Project and People Management

Project management is a term which broadly covers all the activities relating to the initiation, planning, executing and managing, evaluating and reporting of a project. People who take lead roles in operationalizing a research project need certain knowledge and skills to manage human and material resources to ensure that research outcomes are met in the most efficient way. These skills include those specifically related to the project, such as budgeting, estimating and scheduling, evaluating and reporting to stakeholders, working within compliance frameworks, policies and legislation, resource management and gaining approvals.

There are also a number of skills which relate to the management of human resources, including self-management, time management, and the supervision of diverse teams. Management may even extend to mediation and dispute resolution if conflicts arise in projects. Whilst many conventional project management techniques may not apply directly to research, there is still the same focus on forward planning, setting deadlines, finance and resource management, negotiating approvals and more.

Research proposals and grant applications provide an opportunity to begin thinking about the kinds of project and people management skills that are required to bring a research project to fruition. These proposals and grants can give you a sense of the 'big picture' and how the different parts of the project fit together, and who you will be working with.

Each stage of research offers the opportunity to identify new skills, some of which you may already possess a certain level of proficiency, some that you may need to seek training.

Adopting a project management approach to your research will increase the likelihood that the project will be completed on time, with the most efficient use of resources and less stress for you and other researchers in your team.



Intellectual property (IP) is a 'creation of the mind' that can be legally protected by IP rights. For example, discoveries, inventions, images, music, literature and can be protected in the form of patents, copyright, and/or trademarks.

As a researcher, you may need to understand IP rights with regard to:

  • Your own work. As a research you generally own the IP generated from your project unless you have signed an agreement assigning this IP to another.
  • Reproducing materials in your publications. When you publish a paper, write your thesis or communicate your research in another way, you may wish to reproduce material that is not your own, like images, tables, software, film and video works. You may not copy any significant or important portion of work belonging to somebody else without permission, even if it freely available on the web. To avoid breaching the IP of the owner of the material which is likely protected by copyright, you will need to request permission to use the material from the publisher or creator of the material.
  • If you partner with publishers, funding agencies, and/or companies. These agents may request or impose restrictions on the publication of your data, your results, your thesis, or other information produced from your project to protect their interest in your IP.
  • If you commercialise your research. Now, or in the future you may also be involved in the translation or commercialisation of your research. The first step in the commercialisation of research is often the protection of IP through application for a provisional patent.


    At UWA we have a range of support for IP related issues.
    Other resources include:

The Australian Government defines research according to the OECD definition of research and development - `creative and systematic work undertaken in order to increase the stock of knowledge - including knowledge of humankind, culture and society - and to devise new applications of available knowledge. [Australian Government. Department of Education and Training, 2017 Higher Education Research Data Collection Specifications for the collection of 2016 data, edited, 2017, p. 6]

The conduct of research at UWA by both staff and students is governed by a number of policies and guidelines to ensure that it is both of a high standard and is conducted ethically. Research students are expected to be familiar with UWA policies, as well as state and national guidelines, and to follow them conscientiously.

Health and Safety

Understanding what risks are present in a work environment is important as your environment can impact the health, safety or welfare of you and your co-workers. Many work places present hazards, such as exposure to heat or electricity, working at heights, using sharp tools, or sitting all day at typing on a computer. Research activities can present additional health and safety risks such as exposure to toxins and radioactive materials, fieldwork in risky places, or working with potentially dangerous machinery, not to mention long term effects of the stress of working as a busy researcher or academic.

The Government requires all businesses, including the University and research institutions, to comply with relevant legislation and industry standards to protect the physical health and safety of workers. Increasingly there is recognition that protection in the workplace should be extended to providing an environment that promotes the wellbeing of workers. Health and safety now supports the provision of a stimulating, satisfying and enjoyable work environment that promotes healthy life choices and facilitates participation of those with illness or disability.

As a researcher you will need to consider the diversity of the activities you undertake, the degree of risk they represent, and how to safely approach your activities. You will also learn how to manage a near miss, an incident or an emergency. You will also need to consider how to stay fit and well in whatever career work environment you choose.

Working Autonomously and Collaboratively

Working autonomously in an academic or other workplace means independently, proactively, and with integrity, meeting responsibilities and completing projects and goals. You plan and organise your workday and tasks; you seek to understand the operational environment and adapt accordingly; and you initiate change to workplace practices or policies, as well as your own personal working style, where necessary.

Working autonomously may involve:

  • prioritising
  • scheduling and meeting deadlines
  • making decisions and solving problems
  • controlling your response and actions during stressful or busy periods
  • identifying factors that contribute to stress and using support systems to alleviate it
  • being confident in your abilities
  • understanding your limitations and developing strategies for overcoming these limitations.

Applying these practices over the course of your PhD candidature will not only set you up to successfully complete your studies but will enable you to refine the skills that you will need in the workforce. Leaders are not only able to work autonomously but are able to guide others towards effective self-management.

Collaborative practice is now central to the way we work, deliver services and produce innovations. The combination of effort and expertise produces benefits greater than those achieved working alone.

Collaboration is teamwork taken to a higher level and is characterised by:

  • a strong sense of purpose and meaningful reason for working together
  • equal participation and treatment of everyone as equals
  • encouragement of creative thinking

Successful group collaboration does not only mean being a good team member. It's also significant that you develop group leadership skills. Every effective group needs a leader who understands the needs of the group and encourages every individual to contribute according to their skills, aptitude and qualifications.


Personal Disposition
Personal disposition includes resilience, confidence and critical reflection. There is a growing body of organisational behaviour theory and research around the individual traits that contribute to professional success in these areas. For example, the construct of Psychological Capital focuses on the positive psychological capacities of self-efficacy or confidence, hope, optimism and resilience and their relationship with a range of desirable work attitudes, behaviours and organisational behaviours. [Dawkins, S., Martin, A., Scott, J., & Sanderson, K. (2013). Building on the positives: A psychometric review and critical analysis of the construct of Psychological Capital. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 86(3), 348-370. doi:doi:10.1111/joop.12007].

People with high levels of psychological capital are confident that they can be successfully accomplish a task (efficacy); are motivated to set goals and have a plan for attaining those goals (hope); persevere in the face of obstacles (resiliency); and attribute positive outcomes to self and negative outcomes to circumstances (optimism). [Paterson, T. A., Luthans, F., & Jeung, W. (2014). Thriving at work: Impact of psychological capital and supervisor support. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35(3), 434-446. doi:doi:10.1002/job.1907]

Other theories include the The Big Five Personality Traits [Rothmann, S., & Coetzer, E. P. (2003). The big five personality dimensions and job performance. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 29(1), 68-74. doi:10.4102/sajip.v29i1.88] and Core Self-Evaluation Traits [Judge, T. A., & Bono, J. E. (2001). Relationship of Core Self-Evaluations Traits–Self-Esteem, Generalized Self-Efficacy, Locus of Control, and Emotional Stability–With Job Satisfaction and Job Performance: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(1), 80-92. doi:doi:10.1037/0021-9010.86.1.80].

It is worth spending some time reflecting on what 'psychological capital' you bring to your work. These soft skills are a critical component for professional success and can continue to be developed. These skills will serve you well in almost any occupation and may be the distinguishing factor between applicants when applying for work.

Careers and Networking

'What do you see yourself doing after you finish your PhD?' This is a question we often ask postgraduate research students at the beginning of their candidature. The aim is to encourage them to reflect on potential career outcomes, and even establish a realistic career goal and pathway to achieve it. In the short term this is important because it provides a focus for planning skills development during the program of study; in the long-term it is the first step in taking ownership for and managing career progression for many years to come.

To begin with, explore what motivates and inspires you. If it is teaching and research then you may consider an academic career. If it is making real-world impact, research translation or contributing to community and not-for-profit sectors, then a career in 'industry' might be more appealing. The diversity in postgraduate research student career aspirations is now well understood and it has impacted on the nature of HDR programs in Australia. There is clear recognition that universities must provide flexibility and choice in the delivery of transferable professional and research skills to meet the demands of graduates and employers alike.

So what are the skills and activities required for career development? They include the identification of career goals, the development of career plans and ways to improve employability, the writing of effective CVs, participation in skills training and the ability to create a system to record and communicate to potential employers your skills training accomplishments (such as an e-portfolio).

One of the most effective ways to enhance your employability now is to initiate and sustain networks and relationships that may lead to opportunities for employment. These may be developed through participation in conferences, industry placements or internships, research collaborations, by engaging stakeholders in your research, or through membership in professional associations. There is a variety of ways that you can cultivate career networks, from ensuring that you have a business card at hand at a conference, to appearing in the television media. Engaging people in your current research project will be the key to your success later.


Assembling a 'team' to support you in all your needs as a postgraduate research student can be a challenge. Whilst academic support is provided supervisors, they may not be willing or capable of giving you the diverse types of support you will require in your professional growth. This support may be emotional and logistical, or it may be related to networking and the opening of doors to new opportunities. It could also be focused on career management. Here is where a mentor may be useful. The mentor is someone who is an experienced and trusted advisor; a person who can help you to make `big-picture `decisions that will benefit you during your program of study and beyond (these sorts of relationships are never more important than in the transition to the workplace). As there is no one person that can be an expert on everything, there is no limit on the numbers of mentors you can cultivate. Mentoring doesn't have to be a long-term, formal process, although there are a number of formal mentoring programs that facilitate the process.

Becoming a mentor involves 'stepping up to the plate' and committing to sharing your knowledge and contributing to a person's growth and development. This may happen in a variety of contexts. You might consider volunteering to be a mentor in one of the University's formal mentoring programs, in a community-based or charitable organization, or in a school volunteer program (such as the Australian Youth Mentoring Network). Becoming a mentor gives you the opportunity to develop and put in to practice communication and leadership skills that will be transferable to many social, academic and professional situations. Not only is it good for you in honing these skills, you will have the rewarding feeling of having helped your mentee to achieve their potential.


Innovation, Design and Agile Processes

The National Innovation and Science Agenda  is the flagship of innovation in Australia.
Extraordinary technological change is transforming how we live, work, communicate and pursue good ideas. We need to embrace new ideas in innovation and science, and harness new sources of growth to deliver the next age of economic prosperity in Australia.

Development of an innovative approach during research training is essential as research graduates drive future academia and future economic and social outcomes.

The Innovator's DNA Study , a six year study with results published in the Harvard Business Review, identified five skills that distinguished the most innovative entrepreneurs:

  • Associating
  • Questioning
  • Observing
  • Experimenting
  • Networking

The good news, the study found, was that you didn't need to be born with "Innovator's DNA", you can cultivate it.