PhD studentships

PhD studentships: enhancing healthcare research by developing talent

Doctoral training is at the core of research and innovation in the UK, providing thousands of people with the skills they need to succeed and deliver healthcare benefits. PhD studentships are partnerships between academia and industry in the context of conducting high-quality research. Better research sets the basis for better healthcare.

Such PhDs are often challenging but realistically achievable projects which encourage productive engagement between academia and the pharmaceutical industry. PhD students benefit from the resources and joint supervision from both sides, allowing a broad understanding of the impact and translation of their research.

>500 PhDs
The UK pharmaceutical industry supports more than 500 PhDs every year

4-year project
Since 2007, industry-associated PhDs have shifted from 3 to 4 years in duration

From the industry…

Supervising postgraduates whilst working in Industry is a great privilege and pleasure. To have a small share in the future success of a developing scientist is a joy, whether they are with your company or elsewhere in Industry or Academia. I am truly grateful for the studentships provided in partnership with the UK funding bodies. Postgraduate supervisor from Bristol Myers Squibb

The pharmaceutical industry works together with research councils and universities to improve future healthcare

The pharmaceutical industry has a well-established partnership with research councils and academic institutions in the UK to make PhD research possible. Often, collaborative PhD studentships with research councils are offered in terms of Industrial Cooperative Awards in Science & Technology (CASE).

In the 2019 survey, 82% of industry-associated PhD students were identified as being funded or co-funded by research councils, academic institutions, or private grants.  

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) remain the largest funding partners for PhDs across the pharmaceutical industry. The Medical Research Council (MRC) also funded  a portion of the PhD studentships.

75% are jointly funded
EPSRC and BBSRC remain the largest funding partners of collaborative PhDs

Academic partners for PhD studentships across the UK

Three clusters of academic partners were identified in the 2019 survey:

  • South East England - benefits from high quality resources densely populated around London and the South East, including Cambridge and Oxford
  • Scotland - (such as Strathclyde, Glasgow and Edinburgh) marked by close collaboration with industry
  • North West England - (such as Manchester and Nottingham), centred at Manchester and Nottingham

>47 Universities
Industry collaborates with universities across UK with three notable clusters: South East England, North West England, and Scotland


PhD studentships with integrated industrial placements

Industrial-associated PhDs often involve supervision from industrial leaders, and spending time in an industrial setting. By giving students the opportunity to spend time in industry, it is hoped that PhD students become more informed about real-world healthcare needs, and thereby guided to steer their research towards health benefits.

Usually, ‘time in industry’ involves engaging with the industrial research environment, investigating discovery routes or finalising research. Additionally, ‘time in industry’ may also equip students with business related skills, such as project-management, business strategy, and finance.

The majority of PhD students (>70%) spend time in industry. Some students spend a few months in industry to elevate their research whereas others are there for a substantial period of their PhD. Part-time PhD students also carry out training in industry.

>80% spend time in industry
Time in industry can involve engaging with the industrial research environment, or conducting business relating training.

From academia…

Catalysed by a distinct institutional ethos and strategy that drives and promotes external research engagements and partnerships, we are delighted to note the significant number of Strathclyde PhD studentships with pharmaceutical collaborators. The establishment of this rich array of pharma-aligned postgraduate students has resulted from a series of sustained and reciprocally beneficial relationships over a large number of years, where deep mutual trust has been established, alongside clear appreciation of the respective demands, drivers, and requirements of each partner. Partnership approaches are also critical in relation to student recruitment, where academic and industrial colleagues have combined resources and skills to attract postgraduate researchers of the highest quality both nationally and internationally. In turn, by engaging in internationally-leading, industry-relevant research and training, directed by both Strathclyde academics and industrial advisors, this approach delivers a pipeline of academia- and industry-ready scientific talent for engagement in the global pharmaceutically-aligned scientific sectors. Billy Kerr, 1919 Professor of Organic Chemistry, and Associate Deputy Principal (Research & Knowledge Exchange), University of Strathclyde

Finding a PhD?

Find pharmaceutical companies offering PhD programmes in our careers section.

Last modified: 20 September 2023

Last reviewed: 20 September 2023