Doing research with external organisations

Information about navigating HDR industry engagement and your obligations as a candidate.

Research candidates can undertake industry engagement with business, government, cultural and community organisations to help solve relevant, pressing problems. This engagement can help you to expand your professional network and open new career opportunities.

A research internship is a position where you undertake research and development with an organisation outside the university, which is related to your Higher Degree by Research (HDR) project and can be undertaken in various models.

The internship undertaken with a research end-user is related to the candidate’s HDR if it makes use of, or contributes to, research skills or experience gained during their research program or would be of benefit for their research area or to them as researchers.

– Australian Council of Graduate Research

The two most common models of partnership with external organisations for HDR candidates are:

  • Embedded/collaborative HDR program in which your entire PhD or Master by Research project is co-designed with an external partner. The supervision team may include a staff member from the partner organisation in addition to RMIT staff
  • Short-term placements (3-6 months) in which the research undertaken with the partner may be either:
    • a component of your HDR project or
    • discrete from, but related to, your HDR project.

Candidates can find placement opportunities advertised via the Weekly HDR Bulletin, through our industry engagement partner APR Intern, or by browsing the websites of organisations in industries relevant to your research.

Candidates and supervisors can also arrange their own placements through their own networks. More information on this process can be found in the “How to set up your own research internship with industry” section below.

You can undertake a short-term placement once you have achieved your Confirmation of Candidature, or while you are under examination but have not yet submitted your archival thesis.

You must be achieving satisfactory academic progress and not have exceeded maximum candidature duration.

Placements should not be undertaken during leave of absence. You should continue your studies while engaging with industry so as not to impact your progress in the research program. Taking leave for the purpose of a placement may also impact scholarship payments and student visa eligibility. If you believe that there are exceptional circumstances which necessitate taking leave for the duration of an internship placement, please contact the SGR Strategy & Policy team by emailing and the Research Training Services team for further advice.

You and your supervisor can also arrange placements or an embedded HDR project through your own professional networks and relationships with external research collaborators. As with all industry engagement, you will need to enter into a Student Participation Agreement (SPA) between RMIT and the partner to formalise this partnership.

To initiate this process, talk to your supervisor and contacts at the partner organisation about the possibility of undertaking industry engagement.

Things to keep in mind during this discussion include:

  • whether the placement would form a component of your HDR project or be a separate discrete project
  • where you would conduct the research (e.g., onsite at the partner, onsite at RMIT, working remotely, or a combination of locations)
  • whether the partner is willing and able to pay you a stipend.

Following these initial discussions, your supervisor will need to contact the SGR Strategy & Policy team by emailing to commence the process of establishing a formal Student Participation Agreement between RMIT, the partner, and you.

  • For short-term placements, the SPA should be in place within 18 months (full-time equivalent) of your commencement, even if the placement does not occur until later in your candidature or examination period
  • For embedded HDR projects, the SPA would typically be signed prior to your commencement in the program but can be in put in place within 18 months (full-time equivalent) of commencement.

To prepared for your internship, it's recommended you undertake the Navigating Workplace Culture online module through the Research Plus program.

This module has been created specifically to assist HDR candidates undertaking industry internships, placements and projects.

If you are experiencing issues around progress or expectations which you have been unable to resolve through meetings with your supervisor and partner organisation, contact your HDR Delegated Authority or Research Training Services team for advice.

If you are concerned that the partner organisation is not fulfilling their commitments under the Student Partnership Agreement, contact your supervisor, HDR DA or the SGR Strategy & Policy team by emailing for support.

If you have experienced threatening or unwanted behaviour, you can talk to RMIT's Safer Community team for support – even if the behaviour happened off campus. Safer Community is RMIT's dedicated service for students and staff to report unwanted or threatening behaviour. This includes sexual harassment, assault, and family violence, as well as other concerning or inappropriate behaviours.

Resources and support provides other assistance for HDR candidates which may be helpful if things go wrong during an internship.

If the industry partner expects to own the intellectual property that you create as part of an RMIT sponsored research project or as part of a work placement, you will need to assign that IP either to RMIT or to the industry partner directly. This arrangement will be included in the Student Participation Agreement developed as part of the internship. You can find more information about how IP is managed at RMIT on the Researcher Portal at Understanding Intellectual Property (IP).

Your RMIT supervisor plays a crucial role in your engagement with a partner organisation. Your supervisor must endorse the engagement and it is essential that you discuss any arrangements with your RMIT supervisor before engaging with a partner.

The arrangements for these collaborations should

  • fit in to your program
  • be articulated in your research plan
  • be endorsed by your supervisor and
  • be reviewed at each milestone review.

Depending on your internship, you may be jointly supervised by both RMIT and external supervisors.

Ongoing, open dialogue between RMIT supervisors, the candidate and partner organisation is critical to ensuring that all parties get the most out of the internship.

It is important that you meet with your supervisor and industry partner at the commencement of the internship to discuss and agree upon specific deliverables and timelines for your project.

The HDR Internship Timeline Planner Template has been developed as an expectation-setting tool you can use in these discussions. You or your partner organisation may instead use your own pre-existing internship management or HDR supervision tools if preferred.

It is important that you continue to meet regularly with your RMIT supervisor while you are based at a partner organisation. This is important for obtaining feedback on your progress and discussing any challenges you are experiencing.

You should also plan for meetings between yourself, RMIT supervisors, and partner supervisor during the internship. These meetings can be used to obtain feedback and recalibrate deliverables or timelines if necessary.

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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.