Go to top of page

Objective 2: Mobilise and develop the best talent for the benefit of Australia

Our second objective is addressed by a single function:

2.1: Promote STEM capability development and education.

Function 2.1: Promote STEM capability, development and education

Our key activities for Function 2.1 contributed to our strategic focus areas through:

  • Education and Outreach
  • SME Connect
  • CSIRO Publishing.

We delivered on this function by:

  • providing opportunities for students and teachers to develop and improve STEM skills including access to mentors
  • offering education and outreach activities to increase knowledge of STEM and its application to students, parents, teachers and the Australian community
  • publishing a variety of content including journals, books and magazines to support an increased knowledge of science and its application
  • working with SMEs to develop capability both within industry and the research sector to support innovation in SMEs.

As Australia’s innovation catalyst, we have a responsibility to develop Australia’s scientific and research capability, ensuring Australians continue to solve the greatest challenges through innovative science and technology.

We’re passionate about inspiring and equipping the next generation of researchers in the innovation system – from school students to early career researchers.

Through our education and outreach programs, we help increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) knowledge and skills.

In cooperation with Australian and overseas research institutions, we train future researchers and innovation system workers by providing opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate students to undertake impactful research.

Beyond supporting students, we also offer research positions in our CSIRO Early Research Career (CERC) program, which includes further development opportunities to fast-track the research careers of recent doctoral (PhD) graduates.

We also have programs to facilitate and improve the communication of research with the community and to build the capability of business, particularly SMEs, to engage with the research sector.

Improving STEM skills and knowledge

We deliver high-quality, engaging STEM learning experiences for school students, teachers, researchers and the community to equip all Australian students with the STEM skills they need to enter the workforce. Through our outreach programs, we promote the importance and application of our research to the community and increase Australia’s STEM literacy.

School programs for students and teachers

We deliver more than 16 STEM education programs and have education specialists in each capital city and in three regional centres. This year, almost 200,000 people took part in our community events; more than 192,479 primary and secondary students took part in STEM education programs; and more than 5,426 teachers participated in professional learning programs. Engaging primary and secondary school students in education programs continued to increase in recent years; participation numbers increased from 133,135 in 2017 to 192,479 in 2020.

The STEM Professionals in Schools program partners STEM professionals with primary and secondary teachers around the country. At 30 June, 1,311 partnerships were operating in 899 schools – an increase on 844 partnerships reported last year. Of these, 29 per cent were in regional and remote schools.

In recent years, we have been trialling online programs to increase participation and accessibility, including a virtual laboratory based on our food and nutrition research where students have access to our research datasets. Our Digital Careers program, which runs a suite of online Bebras computational thinking challenge programs, aims to increase student participation and interest in information, communication and technology courses and careers. This year, 140,455 students took part in the Bebras programs.

In 2019–20, we piloted a Virtual Work Experience program where 57 students worked in teams remotely from their supervisor (and for most teams, remotely from each other). The program has been a game changer for regional students who would otherwise not have had access to meaningful STEM work experience and with what we have learnt, this year we also trialled virtual sessions with schools rather than face-to-face sessions. Our award-winning PULSE@Parkes program attracted 160 students and 25 teachers from 19 schools.

Two of our STEM education programs specifically aim to increase the participation and achievement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in STEM in school and through to employment. In 2019–20, the BHP Foundation Indigenous STEM Education program worked with 212 teachers, 74 teacher assistants, and 1,323 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in 57 schools and 23 communities. Read more at: Making an impact in partnership with Indigenous communities across Australia.

In its second year of operation, 49 high school students, 70 university students, 102 teachers, 12 Indigenous education workers and 20 universities took part in the Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy, which encourages young Indigenous women to participate in STEM at school, higher education and into employment.

Outreach to increase knowledge

The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex and Parkes school programs attracted 5,813 and 1,203 school students respectively. These centres are purpose‑built to showcase our research in an entertaining way that demystifies and educates people of all ages about research and innovation.

Another way we shared our science with school students is at the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra, and at visitor centres at observatories near Parkes, Narrabri and the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC). 3.8: Science outreach: visitor centres details visitor numbers at our outreach centres.

Visitor numbers were lower this year because we had to close our centres to comply with COVID-19 pandemic measures. CDSCC was closed from mid-March and between late January to early February due to bushfires. Parkes was closed from mid-March, and ATCA (Narrabri) closed at the end of March.

3.8: Science outreach: visitor centres

Centre

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18

2018–19

2019–20

CSIRO Discovery Centre

18,4771

26,332

27,622

32,122

23,269

Parkes radio telescope

95,212

83,851

105,085

112,224

100,103

Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex

67,378

70,753

69,279

68,581

47,814

Australia Telescope Compact Array, Narrabri

11,511

10,965

12,081

10,363

7,434

Tertiary student programs

We give undergraduate and postgraduate students the opportunity to collaborate with researchers to help them develop their skills and meet the increasing demand for Australia’s STEM capability. Through collaborative efforts with universities, we are supporting tertiary students with their career progression and providing opportunities to innovate and generate new theoretical perspectives. Our programs include industrial traineeships, vacation studentships, postgraduate studentships and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Supervised students have a CSIRO staff member appointed by the university as a co-supervisor for their research project. Some of these students are also sponsored and receive a full or top‑up scholarship, funded by CSIRO, to pursue a research project leading to the award of a PhD or master’s degree.

In the 12 months to 31 May, we supported 1,877 undergraduate and postgraduate students through our programs, represented in 3.9: Our students over the past year. The number of students fluctuates within a year and across years, as students start and finish programs at different times of the year.

3.9: Our students over the past year

Type of engagement

2017–18

2018–19

2019–20

Tertiary level

Undergraduate students

633

529

485

Postgraduate students

1,438

1,456

1,392

Total

2,071

1,985

1,877

3.10: Our supervised and sponsored students at 31 May each year provides a breakdown of the number of students that we supervised, or both supervised and sponsored. These numbers represent a point in time at 31 May 2020, as distinct from the total number of students over the course of the whole year.

3.10: Our supervised and sponsored students at 31 May each year

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

Sponsored and supervised postgraduates

PhD

280

416

418

390

451

Masters

36

27

12

7

7

Subtotal

316

443

430

397

458

Supervised postgraduates (not sponsored)

PhD

319

257

398

422

337

Masters

96

88

147

137

84

Subtotal

415

345

545

559

421

SUBTOTAL POSTGRADUATES

731

788

975

956

879

Undergraduates

Industrial trainees

0

0

100

100

56

Honours students

89

84

74

54

48

Subtotal

0

0

174

154

104

TOTAL TERTIARY STUDENTS

0

0

1,149

1,110

983

University of Tasmania PhD Program in Quantitative Marine Science

For 16 years, we have partnered with the University of Tasmania (UTAS) to deliver a PhD program in quantitative marine science (QMS). The program addresses a key need of industry and research institutions for marine scientists with high level mathematical and computational skills.

Scholars who enter the program, a key feature of which is specific marine science PhD coursework, have an enhanced PhD experience with access to hundreds of marine scientists working across two institutions. This includes access to our experts in marine physical, biological and chemical sciences and oceanographic science disciplines.

QMS alumni have become professional scientists in Australia and internationally and make significant contributions in their fields. Over the past 10 years, two-thirds of graduates have stayed in or returned to Australia to work in marine sciences, in most cases at CSIRO or UTAS.

Alumna and CSIRO transdisciplinary researcher and knowledge broker Dr Jess Melbourne‑Thomas is a global leader on the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems. In 2020, Dr Melbourne-Thomas was named Tasmanian Australian of the Year, acknowledging her impact in this field.

Industry PhD program

In a unique and distinctive offering for postgraduate students, we bring together both an industry and a university partner to offer our Industry PhD (iPhD) program. This industry-focused applied research training program produces the next generation of work-ready research and innovation leaders in Australia. For more details see our website: www.csiro.au/en/Careers/Studentships/Industry-PhDlink.

We piloted the program with the University of New South Wales in 2018 and have since expanded to another five universities: University of Adelaide, University of Western Australia, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University and Murdoch University.

Students have now commenced in the program at four universities and expressions of interest are being run throughout 2020 to find new industry projects for students to start across all six universities in 2021.

Developing early career researchers
CSIRO Early Research Career Postdoctoral Fellows

Our CSIRO Early Research Career (CERC) Postdoctoral Fellowship program develops the next generation of leaders of the innovation system. These Fellowships enhance the person’s research capability so that they are better able to pursue a career in research at CSIRO or beyond. We provide a differentiated learning and development program for our CERC Postdoctoral Fellows, with specially developed programs tailored to facilitate their career advancement.

3.11: CERC Postdoctoral Fellows as at 30 June shows the number of CERC Postdoctoral Fellows at 30 June each year. As Fellows have concluded their terms and new Fellows have been appointed during the year, a total of 362 different Fellows have been employed throughout the year. Recruitment of new positions is being boosted in the second half of 2020, after the number of Fellows completing their terms exceeded new appointments during 2019–20, resulting in a decline in numbers by the end of the year.

3.11: CERC Postdoctoral Fellows as at 30 June

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

CERC Postdoctoral Fellows

227

249

309

319

264

Publishing and supporting an increased knowledge of science and its application

CSIRO Publishing operates as an editorially independent science publisher for authors and customers in Australia and overseas. Our publishing program of books, journals and magazines covers a wide range of scientific disciplines, and we are Australia’s only endemic, scholarly science publisher with a significant digital capability. We champion the value and integrity of science and its outputs to the wider community. Our products and services deliver impact for our authors and customers.

Writing is an essential skill for scientists. Without it their research remains unknown and is unlikely to have an impact. CSIRO Publishing, through its Scientific Writing Workshops, has been training our scientists, universities and government agencies to write for more than 10 years. In 2019, more than 500 scientists and research students were upskilled through these workshops in writing journal papers, reports and grant proposals – ensuring their work was recognised, published and achieved maximum impact.

With the onset of COVID-19, these face-to-face workshops were no longer possible. We needed to make a rapid pivot towards providing our writing, training and support programs online. While learning outcomes are the same, to achieve them through an online learning environment meant completely redesigning the format, content and activities of each program. This was achieved in record time and has resulted in a new guided program called Start Writing! that helps scientists working from home to complete their papers and reports in two weeks.

The writing workshops are now presented as modular, online learning programs with highly interactive webinars, practical writing and editing activities, and regular feedback sessions. Customers are delighted, and already two universities, a state government agency and one of our international research partners are using the programs to train their researchers in an essential skill for communicating their research and demonstrating the importance of their work.

Working with SMEs to develop capability and support innovation

Our SME Connect team supports collaboration between Australian industry and publicly funded research institutions by bringing SMEs together with Australia’s best researchers and facilities. We work with SMEs across Australia to support and enable innovation through funding, expertise and resources.

In 2019–20, SME Connect facilitated 205 research projects nationally for 188 companies, injecting more than $20 million into the research and development of these projects. Of these projects, 173 were delivered by 25 Australian research organisations, including 21 universities and CSIRO, and 32 were grants for recent graduates to work on in-house research projects for SMEs.

SME Connect delivered three programs this year: Innovation Connections, funded by the Australian Government as part of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources’ Entrepreneurs’ Program; SIEF Ross Metcalf STEM+ Business Fellowship program, funded by the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF); and CSIRO Kick‑Start, a strategically funded activity.

Innovation Connections

Innovation Connections assists businesses to understand their research needs and connect with the research sector. It also provides dollar-matched funding for research and development projects with universities and research organisations. Incubator Support provides funding to help start-ups develop capabilities to succeed in international markets.

We were appointed the national delivery partner for Innovation Connections and Incubator Support, part of the Entrepreneurs’ Programme. To deliver this program, we will be working with Ai Group, the New South Wales Business Chamber, Business South Australia, Deloitte, i4 Connect and Darwin Innovation Hub. We will receive DISER funding to employ 20 facilitators in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Canberra, Wollongong, Sydney, Central Coast, Newcastle, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Townsville.

CSIRO Kick-Start

To support start-ups and small businesses in Australia to develop, refine, and enhance their innovations, CSIRO Kick-Start provides dollar‑matched funding to conduct research with us, use our facilities, and facilitate collaboration between the business and our research staff. The intention of CSIRO Kick-Start is to help start‑ups and small businesses to access affordable, high‑quality research and development expertise though subsidised research. This has enabled participating SMEs to make the next business step, which has led to new investments and capital raising – a first, new or expanded product or service for new customers. The program is reported as being well-executed and an important way to introduce our research capabilities to up-and coming Australian businesses, providing a well-regarded entry point to long-term client relationships.

‘CSIRO Kick-Start is essential for small businesses in Australia to access the wealth of expertise and facilities in CSIRO. The association with CSIRO gives credibility to the results from the project. Biohawk is very thankful for the grant and for the work done by the CSIRO team.’ Cliff Hawkins, Chief Scientific Advisor, Biohawk.

SIEF Ross Metcalf STEM+ Business Fellowship

In November, we launched the SIEF Ross Metcalf STEM+ Business Fellowship program at the STEM+ Business annual workshop in Melbourne. The new program will support at least 10 new two to three‑year STEM+ Business projects to be delivered by early career researchers to innovative Australian businesses. Read more at: Supporting our emerging scientists and engineers.

Our efforts this year contributed to us delivering towards our outcomes (see 3.12: Summary of our performance for developing national science talent):

  • Australia’s science capacity is increased, which helps the nation to remain innovative and competitive in science
  • increased awareness and understanding of science and its potential benefits to the community and industry
  • increased industry participation in CSIRO education and outreach activities.

Analysis of performance

3.12: Summary of our performance for developing national science talent

Performance measures
Source: 2019–20 Corporate Plan

Target

Result

Help lift Australia’s science capacity and capability

CSIRO’s contribution to help lift Australia’s science capacity and capability through STEM funded, developed and delivery of education programs

Evidence of contribution to scientific literacy

Achieved: Program evaluations demonstrated positive outcomes.

We implement the CSIRO Impact Framework to measure the impact of our programs. Here are some examples from 2019–20.

Virtual Work Experience program

The evaluation report for the Virtual Work Experience program demonstrated a significant contribution to scientific literacy. Students gained:

  • an insight into STEM skills and careers, which influenced their subject selection, and confirmed career pathway choices
  • opportunities to undertake STEM-based work experience, particularly advantageous for students from regional and remote Australia
  • valuable teamwork, communication, negotiation and resilience skills
  • high levels of satisfaction from their work experience.

The results demonstrate that this program has contributed positively to developing future science capability and has improved students’ STEM skills and their understanding of scientific literacy.

Indigenous STEM Education program

In just five years, this program has increased the participation, achievements and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in STEM subjects at school, and into tertiary education and employment.

The key findings of the latest evaluation report demonstrated an improvement in:

  • student engagement and academic results, particularly among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and low-achieving, non-Indigenous students (44 per cent and 59 per cent of these students improved their academic achievements)
  • teacher capacity – we embedded a two‑way science practice that engaged students in the classroom and during on-country learning activities
  • the likelihood of STEM careers (74 per cent of Year 10 Indigenous students plan to have a STEM career after they attended the Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science, compared to 51 per cent before attending summer school)
  • the connection to Indigenous science through resources developed to support current and future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and communities such as Two-Way Science: An Integrated Learning Program for Aboriginal Desert Schools, which supported Indigenous schools and communities to develop integrated learning programs that connect the cultural knowledge of the local community with western science and the Australian curriculum.

These examples clearly show the important role our education and outreach programs play in supporting and promoting the importance and application of our research to the community and increasing Australia’s STEM literacy.