SEPnet wins £370k to fund collaborative PhDs with SMEs

22 July 2020

The University of Hertfordshire has joined a SEPnet (South East Physics Network) project to launch collaborative PhD opportunities with Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) over the next three years, having won £370k funding from the Research England Development fund.

The funding will enable a total of 12 PhD studentships to be recruited by SEPnet partner universities over the next three and a half years. Leading the project, the University of Surrey is one of nine universities within SEPnet, a consortium which promotes training and employment opportunities in physics across the South East.

Funding a PhD to work collaboratively with a university can be a highly effective way for companies to conduct research, but the cost of this can be prohibitive for small knowledge-based companies (SMEs). By building collaborative networks with SMEs, SEPnet aims to create a critical mass of research to support both regional activity and national science priorities.

The studentships follow the success of SEPnet’s existing PhD SME Consortium in Radiation Detectors, RADnet. The newly funded studentships will build on the RADnet model to explore projects across physics and engineering, including condensed matter, numerical modelling, simulation and gaming, data science, quantum technologies, medical imagine, photonic materials and sensors.

Under the scheme, SMEs will be able to share the cost of PhD studentships with university partners and benefit from the government funding. They will work with academics to shape projects and have regular contact with academics and the PhD student throughout the programme to ensure the research remains relevant to their business needs.

Professor Paul Smith, Executive Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Surrey said: ‘It is great to see that SEPnet has attracted support from industry partners, government and the participating universities for this scheme. Past experience has shown us that when research teams work closely with partners in this way, there are real benefits in terms of generating the high quality research that you would expect from doctoral study, but with a much-reduced timeline for impact.'

Professor Sean Ryan, Executive Director of SEPnet and Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Hertfordshire, welcomed the announcement from Research England: ‘Research at early technology readiness levels is essential to the development of in-house know-how and expertise in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), but can present a formidable hurdle in terms of financial and technical risk for SMEs with limited resources. The SME Doctoral Training Network (DTN), co-funded by Research England, SMEs and the SEPnet universities, provides participating SMEs with access to scientific expertise and facilities which can be applied to industry-led problems, as well as developing PhD graduates who will possess a wider range of industry-relevant skills.’

The project is scheduled to start during summer 2020, with the first PhD students due to be recruited in 2021.

SEPnet is a consortium of university physics departments at the Universities of Hertfordshire, Kent, Open University, Portsmouth, Queen Mary, Royal Holloway, Southampton, Surrey and Sussex.

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