Scaling up: New Research and Innovation Director hopes to take industry engagement to the next level

By Rosanna Galvin

Director: Research and Innovation, Jodieann Dawe Director for Research and Innovation Services Jodieann Dawe joined UniSA in June.

Joining UniSA was a homecoming of sorts for new Director: Research and Innovation, Jodieann Dawe, who completed her Master of Applied Chemistry at UniSA at the very start of her career.

Dawe, who joined UniSA from Flinders University in June, says her time at the Ian Wark Institute (now integrated into UniSA’s Future Industries Institute) opened her eyes to the ways research can have real-world impact. It was a period which helped cement her career path in research and business development, as Dawe worked alongside renowned physical chemist, Emeritus Laureate Professor John Ralston AO to complete an industry-focused thesis in the mining and minerals sector.

“While I did enjoy the academic side, I discovered my passion was for that knowledge transfer and industry engagement,” Dawe says.

“I saw firsthand how academia can solve industry problems and that certainly had an impact on me.

“John also gave me some sage advice towards the end of my studies to do a Master of Business Administration and that’s exactly what I did.

“The MBA allowed me to bring that business acumen and commercial focus to research – to see its potential beyond the laboratory or journal paper. Bringing those two worlds together to drive innovation is what I have spent my career doing.”  

One of the reasons Dawe was attracted back to UniSA was the culture of innovation she first witnessed during her postgraduate studies. She hopes to take industry engagement to the next level in her new position. 

“UniSA’s real competitive advantage is our strong links with industry and that underlying ethos of engagement. It’s the way we do business here,” she says.

“Building on this, I want to work out which partners we need to engage with and then bring in strong research management within the University to home in on how we can best support those partners and scale up those relationships – not just in the research space but also in student engagement.

“My vison is to provide a holistic platform for industry partners that is solutions-based. To do this well, we need to understand what industry want – what are the challenges they face? What is keeping them up at night?

“We can also provide a different perspective. Industry often focus on finding local solutions for local problems. We can look at the bigger picture by bringing different disciplines together and approaching the problem from a completely different angle.”

While UniSA has a solid foundation in industry-linked research and clear ambition for its future direction, Dawe admits undertaking industry-research collaboration in Australia is not without its challenges.

She is quick to acknowledge that there are still roadblocks in the wider sector, with Australia lagging behind most OECD countries in its rate of collaboration between businesses and universities.

Dawe says there are a number of reasons for Australia’s poor performance in the innovation and collaboration space, but she is confident those challenges can be addressed.

“I think part of the reason Australia has traditionally struggled with industry engagement is a translation issue – there is an opportunity to have a better understanding of the key drivers of each other’s business to ensure everyone involved in research projects gains tangible benefits,” she says.

“We are developing people within UniSA who can understand what industries are asking for and how research can deliver the solution. We need to be able to identify research capabilities in our institution and then work with industry partners in co-designing solution-focused research.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to sell the value of research when a business might not reap the benefit for some time. We need to find different ways to engage, including projects where there isn’t a large initial investment, until we are able to demonstrate benefits and value.”

According to Dawe, there is also a shift in mindset taking place in how researchers understand the needs of industry.

“We need to appreciate that a project paid for by an industry partner means we might need to work differently, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” she says.

“This extends to grant applications – we tend to focus on Category One grants like the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), but there are big opportunities for investment and research in Categories Two and Three with partners from state government, non-for-profit organisations and industry, both in corporations and SMEs.

“When we’re applying for that sort of funding, we need to know what they’re looking for and how they operate. They want to know what every invested dollar will provide; they want project timelines and they expect deadlines to be met.

“This can be quite a different process for an academic who is used to being measured by traditional research metrics.  The focus for an industry partner is on how you will solve a problem for them and their customer – and maybe short and concise reports as opposed to a journal publication.  

“At the same time, there’s work to be done demonstrating the value of traditional metrics to industry. A high-ranking paper can be important for the business bottom line – if the solution is evidence-based, that’s sometimes the assurance a customer needs before they commit to purchase.”

Dawe  will work closely with UniSA Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research and Enterprise Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington on developing and implementing the University’s strategic research and enterprise initiatives.