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East Midlands Chamber News

Developing Future Leaders in Environmental Science

A new generation of environmental scientists, equipped to take on the challenges of a rapidly changing world, are to be trained under a £4.9m initiative involving The University of Nottingham.

Envision, which is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, is a new Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) offering PhD students the opportunity to develop their skills, knowledge and experience under the guidance of some of the UK’s leading environmental experts.

The initiative will forge closer collaboration between Nottingham and other research institutions that will include consortium leader Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University, Bangor University, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology the British Geological Survey and Rothamsted Research.

Professor Sarah Metcalfe, in The University of Nottingham’s School of Geography, is leading Nottingham’s role in the Envision DTP. She said: “This is very much about a multi-disciplinary approach to managing some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues.

"Through this initiative we will be able to attract the highest calibre students to access training addressing a range of themes including flood forecasting, environmental radioactivity, climate change and its impacts, sustainable energy and the management of the world’s water resources.

“This represents a huge transformation for us both in terms of our enhancing our PhD training in the environmental sciences and developing our relationship with British Geological Survey and other prestigious NERC-funded institutions.”

Professor Saul Tendler, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at The University of Nottingham, added: “I am delighted that our consortium bid has been successful as a result of all of our hard work. This NERC DTP confirms our excellence in the natural and environmental sciences and will act as a platform for us to further increase our presence in these important areas of research.”

The Envision DTP will see fully-funded studentship opportunities being offered across Nottingham’s Schools of Geography, Biosciences, Engineering and Life Sciences over the next five years.

The funding from the NERC will cover the cost of successful candidates’ PhD fees and living expenses over a three-and-a-half year period — a benefit worth upwards of £60,000. They will also receive a further research training support grant which can be used to cover associated costs, such as fieldwork, travel to overseas conferences or expenses for experiments.

The Envision initiative will also place emphasis on developing closer ties with business — both in terms of involving industry with the research which is being undertaken and by offering PhD students valuable work placement with leading companies and organisations, including the Environment Agency, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and environmental consultancies.

Project leader Professor John Quinton of the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University said: “The challenges of environmental science are changing and in-depth subject knowledge alone is not enough.

"We need to train a new breed of environmental scientist who, in addition to being an excellent scientist, has leadership skills, is able to work across disciplines and can work with business. Our doctoral graduates will think in novel ways: they will embrace the culture and challenges of working across different disciplines; understand the importance of their science in advancing knowledge of how the earth system functions; and they will take account of the impact of their research on the economy, on policy and on innovation.”

The funding for the Envision consortium comes as part of £100m of NERC investment in 15 DTPs nationally to specialise in the training of environmental science PhD students, as announced by the Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts.

The strong focus on collaboration within and between the 38 UK higher education institutions and 280 partner organisations nationally allows partners to pool their experience to create rich training environments for students and encourage knowledge-sharing and interconnectivity, which benefits science researchers.

The DTPs will offer postgraduate studentships and training across the full range of NERC’s disciplines, and in multidisciplinary environments, helping to enrich the student experience. Each DTP will create a strong and active community of students that are able — and encouraged — to integrate, work, and learn together. These students will receive in-depth, advanced research training, as well as training in the professional and transferable skills essential in today’s economy.

Science and Universities minister David Willetts said: “This significant investment highlights the Government’s commitment to supporting postgraduate training and research in the environmental sciences. We're dedicated to providing the next generation of environmental researchers with the necessary skills and training to succeed in academia and industry.

“The strong support for this programme from a number of international partners such as BP, Microsoft and Arup is enormously encouraging. Not only will this initiative benefit students, UK research organisations, business, industry and the economy, it will keep us at the forefront of the global science race.”

An integral element of the NERC DTP programme is that a minimum of 30 per cent of the students will work with and undertake research projects that are directly relevant to non-academic partners. This will help keep the UK at the forefront of research training, and provide students with the training experience they need to enter a wide range of careers.