EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training - outcomes of the 2011 mid term review

Supplementary content information

EPSRC - Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

In 2009, EPSRC made a major investment in Centres for Doctoral Training and funded 45 new Centres. These included a number of Industrial Doctorate Centres (IDCs - based on the Engineering Doctorate model), centres focussed on EPSRC priority areas (Digital Economy, Nano-science to Nano-engineering, and Energy), and also centres in core EPSRC disciplines. The centres bring together diverse areas of expertise to train engineers and scientists with the skills, knowledge and confidence to tackle today’s evolving issues, and future challenges. They also create new working cultures, build relationships between teams in universities and forge lasting links with industry.

Students are funded for four years and include technical and transferable skills, as well as a research element. Many centres leverage additional studentships from other sources (such as EPSRC Doctoral Training Account (DTA) funding, EU funding, industrial funding, private funding and so on).

The mid-term review

A mid-term review was held in 2011 which required the Centres to demonstrate progress and impact in their areas. Also included in the review were a number of longer standing centres, enabling a broader overview of the portfolio. In total 59 centres were reviewed and all the centres reviewed received feedback on their progress.

The external panel was chaired by Dr Michael Duncan, (P&G). Other members were Professor Hagan Bayley (University of Oxford), James Smith (Independent), Dr Martin Sadler (Hewlett-Packard), Professor Tony Roskilly (Newcastle University) and Professor Ian Henning (University of Essex).

Outcomes of the review - Panel observations:

  • Even at this early stage the majority of centres had made good progress or better.
  • The panel recognised that the Centres for Doctoral Training (CDT) approach was an effective way of training a cohort of students and allowed students more time to gain some specific skills. There was a continuing need to share best practice and monitor centres. EPSRC will continue to share best practise with the existing centres and attend management meetings.
  • Centres often act as a catalyst for bringing people together. They can also act as a nucleation site to focus a range of research and training activities. The panel observed that many of the centres seemed to have maximum value when aligned with other funding.
  • It was noted that many universities and other funders were adopting a cohort or centre-based approach to supporting PhD students. EPSRC will engage more widely with universities on the training landscape;
  • It was noted that many of the centres had succeeded in leveraging substantial industrial funding using a variety of approaches. It was also noted that the challenges of maintaining the cohort ethos were greater in IDCs when the student could be spending up to 75% of their time in industry. IDCs do deliver a unique student experience and effective, high-quality collaborative research;
  • Successful centres appeared to have strong involvement from a team of academics and staff who are committed to the successful operation of the centre.
  • It was important to have a clear and robust management and governance structure. This was often exemplified by a strong management committee that met regularly and a strong advisory panel. For many industrially focussed centres it was important to have independent and high level industrial and other stakeholder input which makes a real contribution to the strategic direction of the centres.
  • The best centres had a mechanism for taking account of student views and acting on them. Students should be empowered to make their own decisions on appropriate training.

Following on from the review, planning has begun for a further CDTs exercise in 2013. More information on the call will be made available in autumn 2012. A list of EPSRC's 80 Centres for Doctoral Training is available.

EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training - some success stories:

Queen's Diamond Anniversary Prize awarded to University of Manchester

The University of Manchester received a Queen's Diamond Jubliee Anniversary Prize for its work in Nuclear Research and Education. Much of this work was EPSRC-funded, particularly the Nuclear IDC, the Fission FiRST CDTs and the Nuclear Technology Education Consortium MSc in Nuclear Science & Technology which was successfully launched with initial funding from EPSRC and is now running successfully without any support.

Cambridge Nano Doctoral Training Centre

Funded by EPSRC, the Cambridge Nano Doctoral Training Centre is training young scientists and engineers in interdisciplinary NanoScience and NanoTechnology. The programme provides an extremely broad training across many disciplines in Physical Sciences and Engineering, and develops key understanding of innovation, commercialisation and technology cycles in partnership with the University of Cambridge Judge School of Management.

The CDT has lead to a successful spin-out company, Cambridge Innovation Consulting (CamIn) employs six PhD students and has already won a number of contracts. They are supported by the University of Cambridge Enterprise arm.

CamIn is also linked with the University-wide Cambridge NanoForum which bridges disciplines between BioMedical, Physical sciences, and Engineering to build broad research teams developing grand challenge solutions.

University of Bristol and University of Bath Industrial Doctoral Centre in Systems

Major industry players such as Rolls-Royce and Halcrow have recognised the clear need to develop integrated thinking to help investment in and development of UK infrastructure, including transport, water and communications.

Visiting Fellow. Richard Beasley, BSc MSc FRAcS CEng, Rolls Royce’s Global Chief of Systems Engineering says “We are impressed with the work of the Research Engineers which has provided a tangible benefit to our Company in some challenging and high profile projects; we continue to benefit from the many thought-provoking research conferences, seminars and workshops run by the Centre, and I personally am happy to supply the support as a Visiting Fellow to the Systems Centre.”

Imperial College London - Student success

Jassel Majevadia, a first-year CDT PhD student at Imperial College studying delayed hydride cracking in nuclear fuels, supervised by Dr Mark Wenman, Daniel Balint (Mechanical  Engineer) and Adrian Sutton Physics), won the Best Postgraduate Presentation at the Universities Nuclear Technology Forum conference in April 2011. Jassel was invited to write an article for Nuclear Futures, the Nuclear Institutes journal.

Queen's Anniversary Prize awarded to Formulation Engineering at Birmingham

Birmingham was awarded the Queen’s prize for new technologies and leadership in formulation engineering in support of UK manufacturing

The submission for the prize specifically cites the CDT and the four supporting partners (P&G, Imerys, Kraft and Johnson Matthey) - all note that EPSRC support for the CDT has been critical in developing the impact of what they do.

The prize was presented by the Queen and the Duke in February 2012.