K., worked for a couple of start-up companies to get a taste for applied research and tech companies. After a few years, I came back to Australia and worked with CSIRO for 10 years on developing technologies for printed solar electronics. After CSIRO, I decided to join Kisco”.
Scott has two unpaid jobs which are as important in his life. He believes that the diversity of activities he is involved with don’t all come from a PhD but from positioning himself as someone who can solve problems. “I’m chair of the border of Pollinate Group. We operate mainly in India and Nepal, and we do this by empowering women to sell technologies that change people’s lives. With us, you get the opportunity to work on site, be in contact with the local communities, see the impact of the actual business, how the technology works in the field. We have some fellowship programs, if you want to get a taste of what we do and be involved for 2-4 weeks.”
Mr Shreejan Pandey, Monash Energy Institute General Manager, summarized the Panel Discussion and introduced the various scholarships available under the Institute (more details about scholarships here).