Impact Blog

The PhD Thinkers in Residence Program

December 2021

Having the opportunity to network and build links with not only established research experts but other PhD candidates from diverse fields, is an important way to develop skills in interdisciplinary creative thinking and methodological approaches. It can also boost career advancement and future academic endeavours. The PhD Thinkers in Residence Program, initiated by one of Australia’s exceptional ARC Laureate Fellows Professor Maureen Dollard, is doing just that.

The PhD Thinkers in Residence Program is an interactive 2-day workshop that focuses on discussing innovative interdisciplinary research on a contemporary work health and safety workplace issue.


The origins and research of the PhD Thinkers program

The Psychosocial Safety Climate Global Observatory (PSC-GO) is a world-first platform that conducts ground-breaking interdisciplinary, international research, bringing together world class experts that conduct rigorous research with the potential to positively impact workplace policy-making globally.

PSC-GO was established in 2020 by Australian Research Council (ARC) Australian Laureate Fellow, Professor Maureen Dollard. The PSC-GO team work together on an expansive and significant project called ‘Mind the Worker: Transformative Change for a Human-Centred Corporate Climate’, as well as a range of other industry focused projects.

As part of the ARC Laureate Fellowship, Professor Maureen Dollard also received a Kathleen Fitzpatrick award to grow the next generation of Australian interdisciplinary women researchers. Kathleen Fitzpatrick was a passionate advocate for women, as well as a humanities and social sciences researcher. From this award, the PhD Thinkers Program was born.


About the PhD Thinkers program

The program aims to provide opportunities to network and build links with between a group of Australian female PhD candidates, developing skills in interdisciplinary creative thinking and methodological approaches, and boosting career advancement and future academic endeavours.

Each year 10 female Australian PhD students (for 5 years; 50 in total) will be invited to join (for 2 years) a Thinker in Residence and ARC Laureate Fellow in the 2- day workshop to discuss contemporary workplace issues. PhD candidates will be selected from diverse disciplines (STEM, AI, computer interface, industrial law, sociology, work health and safety, work psychology, management) especially where female researchers are under-represented.

Collaboration with Match Studio – who are experts in interdisciplinary and creative thinking – is integral to the success of this program. While learning about human centered design thinking, PhD Thinkers tackle that year’s specific work health and safety issue and develop a research proposal. Each component of the workshops’ activities act as a scaffold to build from one section to another. The PhD Thinkers are also exposed to guest speakers, experts, applied tools and techniques and will have the opportunity to discuss and produce research outputs with others.

The program is also designed with ample time to connect on an interpersonal level, over food and coffee, to boost social connections.

Overall, the PhD Thinkers program aims to create a community of academic women who keep connected and potentially lean on one another for both social support and academic input in the future.


About the 2021 THINKER IN RESIDENCE – engaging with the best in the field

The program includes an opportunity to engage with Marie Boland, UniSA’s inaugural Thinker in Residence for 2021.

Marie actively engaged with the PhD Thinkers workshop, sharing her knowledge and experience in work health and safety (WHS) but also delivered a public lecture “HR: A Human Resources or a Human RightsApproach to Work Health and Safety?”.

Marie is a distinguished national leader in WHS and industrial relations, as well as a highly respected industrial relations lawyer and union organiser. She has held numerous executive roles at SafeWork SA including Executive Director, Policy and Strategy Director, Community Engagement Director, and Chief Policy Officer Industrial Relations. In 2018 Marie Boland reviewed the model WHS laws and recommended that the regulations should be amended to support the management of risks associated with psychological injury in the workplace (the Boland Review).


About the 2021 PhD Thinkers topic – and working with end users of research

Each year the workshops will address a work related social topic. The 2021 topic is on the WHS of gig workers.

To kick off the first workshop PhD Thinkers discussed “Is there a Psychosocial Safety Climate for non-standard workers?” The concept of PSC works well when considering standard work arrangements. The issue of developing a corporate climate conducive to worker psychological health is a wicked problem that requires an interdisciplinary gaze.

Now spanning various industries, gig workers (13% of Australian workers) often contracted by huge profit digital platforms companies like Uber, Lyft, and Deliveroo, who have no ‘employer’ or job security, and often work in poor labour conditions with little protection, with some job control but mental health concerns have emerged.

Internationally there are 2 billion workers (61% of all workers) who are non-standard (informal).

In Australia 5 fast food drivers have been killed in recent months drawing attention to the lack of protection for gig economy workers.

During the workshops, 4 gig workers spoke to the PhD Thinkers about their real life work experiences. The stories were eye-opening. The PhD Thinkers also engaged in an interactive question and answer time with the gig workers.

As stated earlier, over the 2 days, the PhD Thinkers worked together to develop an innovative interdisciplinary research proposal to tackle the issue. Each team of PhD Thinkers presented a research proposal at the end of the 2 day workshop.

“I really liked talking to the gig workers, this was so useful to connect with the human side of the issue – a really good “why”. So often we forget there are people just like us at the other end of our research.”


Methods and tools to support innovative thinking

The workshop used human-centered design and systems-thinking approach to develop the foundation of real-world research proposals. Over the 2 days, Founding Director of Match Studio, Dr Jane Andrews led the group through a series of activities, tools and techniques that encourage creative and interdisciplinary thinking. The workshop provided students with the rare opportunity to be engage with others from utterly different backgrounds on important societal and work-related issue – gig workers. For instance, earth science PhDs worked with physiotherapy PhDs. Law PhDs worked with Public Health PhDs. At the end of the workshop, student groups presented back their proposals to the group.

“Match Studio expertly guided us through the process of collaborating and visualising achievable proposals for the global gig worker issues. Their framework allowed us to find the areas that required further action and then also guided us to create a feasible project that a stakeholder could undertake. All in the space of two days…amazing. It just goes to show what a well organised program, designed to create change in global problem areas, can achieve in two days with an interdisciplinary group of intelligent women.”


Feedback about the program

The feedback from PhD attendees was clear – the program was a resounding success.

“I would like to say thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this workshop. It has been such a wonderful experience and one of the best experiences of my postgraduate journey. The workshop is an absolute credit to all your hard work to make it happen. The positive and supportive atmosphere created by this amazing group of women has kept me on ahigh all week. I have taken every opportunity to tell anyone that will listen about this fantastic workshop. I have also advised my supervisors to highly recommend it next year. I feel so fortunate to have been able to share two days with these superstar women.”

Feedback from all the participants can be found in the PhD Thinkers Program Report 2021_Final.

The PhD Thinkers in Residence Program team want to acknowledge the UniSA student film crew who recorded the events and also took the photos. Many thanks to Mia Fountain, Maddy Walsh, Connor Patterson and Adon Langhorn.

Photos supplied.

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