EDGE Spotlight

The EDGE Spotlight profiles PhD candidates and recent graduates, to find out how they’ve engaged in research and transferrable skills development during their PhD. We’ve aligned these experiences to the four domains of EDGE to help you think about the types of activities you might build into your personalised EDGE development plan.

EDGE supports you to develop your career throughout candidature, building skills knowledge, and experiences across the four domains of the EDGE Framework:

EDGE Spotlight on Aaron Davis

PhD Title: 'Co-creation in the built environment: an exploration of end-user engagement in the urban living laboratory'


Aaron Davis

Dr Aaron Davis commenced his PhD in the former School of Art, Architecture and Design in 2015 under the supervision of Dr Robert Crocker. Aaron’s project focused on the role of end-user engagement in architectural design and was funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living (2012-2019). His project built on interests developed through completion of undergrad and postgraduate architecture degrees and a Masters in Sustainable Design.

We talked to Aaron about his development experiences during his PhD, how these enhanced his candidature and presented opportunities to shape his post-PhD career.

imagecgr78.png  Research Expertise:  addressing the needs of your research project

Early in the PhD, Aaron found value in training that developed and refine the skills needed for success in an academic environment. He recalls:

“Undertaking training programs in research skills and methods early on helped me with the nuts and bolts of the PhD…When you are doing research that is quite reflective and focused on developing theories through social research methods, I think it is more important to develop these skills rather than spending hours at the computer trying to write your thesis. The training programs make the writing process easier because you have developed the skills to do it rather than jumping in when you don’t really know what you are doing.”

By engaging in EDGE workshops, candidates can build their networks and expand their perspectives beyond their local discipline. Aaron reflects:

“Taking part in a multi-day workshop really helped with writing my research proposal…it was interdisciplinary and the opportunity to learn about (different) approaches was great. In architecture we are often not quite so hot on things like a systematic literature review, we tend to be a bit more ad hoc in our approaches.”

image3xshp.png  Enterprising Futures: responding to industry needs for specific attributes and competencies

As Aaron’s project was funded by a Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), he was actively exposed to industry throughout candidature. This reinforced the importance of industry relevance in his project and offered opportunities to develop his ability to innovate and think creatively. Aaron notes:

“The CRC was very focussed upon innovation, entrepreneurship, industry links, and creativity…These skills weren’t developed through a specific training package, but through exposure to a range of experiences. The process (of completing my PhD) forced me to be innovative in the way I was thinking about my research, including finding ways to make my research fit into the opportunities that emerged. This flexibility was great because I was able to identify opportunities like working with partners in Melbourne and Helsinki, then find ways of incorporating them into my research process.”

Aaron’s CRC experience also gave him opportunities to connect with a range of audiences so he could refine and adapt his communication skills along the way. He recalls the value of various communication experiences:

“Undertaking training in public speaking, including how to refine a message, and how to speak to a range of audiences was important, not only for my research but also for learning how to teach and communicate with a range of students, from high school to postgraduate students… During my PhD I did workshops on how policy development happens, and how to frame research to influence policy. That gave me the confidence to pitch ideas to government, feeling confident that I had a good idea of what they would be looking for.”

image8m8mj.png  Skills in Practice: recognising the value of experiential and work-integrated learning

Practical experience throughout candidature is an excellent way to position yourself as career-ready when considering post-PhD opportunities. Aaron looked to both internal and external opportunities to build his experience:

“I volunteered (as a post-graduate student representative) on the UniSA Research Degrees Committee, and volunteered for a whole lot of conferences and events that were being held on campus. I loved the opportunity to be involved in lots of different things, and found that working at these events helped to build my network quite quickly."

Aaron also engaged directly with industry through the CRC which gave him an external perspective not only on his research but how to position himself for his post-PhD career. Aaron recalls:

“Having an industry partner for my project helped me identify which parts of my research were in demand by industry, and which were more interesting for academic audiences. Being able to work directly with industry partners in putting together CRC roadshows to showcase my research was a great opportunity, and I also loved attending conferences that brought together academics and industry. I think this really enhanced my employability because I got a good understanding of what different people were looking for, and worked out which parts of my work were most attractive to industry.”

image58fo.png  Careers in Focus:  helping you to reflect, plan and manage your skills needs in alignment with your career ambitions

Aaron came into his PhD with a goal of working in academia long term. He looked for academic-linked experiences such as tutoring to take up alongside his PhD to support that ambition:

“I was lucky to have a lot of opportunities to teach while doing my PhD. I was initially hoping to be able to pick up a little bit of tutoring, but because I kept saying yes, I ended up having the chance to do tutoring, lecturing and course coordination roles”

Aaron didn’t seek out formal career mentoring but did have conversations throughout his PhD which helped him identify opportunities to expand his career options:

“I think the conversations at conferences were very useful in terms of learning that you can go anywhere and do anything with a PhD. I came away feeling like a PhD is just the key to a whole lot of doors, and you can use it to go wherever you want to. I had plenty of informal mentoring from my supervisors and was reassured that I could go down an academic path if I wanted to. I remember a few discussions about the career path I was on, and at one point I remember being told that all of the ‘side hustles’ I had been developing could also become a good career.”

The Development Needs Analysis in EDGE can help you think about the right activities at the right time. On reflection, Aaron recognises more active career planning may have helped him plan the optimal timing for some of his development opportunities:

“I think being more strategic would have been useful because what I did was very much ad hoc – I would see an opportunity and take it, saying yes, yes, yes because I didn’t know which opportunities were rare and which were going to come around again. Planning the timing of things like entering the three-minute thesis, and taking on course coordination a little more carefully would probably have been good — coordinating the timing of what I learned would probably have structured my experience a bit better. I feel like I did all the right things, it just would have been easier if they were planned out a bit more!"