Industrial doctorate: Synergy of science and business | In Principle

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Industrial doctorate: Synergy of science and business

In 2017, the possibility of obtaining a doctoral degree under an industrial doctoral programme was introduced in Poland. This is designed to support innovation by facilitating cooperation between business and universities and scientific research institutes. The doctoral dissertation prepared under the programme is intended to improve the operations of a specific company or solve a technological problem faced by the company employing the doctoral student.

The concept of an industrial or work-based doctorate is not new and has been around abroad for some time. Analogous programmes are available for example in Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden. At the moment, however, the rules for awarding an industrial doctorate have not been harmonised at the EU level.

In Poland, in the first year of programme implementation (2017), PLN 5.17 million was allocated to support industrial doctoral students and universities, while the budget for 2021 calls for spending as much as PLN 84.75 million.

The available data show that industrial doctorates most often meet the needs of businesses in the fields of engineering, chemicals, machines, materials, automation, electronics, IT, telecommunications, medicine, environmental engineering, or quality management.

The fifth edition of the industrial doctoral programme in Poland is currently underway. There are some 1,500 doctoral students participating in the programme. To date, 10 doctoral dissertations resulting from implementation of the programme have been completed.

There is no doubt that pursuing an industrial doctorate can be of obvious benefit to doctoral students themselves. Above all, they can earn a degree without giving up their professional career outside of academia. Companies and universities can also benefit from participation in the programme.

Implementation of an industrial doctorate

The recent reform of the science and higher education system in Poland introduced the principle of pursing doctorates at “doctoral schools,” completely replacing the previously functioning institution of “doctoral studies.” At the same time, apart from the standard path of preparing a doctoral dissertation under the supervision of a dissertation adviser, the possibility of preparing a doctorate in cooperation with businesses or other entities employing doctoral students has appeared. The Ministry of Education and Science has allocated special funds for this purpose. As a result, an applicant for a doctoral degree is given the opportunity to prepare a doctoral dissertation that can help solve a practical problem existing at the company employing the candidate, helping improve the work and functioning of the company.

To qualify for the industrial doctoral programme, a doctoral student must:

  • Propose a research topic and obtain approval for it from a potential adviser, who will submit the topic to the industrial doctoral programme on behalf of the university or institute
  • Obtain confirmation that the research topic proposed by the university has been accepted for the ministerial programme
  • Be admitted to a doctoral school
  • Undertake cooperation with a business interested in implementation of the results of the scientific activity to be carried out within the project and become a full-time employee of that unit
  • Agree with the university and the company on an auxiliary adviser (from the company) to support the candidate in the process of preparing the doctoral dissertation.

Here are some examples of topics submitted to the industrial doctoral programme:

  • “Development of a platform for deriving tumour lines from solid tumours”
  • “Optimisation of manufacturing and packaging of an innovative product with enhanced functionality and intended for the elderly”
  • “Development of a method to account for propagation of cracks in support structures of offshore wind turbines.”

Research topics submitted to the programme which are also likely to be implemented in business are of considerable practical value and may be of interest to businesses from various industries. It is advisable for businesses to track the announcements from universities or ask them directly about doctorates being pursued there. Industrial doctorates are now being pursued at most universities in Poland. It can be an opportunity to acquire talent, and with it, an effective innovative solution.

What are the benefits of participating in the project?

  • Benefits for the doctoral student

Apart from the obvious benefit of enhancing professional competence and earning a doctoral degree, the programme provides tangible financial benefits for the doctoral student. Apart from the salary for work received from the employer for the duration of the programme, which as a rule lasts four years, the doctoral student receives an additional stipend from the Ministry of Education and Science, which in the current year is PLN 3,450 per month. After a positive interim evaluation of the research plan, the stipend increases to PLN 4,450.

The doctoral student receives double support in preparing the doctoral dissertation, from the adviser at the university and the auxiliary adviser at the company, who knows the problem and the industry from the practical side.

  • Benefits for the company

Above all, the company gains the opportunity to hire an industry specialist from a given branch with extensive knowledge of the scientific issue that is the subject of the industrial doctoral project. Therefore, it has a chance to solve a problem relevant to its activity which it has been facing in practice, or to implement innovative solutions. Thanks to the programme, the company can acquire talented specialists and benefit from their knowledge and skills. In principle, the company will be entitled to copyright, patents, utility models, industrial designs, topographies of integrated circuits or plant varieties produced by the doctoral student. Moreover, thanks to implementation of the doctorate in cooperation with a university, the company can test its research hypotheses posed during the preparation of the dissertation or conduct necessary research with the use of often highly specialised and expensive infrastructure belonging to the university.

Finally, by participating in the industrial doctorate, the company gains the opportunity to develop cooperation with the research institution in other projects, and after completion of the doctoral programme, the company will be able to use the knowledge and skills of the new PhD to solve other problems.

  • Benefits for the university

The university or research institute running the doctoral school will receive a lump-sum subsidy for the costs of use of its research infrastructure, as well as funds that can be earmarked for doctoral stipends and social insurance costs.

What is worth double-checking?

The primary problem that can arise with implementing an industrial doctoral project is the potential conflict of interest. This is because the company would usually prefer not to disclose to the public the essence of the improvements it is implementing in pursuit of the doctorate, while the doctoral student and the university rather expect this knowledge to be made public in order to further development and progress. But this problem can be solved. To balance their interests, the university, the doctoral student and the company can conclude a trilateral agreement setting forth the rules for handling knowledge and products created in the course of project implementation, as well as information about the company’s activity obtained by the doctoral student and the academic adviser.

A template for such an agreement has been developed by the National Centre for Research and Development. Like any contract, this one can also be revised or adjusted to best protect the interests of the parties. It is worth a thorough review, especially in terms of securing intellectual property, primarily from the perspective of companies involved in the programme.

Ewa Nagy, attorney-at-law, Lena Marcinoska-Boulangé, adwokat, Intellectual Property practice, Wardyński & Partners