Research: that was the year that was
A fireside chat with Professor David Stokes.
Q. We’re almost at the
end of 2008, what sort of year has it been for Deakin University in
A. As ever it’s been busy. As always it has been interesting and
very successful. One of the most satisfying results, coming as it did
right at the end of the year, was our win in the 2008 B-HERT Awards,
B-HERT being the Business/Higher Education Round Table organisation.
It was just fantastic to be at the awards dinner in November and to
be able to accept this award not just on behalf of Deakin, but on behalf
of the whole Geelong community. Our partners in the project - "Partnering
for a 21st Century Future for Geelong" were G21 (the Geelong Region
Alliance), the City of Greater Geelong, the Geelong Manufacturing Council,
and the Committee for Geelong. It brought into focus the hard work that
has been going on over a number of years and Deakin’s major role
as a regional university helping to create a range of new industries
and employment opportunities for the Geelong Region.
At Deakin, we really do pride ourselves on working with industry, with
the broader community, and on research that makes a difference. This
B-HERT award for best regional Research and Development Partnership
in a regional area of Australia is real evidence that Deakin and its
community are making a difference. This was a fantastic result for Geelong,
and for Deakin.
Q. In many ways, it has also been a groundbreaking year, and
not just in research?
A. True, we’ve had a fair bit of ground being broken
on the Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds with the beginning of
construction work on the new "Proof of Concept"
facility and the Satyam development. These developments are
really significant for Deakin and for the region because they
take us another step closer to our "Silicon Valley of
the Southern Hemisphere" concept. Our plan is to build
a research community where researchers and industry are able
to work alongside each other. Once the facility is finished
we will be able to take more ideas right up to the proof of
concept stage. The opening of the Medical School is a fantastic
stimulus for our research. Earlier in the year we had the
Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator
Kim Carr open Enterprise Connect and the Innovative Regions
Centre at the GTP.
Q. A lot of your research work
will now take place under the banner of ITRI, the Institute
for Technology Research and Innovation.
A. Yes, we got ITRI up and running in 2008, bringing together
the Centre for Material and Fibre Innovation, BioDeakin and
the Intelligent Systems Group. With four leaders like Professor
Andrew Parratt, Professor Peter Hodgson, Professor Xungai
Wang and Professor Saeid Nahavandi, this is a huge step forward
for Deakin. We’ve got all this science and technology
and engineering under the one roof, all these brilliant minds
exchanging ideas and encouraging their students to do the
same thing. A really great event was the visit from Professor
Margaret Sheil, the CEO of the Australian Research Council,
who launched millions of dollars worth of new equipment at
Q. A lot of your colleagues have been very interested in the
development of your ‘college’ concept for research.
Is getting that adopted by the University another highlight
A. Yes, like any new idea that pushes the boundary, it has
taken a while but the concept of the research colleges is
really getting traction, people are now really starting to
see how it will work. Basically it means we have three priority
areas for research at Deakin. Within these broad priority
areas we have areas of research strength and areas of emerging
research strength. It is really a framework to tackle some
of the big research questions around ageing, climate change
and corporate governance and it allows someone in say Business
and Law to meet another researcher in say Advanced Materials.
The research college model doesn’t just allow this to
happen, it actually encourages it. It’s the next big
step up to promote our cross-disciplinary research. We’ve
been good at cross-disciplinary research at Deakin but this
is the next step in creating a university-wide framework.
The research college model basically says yes we do work in
specific areas, through our institutes, clusters and research
centres and groups but we can also come together to bring
ideas from outside the traditional boxes to solve problems.
The research colleges concept allows this to happen in new
ways. Some of the models we are creating will be digital while
others will be face-to-face. We have got a model for research
that is setting us up nicely for the 21st Century, not tying
us to the 20th Century.
Q. Deakin is focussing on the next generation of researchers
too, it must be pleasing to see so many of them getting awards
and other recognition over the past 12 months.
A. We have had some great results this year. It’s fantastic
to see people like Jenny Veitch, Kylie Ball, Minoo Naebe,
Dale Atwell and Betime Nuhiji and the many more we’ve
had this year being recognised for their research.
We have not left out our PhD students and one of the great
developments this year is the launch of our Institute of Research
Training. Professor Richard Ingleby has done a fantastic job
in getting the work of the Institute off the ground and I
know that it will continue to be a major feature of Deakin’s
approach to research training in 2009.
We should not forget or mid-career researchers. Another really
great initiative is the Mentoring program that our Director
of Staff Research Development Dr Maree Gladwin is putting
in place. One of the strategies that we have to move Deakin
into the top third is broadening the research base and Maree
is working with the staff in the faculties to do just that.
Another great event for our researchers was the launch of
the inaugural Alfred Deakin Fellowships that were announced
in 2008. The 12 Fellowships attracted applicants from both
Australia and overseas. As I said at the announcement of the
successful applicants, Alfred Deakin would be proud to have
these young people being awarded fellowships named after him.
One thing I have noticed as I travel around Australia is the
greater awareness that people have about Deakin and the sort
of research it is doing. That means more people want to come
and work with us. I must say, I really like the phrase ‘being
a catalyst for positive change’ and seeing this being
played out through our research agenda. It is great to see
the interest that there is in this approach and to see it
reported on Catalyst or hear it on programs like The Science
Show. Deakin has been featured on The Science Show on a regular
basis this year. That’s just fantastic. And of course,
who could forget our success in the Ford Global Challenge.
Those young people did a terrific job for Deakin. We were
the only Australian university invited to take part. They
were showcased ahead of some pretty amazing opposition, including
the University of Michigan that is in Ford’s home territory
in Detroit. I went to see Tim de Souza and Stuart Hanafin
at their office at the Waterfront Campus the day before they
jetted off to Dearborn near Detroit to make their presentation
to Ford. I don’t know if it was all the coffee, the
adrenalin, or just the exhilaration of what was ahead of them,
but the whole place was just alive. So you can imagine the
excitement all around the University when we heard that Deakin
had won. The fact that we shared the prize with Aachen University
in Germany made it even more exciting. Those sorts of moments
keep us all going.
Q. 2008 passes, 2009 arrives. What lies ahead?
A. Well for me, it will be my last year in the role. Deakin
has already begun looking for the next DVC (Research). I think
2009 will be a mixture of consolidation and expansion. We
really want to reinforce the strong foundations we’ve
been building, not just in 2008, but over the past decade
or so in research. What we’ve got now, with the colleges
in place, and the new research institutes, is a whole new
framework for research at Deakin. I want to see more talented
researchers, young and old, drawn to our University. I want
us to continue to build partnerships with the community, with
industry, with Government. We’ve done it with Geelong
as we saw in the B-HERT Award. We work very strongly with
communities around our Warrnambool Campus, in areas relevant
to rural and regional Australia. At our Melbourne Campus at
Burwood we are seeing some amazing international and national
collaborations in health and some really great results in
creative arts, arts, education and the sciences.
One of the really satisfying things for a DVC (Research) is
to attend all the meetings and functions that are a part of
building a relationship or partnership, see it come together,
then – and this is really the best part - to see research
outcomes begin to filter out into the community.
Deakin is a university going places in research. We’re
not yet where we want to be, but we’re getting there.