Show industry that your PhD skills are useful

My placement was really successful, even more successful than I imagined it would be.

Russell Varley, PhD candidate at the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, has been working to correct the stereotype that says that studying philosophy may not have much real-world value. This led him to consider an industry placement.

“I think those stereotypes are wrong, so much of the motivation for me to complete a placement was to challenge those opinions and to show organisations that philosophy can add value in many different and meaningful ways”, he said.

Russell was lucky enough to meet a Village Roadshow executive while working at his part-time job. They had a conversation about his research, which deals with social epistemology (the study of knowledge in social contexts) and examining how and why people make the decisions they do in given circumstances.

“It just so happened that Village Roadshow were looking at ways to improve their team-members’ decision making capabilities – and my placement project was born”, he said.

While the placement was related to Russell’s research it was a separate project, which meant he was able to avoid any conflicts around intellectual property.

Russell’s placement project, in broad terms, was an attempt to transpose the success of a notable traffic experiment from the Netherlands to other organisations like Village Roadshow. In the Drachten Traffic Experiment, planning authorities in the Dutch town removed almost all traffic signals from certain intersections and instead promoted the idea of solving the problems of traffic congestion and accidents by making streets ‘shared spaces’ filled with traffic circles and increased spaces for bicyclists and pedestrians.

In order to take this idea and convert it to Village Roadshow, Russell’s aim was to develop a sophisticated understanding of how organisations can promote the conditions which might result in a positive relationship between authority (Village Roadshow) and individual capability (Village Roadshow team members) for better complex problem-solving.

“I created and ran four two-hour workshops which focused both on the conceptual elements of complexity and systems thinking, as well as guiding participants through a few activities which culminated in the creation of a simple systems model,” he said.

Russell was not only able to add value to Village Roadshow and its employees, but also effectively demonstrate the value of a research degree in philosophy to a business. “My placement was really successful, even more successful than I imagined it would be,” he said.

If you are a UQ HDR candidate and would like to explore your placement opportunities, attend an information session to learn more about the program.