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Culmination of a successful industrial studentship

A key knowledge exchange output of SUPA comes from its six hundred graduate students. Many of these students have industrial sponsors, either through one of the four Centres for Doctoral Training, or via another arrangement between their host university and industry. An excellent illustration of the benefits that can accrue from industrial involvement in a PhD is provided by a recently completed studentship from SUPA’s INSPIRE programme.

The studentship was a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and Toshiba Medical Visualisation Systems Europe and concerned the development of acquisition and analysis methods to image coronary arteries and cardiac function. The student, Chengjia Wang, supervised by Keith Goatman (Toshiba Medical) and Scott Semple (University of Edinburgh), successfully defended his thesis at the end of June. This topped off an extremely successful collaboration with two manuscripts in preparation with Chengjia as lead author to add to the multiple conference presentations, co-authored papers, and a patent on the registration of medical images.

Reflecting on his PhD, Chengjia said; “My PhD has been both challenging and rewarding. I've been switching myself between the academic and industrial 'modes' while based at my university and Toshiba Medical. Sometimes I even provided a support role collaborating with the clinical researchers who directly applied my research output to their projects and provided me with valuable experiment data. My major benefits from this collaborative project are a deeper insight and broader vision of this booming inter-disciplinary field, unique and priceless working experiences, accessibility to first-hand clinical and commercial materials, and of course the most exciting part: working with my clever colleagues who have totally different backgrounds. I'm looking forward to the next step in my career as a multi-disciplinary researcher connecting the academic and industrial worlds, and transmitting the power of machine intelligence to the land of clinical medical science.”

Chengia’s industrial studentship was part of the SUPA INSPIRE programme, aimed at building links between physics and life science/medical devices. A number of networking events were held under INSPIRE which created many new relationships. There were also seven industrial secondments, and fifteen industrial studentships with a variety of companies including SMEs and large organisations. Company supervisor Keith Goatman said; “Having previously only supervised students in an academic setting, this was my first experience of a CASE studentship, and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I definitely recommend them to others now, as they bring real benefits to all the parties involved.

“To work to its best, I believe the student should spend a substantial portion of their time working with both the academic and industrial supervisors. In this case, we split the time about 50:50, which I think worked well. It allowed the student access to the full picture of academic, clinical and industrial know-how – a great opportunity to experience working in a multidisciplinary environment. The broader experience also gives the student a clearer idea what sort of career they would like post PhD.

“As the industrial partner, we benefited by having someone who can work on a more ambitious and speculative longer-term research project. It also gave us a great collaboration with Scott Semple, David Newby and the clinical imaging group at the University of Edinburgh. Their knowledge and enthusiasm underpinned the entire project, and ensured we were solving a real clinical problem that will ultimately benefit patients. Last, but definitely not least, we must thank SUPA, not only for the essential funding but their support throughout the studentship.”

Although the INSPIRE programme has now finished, industrial studentships within SUPA are still available through the Centres for Doctoral Training, Industrial CASE awards and other routes. An industrial PhD can be a very good way to form new partnerships with companies. Scott Semple commented; “This was my first SUPA CASE studentship, and it has been a completely positive experience. SUPA provided a robust framework to establish a collaborative and supportive environment for our student to combine the best aspects of academia and industry. By ensuring a 50/50 split between academia and industry, I feel this project allowed our student to experience the full breadth of development of a genuinely novel research tool and to follow the process through to eventual clinical and industrial application.

“I feel our student has gained a unique insight as to what drives all aspects of clinical technology development, from an un-met clinical need being highlighted by our clinical collaborators, through to a novel solution being presented that is academically of interest and publishable, patenting of novel technologies developed by that process, and the manner in which industry will then have an interest in further development of these new tools as a commercially viable product. The partnership with industry specifically led us to selection of an outstanding student in the case of this studentship, and SUPA then continued to provide an environment for our student to flourish. I would wholly recommend these studentships to my colleagues in industry and academia.”