Date released
14 November 2019

The unique graduate development program run by ACIAR has been recognised on its 10th anniversary as one of the best in Australia.

ACIAR’s graduate program, which engages young Australian agricultural scientists in a two-year experiential-learning program, has been named as a finalist in the 2019 Australian HR Awards.

The awards recognise outstanding achievements at the forefront of the human resource industry in Australia, with the winners announced at an awards night in September 2019.

‘Our program is unique and innovative for Australian university graduates who are interested in international agricultural research and development,’ says ACIAR’s Human Resources Manager, Sharyn Turner.

‘We support and mentor graduates to aim higher. They are not passed from one section of ACIAR to another to tag along but are supported in the first three months to identify a significant piece of work that they will own, lead and manage to completion. As an example, one graduate created an app to help researchers collect and analyse data from projects in developing countries that we oversee.

‘By undertaking real projects, the graduates learn experientially and gain a complex range of skills: program design and evaluation, leadership, critical thinking, problem solving and team management.

‘Rising to the opportunity of a real-world project with professionals and researchers means each graduate is an integral part of our team and realises the difference they can make.’

ACIAR CEO Professor Andrew Campbell says the program accelerates young researchers’ careers. ‘We treat them as young, emerging scientists. They get integrated into everything we’re doing. They participate in mid-term and end-term project reviews. They get to travel overseas and see amazing projects and they get close supervision from senior scientists,’ says Professor Campbell.

Graduates are mentored for the duration of the program by an ACIAR research program manager (senior scientist) from one of 10 ACIAR research disciplines. Through their tailored program of mentored learning, the graduates help research program managers to develop and manage a research project commissioned by ACIAR. The graduates are developed ready for diverse roles within research institutions around the world.

ACIAR offers this opportunity to two graduates annually with 20 graduates participating since 2009. Of these, 17 continue to work in research for development, including one PhD working as a research fellow at the International Maize and Wheat Research Improvement Centre in Nepal.

‘We are confident of more graduates rising into prominent positions internationally and we will seek to involve these researchers and their institutions in future ACIAR projects,’ says Ms Turner.

In their own words

Seven past and current participants explain how they benefited from the unique experiential learning program run by ACIAR for agricultural science graduates over the past decade...

Dr Brendan Brown, CIMMYT

‘I have recently been made project leader of two ACIAR projects and ‘Roadmaps’. I should put on the record that I am forever thankful for the opportunities that the ACIAR graduate program has provided.

I have no doubt that it has provided me a fast-tracked pathway that led me to work with the FAO in West Africa for a year, complete my PhD on the ACIAR funded SIMLESA program in Eastern and Southern Africa and now to be leading two ACIAR projects in South Asia by 30 years of age.

Thanks, must go to all in ACIAR who have supported this program and from what I hear, it continues to go from strength to strength.’

Dr Brendan Brown
Dr Brendan Brown working in the field on an ACIAR-funded project.

 Jack Hetherington, University of Adelaide

‘Being in the room when decisions about proposals and funding are made by a project management team has taught me how to write strong proposals and requests for funding.’

Jack Hetherington
Jack Hetherington, former ACIAR Graduate, at the 2019 Crawford Conference in Canberra.

 Rebecca McBride, Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

‘It was a unique opportunity to work in research with different perspectives, from the management side, from government and, mostly the really passionate people at ACIAR and all their research partners.’

Rebecca McBride
Rebecca McBride, former ACIAR Graduate and current employee at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, at the 2019 Crawford Conference in Canberra.

Harry Campbell-Ross, Livestock Program, ACIAR

‘My six months at ACIAR so far has given me two main things: it has improved my critical thinking skills and it’s given me a really great insight into the funding side of a partnership in agriculture development.’

Harry Campbell-Ross
Harry Campbell-Ross, current ACIAR Graduate Officer, at the 2019 Crawford Conference in Canberra.

Jenny Hanks, University of Melbourne

‘The program helped me understand research management and gave me an opportunity to lead aspects of research management with the support of the broader ACIAR team. It was amazing.’

Jenny Hanks
Jenny Hanks, former ACIAR Graduate, at the 2019 Crawford Conference in Canberra.

Rebecca Cotton, Research Officer, ACIAR

‘The program gave me, as Andrew Campbell [ACIAR CEO] would say, a toolbox full of tools and I’m able to pull out whatever I need in different situations. It’s given me tools to apply as needed.’

Rebecca Cotton
Rebecca Cotton, current ACIAR Graduate program participant, at the 2019 Crawford Conference in Canberra.

 Candace Skelton, Western Sydney University

‘The key thing I learned and value is understanding the importance of government relationships and strategic partnerships, and the role these play as an enabler for development change.’

Candice Skelton
Candice Skelton, former ACIAR Graduate, at the 2019 Crawford Conference in Canberra.