Ian Chubb: getting government research priorities right

The federal government has developed a set of Science and Research Priorities, and corresponding Practical Research Challenges, designed to increase investment in areas of immediate and critical importance to Australia and its place in the world. Ian Chubb explains the thinking behind it.

In 2012 the Australian Council of Learned Academies commissioned a survey of some 1200 researchers, at all stages from graduate to retired, about their thoughts on the career they had chosen.

For three out of four, the best thing about the job was the chance to work on interesting and important issues. The passion for changing the world brought people in, kept them going and made them reflect with satisfaction on their life’s achievements.

It’s a good thing that it did, because the frustrations they also reported were immense. For many, particularly in the early career phase, it was the uncertain job prospects that cut the deepest, along with the time devoted to grant applications and the difficulty in gauging where the opportunities might lie. To have a vision of something important, and to have no path by which to achieve it, was bitter.

Making the case

As far as I know, there has never been a golden age when every fundable project was funded and every talented person got a tenured position. Like all countries, in all history, we have finite resources to allocate to any number of important and worthy things.

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