What Could Make a PhD Program Fail – Part 3

Failure to transfer knowledge

We’ve already looked at two other failure points – number of students and neglecting participants (students and supervisors alike). Here, we look at the next failure point – failure to transfer (program) knowledge amongst key staff.

In Australia, depending on who or what you read, the average PhD is between 4 and 6 years. Whereas the average length of time someone stays in the same role is 3 years and 4 months1. Thus, PhDs are longer than the average time the PhD Program Director will remain in the role. As a student, this means you might expect to have to explain your circumstance to the CRC PhD Program Director at least twice. Maybe three times if you are unlucky.

This change in staff was mentioned as a factor in programs being good or great.

Staff turnover is inevitable and preventing it is impossible. However, it is possible to reduce its impact. Not just on students working with the PhD Program Director, but in the Director themselves understanding the program, its purpose and their role within it. The way to achieve this is accurate, clear and concise documentation.


 PhD program success relies on

maintaining good knowledge

of student activities.


Each program will likely need to determine what those things mean to it, but the smoother the transition the easier it will be for all. For example, if the PhD program is part of the annual CRC scientific meeting, then make that clear. If the relevant presenters within the program are booked in July for the November event, note that. If there is a fixed budget, note that. Note other seasonal events and budgets. Maintain a list of students, projects and supervisors. Anything, that will help the transition from one staff member to the next.

The easiest way to ensure a smooth transition is not to build a handover document prior to leaving, but to make a process and procedure manual as the program(s) are rolled out. That is, build it as you go. Such an approach will also help in the case of unplanned absences or sudden departures as well as temporary fill-ins (e.g. when the role is vacated but a suitable long-term replacement cannot be found in time so another stuff member steps into the role.).

Good luck building and implementing your program!

If you need help building your PhD program(s) or finding existing programs to make use of, get in touch with the CRC Association and/or Dr Richard Huysmans (Richard.Huysmans@ravencg.com.au, 0412 606 178). We can help you build, implement and operate the best PhD program for your CRC.

Next week – we look at the importance of starting the program on time.


Dr Richard Huysmans is passionate about PhD training and students getting the most out of an experience often designed with the supervisor in mind. Richard has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers and established academics build their careers. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how make the most of a PhD. To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email (Richard.huysmans@ravencg.com.au) or subscribe to the newsletter.