What it does: Scientific and Engineering research
Staff stats: Over 6000 staff plus large numbers of students
The good bits: Making revolutionary scientific breakthroughs
The not so good bits: Periodic funding cuts, public service bureaucracy, but is not subject to all bureaucracy of typical government agencies
The CSIRO story
Since 1926 the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has had a profound impact on the day to day lives of Australians including controlling rabbit and prickly pear plagues, improving the clothes on our backs, the food we eat and helping us to stay well. It helped us see man on the moon, improved the phones in our hands and the money in our pockets. CSIRO holds more patents for scientific and engineering research than any other organisation in Australia.
Today CSIRO does research from the depths of the ocean to deep space. It is charged with improving the lives of Australian’s through its divisions of energy, environment and resources, agriculture and food, digital technology and future industries. The CSIRO has over 50 suburban and regional sites and sites in the US, France, Chile and Mexico. The CEO, a member of Board instigates the Strategy 2020 set by the Board. The Board is overseen by the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science.
The CSIRO attracts world-renowned scientists and engineers and they provide opportunities for students to enhance their scientific and engineering learning through involvement in research. Over 200 summer vacations scholarships are offered each year and industrial experience students are encouraged to apply. The best students are offered postgraduate scholarships. Postdoctoral Fellows are actively recruited. CSIRO is the largest single provider of Postdoctoral Fellowships for scientists and engineers in Australia.
The culture is altruistic and inclusive. It fosters co-operative team-based research within its diverse, multi-cultural workforce. It encourages women to take up science, engineering and mathematics roles and applications from minority groups including Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. Numerous CSIRO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cadetships are offered each year to applicants of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent enrolled full-time in an undergraduate degree. These cadetships include a study allowance during semester, 12 weeks work experience with a stipend during the summer vacation period and payment of HECS fees upon successful completion of study.
The CSIRO’s motto is, “We imagine. We collaborate. We innovate.” Among many other innovations, the world can thank the CSIRO for the invention of: Aerogard; polymer banknotes; Wi-Fi; the ‘Total Wellbeing’ (high protein, low carb) diet, vaccines and atomic absorption spectroscopy, which plays a significant role in pharmacology, biophysics and toxicology research.
The recruitment process
Over 200 undergraduates each year are given ‘Vacation Scholarships’ over the summer break and receive a stipend. Some of those students “have been offered paid part-time employment; others have had the opportunity to undertake their Masters or PhD research jointly with us”. Vacation scholars come from a wide range of disciplines, need to be in either their third or fourth year with a credit average and ideally be considering postgraduate study.
While the CSIRO doesn’t have a conventional grad program, there are a few options for grads looking to get a foot in the door. You are encouraged to apply to do an ‘Industrial Traineeship’ if required as part of your degree. To be considered identify a CSIRO scientist working in an area relevant to your degree and contact them. Provide said scientist with your CV, academic transcript, proof you need to undertake a work placement and a brief statement about the type of project/research you’re interested in. He or she then decides whether to invite you into their research area. Traineeships typically last 3-6 months. They do not usually lead to a paid position but may be useful if you apply for an entry-level job at the CSIRO.
If you’re undertaking a PhD in science or engineering, you can apply for one of the CSIRO’s Postgraduate Scholarships. Those who win a scholarship “gain access to world-class facilities and have a unique opportunity to work alongside Australia’s leading research scientists”. Winning a scholarship doesn't guarantee a position but, once again, having done one will stand you in good stead if you apply for a CSIRO job down the track.
The good news is that once you’ve knocked off that PhD you can apply for one of the 50 or more CSIRO postdoctoral fellowships advertised each year. Like a grad program, these “are designed to equip new graduates to embark on careers as independent researchers” and include significant training and the opportunity to attend national and international conferences. However, you’re only offered employment for the three years the fellowship lasts with the option to complete an additional 3 years.
You’re not going to earn as much as you would in private industry but the CSIRO offers “competitive salaries, including yearly increments as detailed in the CSIRO Enterprise Agreement” plus up to 15% superannuation. On the plus side, you do get all kinds of leave, including flex, study, parental and maternity leave, four days ‘miscellaneous leave’ and the opportunity to take leave without pay if you get an exciting offer from a start-up.
The CSIRO is a government-owned corporation, 60% funded by the Australian Government. Funding cuts or shifts in policy direction can have a significant impact on staff. Even with these foibles it has a history of employing scientists and engineers for long periods of time. Its staff turnover is well below the average for Australian organisations. If you can cope with its uncertainty, you may find it provides all the support and resources required to make the revolutionary scientific breakthrough you’ve long fantasised about.
The vibe of the place
After being rocked by claims in 2013 that a toxic workplace culture had been allowed to fester in some parts of the organisation, the CSIRO has gone to some good lengths to foster a “healthy and supportive workplace environment”. Hopefully, your experience will be positive. If it is not, there are now ‘Equity and Diversity Contact Officers’ on most sites to whom you can report “disrespectful, bullying and/or discriminatory behaviour”.
From the Employer:
"At the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), we shape the future. We do this by using science to solve real issues. Our research makes a difference to people, industry and the planet.
For around a century we have been pushing the boundaries of what is possible in science and technology. Our world-renowned successes include WiFi, the Hendra vaccine and polymer banknotes. But it’s tomorrow’s innovations that excite us – wearable technology that alerts a doctor when you are sick, diets based on your DNA and so much more.
With more than 5,000 experts based in 55 centres, extensive local and international networks, and a burning desire to get things done, we are Australia’s catalyst for innovation and a global force in transforming imagination into reality.
The quality of our research underpins our ability to innovate. Our research is trusted; our discoveries are published in world-leading journals and globally, we are in the top one per cent in 15 of 22 research fields.
Everything we do is focused on creating measurable economic, environmental and social benefits that better our world and Australia’s place in it.
CSIRO. We imagine. We collaborate. We innovate.
Our graduate program
CSIRO Scholarships are our way of recognising and rewarding the academic excellence of students from high school (for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) and undergraduates through to doctoral studies.
Our Postdoctoral Fellowships offer PhD graduates the opportunity to launch their scientific careers.
Undergraduate vacation scholarships
Our Undergraduate Vacation Scholarships offer students the opportunity of collaborating with our scientists.
Postgraduate students who partner with CSIRO to complete their PhD studies will gain access to world-class facilities and have a unique opportunity to work alongside Australia’s leading research scientists.
We're committed to the development of the next generation of scientists and engineers. Our postdoctoral fellowships provide PhD graduates with experience working alongside leaders in science and engineering, as well as generous personal development and learning opportunities.
For more details on when and how to apply for these scholarships and career opportunities, go to http: www.CSIRO.au/Careers"