This article presents findings from a national study on doctoral education undertaken at a time of new government policies on funding of higher education and doctoral research in particular. The article discusses the overall policy developments in Australia and then examines the impact of policy on practice in doctoral education. Particular focus is given to changes in the nature of the research topic, supervision practices and student selection. The findings presented highlight the swift and very powerful effect that government policy can have on core processes of academic work and the student research experience, as well as the differential impact of government policy across disciplines and institutional contexts. The article argues that the introduction of a performance-based funding model for research students is altering supervision practices, as well as the scale and management of research topics. The article also argues that the reduction of academic staff numbers in research-intensive universities in the humanities is weakening existing research concentrations, and that in the sciences and engineering a strong risk minimisation approach to research topic and student selection is emerging.