TropINTERN Thomas Roberts
Candidate: Thomas (Ed) Roberts
Academic Mentor: Prof Andrew Baird
Industry Partner: Museum of Tropical Queensland (MTQ)
Project title: Taxonomy of reef-building corals in Kimbe Bay
The TropINTERN program provided an opportunity to strengthen my PhD research, learn new techniques from world leaders, and add to the publically available collections of the Museum of Tropical Queensland. This is an opportunity that would otherwise be difficult to organize and fund, and creates an opportunity to show how research skills and questions can combine with industry objectives. The coral colonies analyzed as part of this internship are now housed in the MTQ collection, along with their morphological measurements, taxonomic identifications, and genetic samples, strengthening the MTQ collection and making these specimens available to other researchers. My TropINTERN project has also highlighted the need to make progress in combining genetic and traditional morphological taxonomic techniques to coral taxonomy, which is a project that will continue to evolve beyond the end of the internship. Once the genetic analysis has been completed, these results will be published, and will provide a tangible addition to the literature surrounding coral taxonomy. In summary, it has fulfilled its objectives to improve my PhD research, provide new research skills, and add to the value of the MTQ coral collection.
Industry engagement is a term that immediately brings to mind commercial applications or business interests, which does not appear to sit alongside more abstract research objectives. It is very hard to sell fundamental ecological research as an industry related discipline, but a bit of lateral thinking when considering the TropINTERN program showed how this could be more than expected. My industry partner was the Museum of Tropical Queensland, a slightly different kind of industry than usually thought of. Here, the objectives and research focus of my PhD work fit with the objectives of the museum, when considering coral taxonomy. This is a disappearing skill, vital to sound ecological research, but largely only practiced in places like museums. By partnering with MTQ I could learn the skills required, improve their collection, and strengthen my own research. It also provides an invaluable window into how commercial or industry applications can use the skills gained in research, which is often a hard link to see.
I would recommend this program to anyone considering how their future career directions can utilise the skills they are currently learning. This is especially true for those for whom it is difficult to easily identify a commercial or industry related application for their research. I feel that the true value of this program is to broaden perspectives of both partners, and encourage a higher level of lateral thinking about how various skills and objectives can combine.