By Claire Asher
Collaborative awards in science and engineering, also known as CASE studentships, allow non-academic organisations to partner with PhD research. The scheme aims to provide PhD students with equipment and expertise from outside the University environment, and to allow stakeholders to influence research at the earliest stages, to ensure that studies provide relevant data and answer meaningful questions. Implemented well, CASE partnerships can improve job prospects for students, and maximise the impact of research beyond academia.
Universities, academics and students have been working together with industry for a long time, but CASE and similar schemes have offered a way to formalise this relationship. CASE partners contribute financially as well a providing support, expertise and equipment to the student, making industrial collaborations more widely available to PhD students.
CASE partnerships can offer PhD students equipment and facilities, real-world expertise, support, networking opportunities, and much more. My own PhD was a CASE studentship, and this allowed me access to equipment and new techniques, as well as the knowledge and support to interpret the results.
Is a CASE Partnership for me?
Whether you study volcanoes or viruses, a CASE partner could benefit your PhD and your future career.
CASE studentships aren’t for everyone, but the framework is also extremely flexible, making it relevant to a wide variety of projects. Not only are commercial and industrial organisations eligible, NGOs and charities are also suitable CASE partners. In fact, any non-academic organisation based in the UK can become a CASE partner.
Thus, a CASE partnership can benefit any PhD project that aims to produce a marketable product, provide results relevant to industrial processes, or produce data that is important to science policy, planning or conservation. If your project deals with measuring and assessing environmental risk, reducing ecological impact, monitoring endangered or vulnerable species, tracking disease spread, or collecting data relevant to national or international policy, to name a few, then a CASE partner could be for you.
What are the benefits of a CASE Partnership?
Partnering with a non-academic organisation can bring a host of benefits for the student. Aside from the relatively modest financial contribution, a CASE partner can offer access to specialist facilities and equipment, expertise and guidance and a real-world perspective on academic research. A CASE partner should influence the direction of the research, to make sure the project is answering questions that actually matter. Partnering with a non-academic organisation also offers the opportunity to make contacts and network with potential future employers, and to sow the seeds of long-term collaboration. These contacts will be invaluable to a PhD graduate, whether they are looking to continue a career in academia or move into industry.
Although quite flexible, the CASE scheme does have a couple of requirements that must be met:
- The partner must contribute £4000 towards the student’s stipend or research costs during the 4-year CASE partnership.
- The student must spend a total of 3 – 18 months on placement, working at their CASE partner organisation
The placement is extremely adaptable (you can use it for multiple short visits or one long placement), and is a great opportunity for students to make use of the knowledge, experience and facilities of the CASE partner.
How do I start a CASE Partnership?
For most PhD students, CASE studentships are allocated at the grant-application stage. However, as part of a doctoral training partnership, London NERC DTP students can arrange their CASE partner when they are planning their project.
The first step is to identify and contact a suitable CASE partner, and begin discussing potential collaborations. The DTP has many Associate Partners – these are organisations that have partnered with the DTP and are interested in forming CASE collaborations with our PhD students. This is the first port-of-call for students interested in a CASE partnership – these organisations have already expressed a keen interest in CASE collaborations – but it is also important to consider other organisations that may be relevant.
If you’re interested in a CASE partnership, you can contact me to discuss ideas any time.