Dr Michael Crawford, CEO of the CRC for High Performance Soils

When it comes to living and breathing CRCs, there are few that could claim to have more experience than Dr Michael Crawford, CEO of the CRC for High Performance Soils.

From a short chat on the phone, it quickly became apparent that he has a real lived experience of how the CRC program has grown and developed. His passion for collaborative research was also readily apparent, and his desire to see it continue long into the future.

Dr Crawford’s story starts in 1994 as a PhD student at the CRC for Soil and Land Management, one of the very original CRCs. He was attracted to doing research that had a real-life benefit and not just doing research and writing papers “that would only be read by other scientists”.

Even back then, CRCs had a major focus on sustainability, with Dr Crawford’s PhD focused on how to increase the below ground input of carbon into soil under pastures. The benefit of this being improved soil fertility and soil structure and an increase in soil carbon sequestration, thus helping to offset greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the best aspects of doing a collaborative PhD he remembers is being able to freely access people, knowledge and equipment between the CRCs partners as needed. Not only did this improve the quality of his research, it also gave him a wider perspective, especially in how his research would be used in agriculture.

Graduating in 1997, he left with three important things. First, a qualification as a scientist. Second, an excellent insight into the benefits of collaborative research. Third, a wide-reaching network that he is still a part of almost 25 years later.

Following this, Dr Crawford had a well-respected career in the Victorian public service as a scientist and research director. Even then, he says that he never really left CRCs, with his organisation often being partners or collaborating with various agricultural CRCs. 

In 2017, Dr Crawford was appointed CEO of Soil CRC. As of today, the CRC has already produced some outstanding results in research and helped to facilitate the establishment of a bipartisan Parliamentary Friends of Soil group. One thing he is particularly focused on however, is facilitating his own CRC’s PhD students getting the best possible experience out of their time with the CRC.

Through ensuring that students are gaining experience beyond their own narrow theses, Dr Crawford is setting up his students to have multiple great career options and great networks post graduation.
His advice for students considering studying a collaborative or CRC PhD is simple. Take it, and take full advantage of the opportunity.

Looking at his own story, he can’t be more correct.