Dr. Michele Akeroyd is no stranger to the CRC program. When she began working with CSIRO in Adelaide during her Honours year, she became fascinated by the program. “What really stood out and attracted me were the partnerships, the collaboration, and the applied science.”
She went on to complete her PhD with the CRC for Catchment Hydrology, CSIRO Black Mountain, and the University of Melbourne. She developed valuable skills in this highly collaborative environment. “It was really eye opening,” she said. “Not just in research processes and integrity, but in how you engage with stakeholders, how you think about making your research relevant to those stakeholders and finding the pathways to communicate and translate that science.”
She was also able to gain a lot of practical experience. “There were so many opportunities in terms of presenting and seminars which helped build my experience and exposure in terms of pathways to employment. I had the opportunity to go to universities overseas in the US, which was just fantastic in terms of building my scientific capability. I also picked up some collaborations with Queensland Parks and Wildlife. The people I worked with in Queensland, it was 25 years ago now, I still have relationships with.” This is a common theme within the CRC landscape, collaborative relationships that last a lifetime.
She shared some advice for students considering their PhD with a CRC. “Take advantage of all the opportunities that the CRCs can provide. Whether it’s engaging with industry in terms of application, avenues to enhance your skills such as scientific integrity and being able to communicate your science to decision makers. Really just get in there and grasp it. Use that opportunity to build your skills, capability, and networks. It is something quite unique and an excellent opportunity.”
Likewise, Michele recommends finding a good mentor. “They can not only give you feedback on your performance, or how you can improve yourself, but they also connect you to other networks and opportunities. They can be a spokesperson for you.”
After her PhD, Michele took up roles in project management and policy development in various organisations including Water Research Australia and the Goyder Institute for Water Research.
A big priority for Michele at Water Research Australia was to cultivate the next generation of industry-savvy researchers. “We made sure that each of our PhDs and Honours students worked across the entire research ecosystem. A lot of those students ended up getting graduate positions in water utilities and other industry partners. Developing the capacity of the future work force was really key.”
At the Goyder Institute, Michele’s experience in collaborative research helped to communicate important research with policymakers. “It’s how you build those relationships and trust. You provide the advice in a way so that you have solutions. The real art is presenting it in a way which resonates with decision makers, so you’re answering their questions and turning it into language they understand.”
She is currently a Director at the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
“In my current role, I’m responsible the Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hubs. While they’re not a CRC program, we certainly want to embed a lot of those principles about CRCs in terms of partnerships, collaboration, that applied science, the connection between science and end-users, and have a real focus on engaging with the end users to inform what the activities are where the focus needs to be.”
She concluded by sharing some candid advice for budding leaders in the nexus between industry and research.
“Be authentic. People will see through you pretty quickly, especially in leadership positions, where it’s so important to build relationships and trust, being authentic is fundamental.”