Adelaidean - News from the University of Adelaide The University of Adelaide Australia
Spring 2013 Issue
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Daring to think big

What are the University's strategic priorities for research?

MB. First and foremost it's about the pursuit of research excellence and aiming high. We want to be increasingly known internationally for outstanding research output, addressing the world's grand challenges, and impressive application of our discoveries.

RS. Without question we already have strength in key areas tackling both deep and fundamental questions and the grand challenges that confront society. To succeed you need to have great people working with excellent facilities, lots of brilliant higher degree students and a collaborative mindset. We already have numerous examples of these but are working to develop more.

What is the University doing to support the State innovation agenda and the new national strategic research priorities?

RS. On the Federal scene I'm a standing member of the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council, so I've been able to contribute directly to the development of a new set of national research priorities. It's likely that a good proportion - perhaps half - of Federal research funding will be associated with these priorities. Significantly, the University's research profile is already closely aligned with them.

MB. I'd add that the University is working closely with both State and Federal agencies. Alignment at the State level covers a wide range of activities including R&D in agriculture, food and wine and also broader manufacturing. We have a range of initiatives including recruitment of outstanding researchers and the development of interdisciplinary research that will further strengthen this alignment.

Do you place any greater emphasis on fundamental or translational research?

RS. It's very important to value both and to realise that they are interlinked. Many research students are inspired by and develop their talents best by tackling the great fundamental research questions, while the contribution we can make to our communities through translational research is important.

MB. We have many great examples of fundamental research leading to translational benefit. By way of example, we enjoy a tremendous relationship with a variety of hospitals in our state and many hospital specialists hold academic positions at Adelaide. As a consequence we have a very strong pipeline connecting discovery to patient benefit. A world leading researcher from a very eminent US institution recently told me that the collaborative environment across the university, hospitals and other research partners in South Australia was better than anything he'd seen back home. That's great and we'll keep working to improve it.

How important are collaborative links with industry?

MB. Industry links are tremendously important. The University of Adelaide is by far the most industrially engaged university in the State as gauged by industry research contracts, linkage funding, royalty flow and the like. Many researchers in our organisation enjoy wonderful relationships with industry. It's important to listen carefully to industry requirements and solve relevant research problems. Researchers often find applied work throws up new and fascinating fundamental challenges.

RS. The range of companies we deal with is quite extraordinary. It spans IT, defence, automotive, mining, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, finance and many more.

The University has many and varied successes in research over the course of a year. What do you prize most among these successes?

MB. Tough question! There are many choices including major awards to staff, large competitive grants won, company spin-outs, etc. But if I had to pick one type of success, it would be breakthrough research contributions that have a major impact upon a field.

RS. I agree. And that might, for example, take the form of a really influential journal article, book or creative work in music or literature.

What about collaboration between researchers in different disciplines. How do you foster such links?

RS. A good strategy is to promote research that coalesces around 'wicked problems' and grand challenges, such as food security, sustainable energy, and abundant clean water. Solutions to challenging problems like these are best tackled collaboratively by scientists, engineers, law researchers, economists, political scientists, social scientists, etc.

MB. We're currently establishing an Interdisciplinary Research Fund, recognising that some of the most exciting discoveries take place at the interfaces between disciplines.

Nobel Laureates Howard Florey and Sir William Bragg head a long list of distinguished researchers from the University. What are the strengths of a great researcher?

MB. Great researchers challenge orthodoxy, are imaginative and ask tremendous questions. They eschew incremental research and dare to think big.

RS. Plus they need insatiable curiosity, dedication and commitment. Of course a deep knowledge of the issues is critical to be able to understand the great questions and opportunities.

Do you have any tips for a young student starting out on their first research project?

MB. Follow your passion. It's so much easier to devote yourself to a challenge that truly excites you. Seek out a supervisor and research environment that are buzzing. Take time to lift your eyes from the desk and get a sense of context for your work - and read widely.

RS. And make sure you seek the advice of those more experienced and knowledgeable to build a network as you go. Be organised, persevere and, most importantly, THINK.

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