EPSRC 2018 CDT Exercise

Supplementary content information

Dr Amanda Chmura at EPSRC provides an overview of the 2018 Centres for Doctoral Training Call.

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Interviewer: Gemma Hulkes (GH)

Hello Amanda, thank you for agreeing to speak to me today. We thought this film would be a great opportunity for you to go through the key features of the Centres for Doctoral Training call.

So, can you tell me what the CDTs are?

Dr Amanda Chmura (AC)

Thanks Gemma. CDTs are one of three ways by which EPSRC delivers investment in doctoral training, the others being the Doctoral Training Partnership, which is a block grant that we give to universities to use at their discretion, and the industrial case studentships, which we allocate to companies to choose which universities they'd like to work with. The CDTs allow us to make strategic investments in areas of national need and to enable universities to undertake cohort-based training of students.

(GH)

So why are EPSRC investing in CDTs?

(AC)

Well, from EPSRC's perspective, it allows us to address UK skills needs where both a breadth and depth of training is required. From the institution's perspective, it's a flexible mechanism which allows them to evolve their approach as training needs evolve over time. From the perspective of external partners who might be involved with the CDT, it allows them to engage with a critical mass of people who have been trained in an area that's of importance to them and from the perspective of the students, they are surrounded by a cohort of other students who are working on complementary projects and the mutual support that that brings and they have access to those potential future employers and try to understand their challenges. And they also get a wide range of general skills training to go alongside the specific research training that's applicable for their project.

(GH)

So, could you explain the key features of the CDTs call?

(AC)

OK, so what we really want applicants to do is identify a specific doctoral training need and explain why a CDT approach is the best way to address that need. And, as I've mentioned, these are critical mass investments for EPSRC and so centres must have 50 students over the lifetime of the centre, and that's over five cohorts, so ten students in each cohort, and an external partnership is really important as well and so 20 to 40 per cent of the total studentship costs for the centre must come from non-RCUK sources. That could be from the university's own funds, from external partners such as industry or charities, or a mixture of both. And finally, we have a dual-stream approach for this call, so we have a stream which is for applications which meet certain priority areas that we've identified and we also have an open stream as well.

(GH)

So you mention this dual stream approach, can you provide a bit more detail around that?

(AC)

So, as I mentioned, we have two streams for this call. We have developed a set of priority areas, 30 priority areas, where we have described the vision for the priority area and the outcomes that we're hoping to achieve by investing in training in this area and so there's one stream for proposals which are going to address those priority areas that we've identified, but we recognised when we were developing the priority areas that we won't have thought of everything. And that's why we have decided to have an open stream as well, for innovative proposals which can identify a specific doctoral training need that is best delivered through a CDT approach.

(GH)

So how do you plan to make the investments across the two streams?

(AC)

Well, it will all depend on when it is submitted, but as an indication, we hope to be able to invest around 70 per cent of the available funds through the priority areas stream and around 30 through the open stream.

(GH)

And how did you come up with the priority areas?

(AC)

We used our formal advisory structures as well as the knowledge that we gained through our most recent balancing capability exercise, which we completed in early 2017. So our Strategic Advisory teams, which are theme-based, identified some initial training topics and inter-disciplinary links, those were then worked up and our cross-EPSRC Strategic Advisory Network took a more holistic view across the whole set of priorities and then those final priorities were signed off by EPSRC's council at the end of last year. So this has been a really big activity over the last eight months or so for EPSRC, involving many EPSRC staff, a wide range of people from our research community, other partners within the UKRI family and other national funding bodies and we're really excited about the opportunity to address what we think are really important national skills needs at the doctoral level for the UK.

(GH)

I've noticed the areas are more explicit than the 2013 exercise, can you explain why?

(AC)

As I've mentioned, we've done a lot of work with our community to understand the training needs within engineering and physical sciences and particularly those that are best delivered through a CDT approach, both through our balancing capability exercise and the work we've been doing to develop the priority areas over the last eight months or so, and so we really want to now work to address those needs that we have identified.

Also, as an organisation, we have been taking much more of an outcomes-focused approach, for example, with our most recent delivery plan. And so, what we've tried to do in the priority area descriptions is to be really clear about the outcomes that we are aspiring to achieve, through making investments in each of these areas and the key features that we expect CDTs that are funded within a particular priority area to have.

(GH)

So the 30 areas that you mentioned earlier, vary quite a bit in nature, can you expand on that?

(AC)

CDTs are quite flexible, but the common factor is really the need for cohort-based training. And in some areas this may be challenge-focused so, for example, Robotics or Resilient Infrastructures and in other areas, this may be more underpinning, for example, the Pure Maths and its Interfaces area or Fluids and Structures.

And the training needs that we have identified reflect the need for both breadth and depth within doctoral research training. And particularly thinking about that, the breadth element manifests itself in many different ways. So it might be, for example, identifying and addressing a set of research challenges that are related that cross a number of different sectors, or it might be multi-disciplinary research challenges which require an individual to go beyond the traditionally taught topics for their individual discipline. And, of course, demonstrating that need for breadth will be really important for applications that are submitted through the open stream as well.

(GH)

And what are the assessment criteria?

(AC)

These are a national need that they've identified for cohort-based, doctoral training; a clear vision for the centre; and a plan for how they are going to address the need that they've identified and with this criterion, we really want institutions to be thinking about leadership, not just in terms of the individual, the individual centre director, but the team that's going to be leading the centre and the quality of the research training environment. It's important that the centre is hosted in the right place, with the right people and the right facilities so that they'll be able to successfully deliver the plan.

(GH)

There are so many disciplines across EPSRC, and with the 30 priority areas, how will you spread the funding?

(AC)

As with any EPSRC funding activity, quality will be the primary criterion for funding, but at both the outline, and the full proposal stages of the call, we will be looking at the balance of investments, both across the priority areas and across engineering and physical sciences disciplines, to make sure that we can achieve an appropriate balance.

So, in terms of getting further information about the call, there's lots and lots of information in the call document, we have set up a dedicated space on EPSRC's website where we'll be putting information about the call, and frequently asked questions which we'll be updating regularly as we get new questions in. Research offices within institutions will have information about the call as well. We've set up a dedicated mailbox for the call which people can email at any time. There are normal routes of engagement as well that might be through EPSRC portfolio contacts, or EPSRC visits to your institution and, of course, you can always ring up the office with any questions that you have.

(GH)

Amanda, thank you very much for that.

(AC)

Thank you Gemma. We're really excited about this flagship investment that's going to train the next generation of scientists and engineers in the UK, and if I think back over our existing portfolio of Centres for Doctoral Training, over the lifetime of those centres, over 7,000 students will have been trained and that's something we're really really proud of.