April 4, 2018

PhD by practice must have a practical application

When a student does a PhD by practice they have to make a contribution to knowledge but there must also be a practical application.

Tom Spurling, a practitioner of traditional scientific research, a one-time head of the CSIRO’s division of chemicals and polymers, and later a CSIRO board member, is a leading advocate.

He points out that the PhD by practice sits in Pasteur’s quadrant, a term invented by author Donald Stokes as a way of illustrating the benefits from a researcher such as Louis Pasteur whose work bridged the gap between basic research (such as Niels Bohr’s work in atomic physics) and applied research (like that of inventor Thomas Edison).

Source: Donald Stokes

Professor Spurling, now a part-time professor of innovation studies at Swinburne University, plays a role in supervising many of the students in the PhD by practice program.

“Many jobs in the public service or in companies require the employees to do some research on a topic,” he said

“The university realises they have a lot of graduates who have been involved in research in their jobs. So they devised a program to take in these students to do a PhD on a problem that is relevant to their employer.”

The students are trained in research methods, which they might not be familiar with if they have only completed a bachelor degree, and the remainder of their PhD involves their research and a normal thesis. The difference is that their research is directed to solving a key business problem.

Tom Spurling is president of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies and a senior coach with Research Coaching Australia