The other Friday (July 8th) a group of academics and PhD students from our College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences came together with similar groups from the universities of Bath and Bristol, along with industry representatives, to discuss a new partnership and idea that we’ve been considering: a graduate training alliance.
This mixed group of physicists and engineers had two things in common; firstly, a shared interest in physics-based ‘-onics’ – photonics, plasmonics, magnonics, spintronics, electronics, etc (hence the name Onyx), and secondly, a desire to engage more effectively with, and prepare our PhD students more effectively for, business and industry.
We have three aims for our nascent alliance: to bridge the innovation gap between universities and business more effectively in order to benefit the economy, to offer students a richer PhD experience and better preparation for entering the workplace after graduating, and to provide a forum for developing regional research collaborations.
The day was effectively a brainstorming session; after a presentation from Myrddin Jones of the Technology Strategy Board (“Funding for innovation is complex. We need to build a more effective environment for innovation & reduce risk for business in research”) we split into four action groups and discussed the issues and how the Onyx alliance might address them.
Discussion was lively and several important topics were brought up. These ranged from timing issues for PhD students, to confidentiality needs of the industry partners, and the inherently different needs and ideas of universities and industry – for example, PhD students like the idea of two month internships, while business would prefer them to last closer to two years. Likewise industry also wants to recruit students who are broad, flexible, with transferable skills, and who can apply themselves to a range of tasks and areas; PhD-level research necessarily focuses people very tightly – are these incompatible?
Over lunch we had an extended poster session from the PhD students, which enabled a more detailed discussion of the findings presented than is normally the case at workshops. The afternoon saw us delve more deeply into the idea of stakeholder engagement and industry relations, before summing up and deciding what the best way to move forward might be.
With the aim of getting things going as quickly as possible we’re already talking about running a conference event in the Autumn term so we can start to develop just what the Onyx graduate teaching alliance can and should offer.
Most of all we want to see how we can develop added value by bringing the Universities closer, in conjunction with forging stronger, relevant relations with business.
Posted by Professor Bill Barnes (Professor of Photonics, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences)