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Three UNSW students will take their STEM skills to Westpac after winning prestigious scholarships allowing them to work part-time at one of Australia’s largest banks.

Westpac and the Group of Eight (Go8) have partnered on an Australia-first industry program for PhD students researching Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) to work part-time with the Westpac Group during their studies.

The STEM PhD program was established in recognition of the importance of the STEM fields to the future of Australia and aims to deliver greater research outcomes while offering professional development to researchers who can make an enhanced contribution to the economy.

UNSW Engineering PhD students Upul Senanayake and Yun Zhang, and Richard Winkler from UNSW Science, secured three of the eight inaugural scholarships.

Zhang, from the School of Computer Science and Engineering is researching how to design web API (application programming interface) that can retrieve data for data analytics.

“Through the collaboration with Westpac, I hope to combine my research with practical case studies. The scholarship will also give me the opportunity to access different commercial and business knowledge, which will help my research from a practical perspective,” Zhang said.


Yun Zhang from UNSW's School of Computer Science and Engineering at the STEM PhD scholarship presentation.

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Training) and Dean of Graduate Research, Laura Poole-Warren, said the program aligns strongly with UNSW's 2025 Strategy.

"There is clear potential for global impact and social engagement and I'm particularly pleased with the business engagement aspect of the program which will contribute significantly to development of professional skills in our candidates," she said.

Shenaz Khan, Westpac Group General Manager for Enterprise HR Strategy & Services, said the partnership forms part of the Group’s investment in innovation and commitment to diversity.

“There are huge gains to be made by connecting some of Australia’s best academic minds with Australian businesses,” said Khan. “This is a unique opportunity to develop early career researchers from our top universities as well as to deliver innovative solutions to the challenges we face in the commercial sector.

“A key requirement for the success of this program is a flexible working environment, where students can work on a part time basis and balance their commitments between Westpac and their university. I’m confident our collaboration with the Go8 will lead to increasing engagement between academia and industry to benefit all Australians,” he said.

Vicki Thomson, Go8 Chief Executive, said the employment program had been an exciting proposition from Westpac and the Go8 was sure it would now become an exemplar for PhD training collaboration.

“We have seen the economic value of such collaborative programs overseas, and the Go8 looks forward to ensuring this first of its kind in Australia delivers two things – encourages other companies to follow the Westpac lead, and illustrates the commitment to excellence of both Westpac and the Go8,” she said.

The students will undertake two 24-month rotations within selected business units at Westpac Group from February 2017. Students will be matched with a mentor who will guide them through their experience and will also participate in a professional development program tailored to their skills and the development areas they nominate.