Major funding award to train next generation of research leaders

Dr Anna-Lena Sachs, Professor Rachel McCrea and Professor Idris Eckley
Dr Anna-Lena Sachs, Professor Rachel McCrea and Professor Idris Eckley

Lancaster University will help develop a new generation of highly skilled research leaders in areas vital to support the UK’s future economy through the delivery of nearly 90 PhDs as part of the UK’s biggest-ever investment in engineering and physical sciences doctoral training.

Announced today by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, the Centres for Doctoral Training in Statistics and Operational Research in partnership with industry (STOR-i), and SATURN (Skills And Training Underpinning a Renaissance in Nuclear) are two of 65 Centres across the UK to receive funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The pioneering Lancaster-based STOR-i has secured investment of more than £17m from EPSRC, project partners and Lancaster University. The Centre will train 70 PhD students in statistics and operational research over five cohorts, with students benefitting from embedded engagement with industrial, charitable and international academic partners.

The Centre has a substantial network of leading industrial partners including BT, Roche, Tesco and Datasparq. These partnerships will provide inspiring opportunities for STOR-i PhD students to tackle real-world problems and challenges that influence major industrial and scientific applications and decisions.

The next generation of STOR-i also includes partnerships with organisations in the charitable sector, such as the British Red Cross and Fareshare. This broadened collaboration will give students new opportunities to apply their skills and training to tackle problems and deliver solutions bringing significant societal benefit.

The STOR-i Centre is a joint interdisciplinary initiative that brings together academic expertise from Lancaster University’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics and Department of Management Science. It is led by Professor Idris Eckley, Professor Rachel McCrea and Dr Anna-Lena Sachs, and builds on the highly successful track-record of the Centre which was established in 2010.

Professor McCrea said: “This funding will enable us to deliver fantastic opportunities for 70 PhD students, the UK’s next generation of research leaders. Lancaster’s world-leading research communities in statistics and Operational Research provide the ideal platform to host this Centre. Combining this academic strength with the invaluable real-world experiences working with our partners, will provide them with an amazing foundation for their future careers.

“In this new generation of the Centre, we are particularly excited by the launch of new partnerships with forward-thinking organisations from the third sector. These will enable our students to also apply their cutting-edge knowledge to deliver benefits to charities and the causes they support.”

Lancaster University is also a partner in the SATURN Doctoral Training Centre. Led by the University of Manchester, SATURN, which involves six leading universities with nuclear research expertise, as well as industry, government, regulatory and national laboratory partners, will create a step-change in PhD training to meet the needs of the nuclear industry.

Lancaster University will receive more than £920k from the EPSRC through SATURN to fund at least 18 PhDs in nuclear science and engineering over the next five years.

The award builds on Lancaster University’s internationally-leading position in nuclear science and engineering with research and expertise which cuts across in nuclear instrumentation, nuclear decommissioning, and chemical processes.

Professor Colin Boxall, the Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust Chair in Nuclear Engineering and Decommissioning, said: “Nuclear energy is a vital low-carbon part of the UK’s energy mix, however the UK’s nuclear sector has an aging workforce. SATURN will deliver a steady supply of highly trained and experienced experts to drive the nuclear renaissance forward as we further transition to a low carbon economy.”

Professor Louise Heathwaite, outgoing Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at Lancaster University, said: “This investment in EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training will help propel the careers of highly talented people, equipping them with cutting-edge skills delivered by Lancaster University’s highly regarded research communities in statistics, Operational Research and the nuclear energy sector.

“The internationally-recognised STOR-i CDT is a great example of how Lancaster University has developed an innovative model of working with major industrial players across a wide range of sectors, and now including the charitable sector, to provide the very best learning opportunities to highly talented PhD students.

“And as one of the leading nuclear engineering and research universities in the UK, PhD students on the SATURN programme at Lancaster University will be equipped with skills in high demand from the nuclear energy industry.”

Professor Charlotte Deane, Executive Chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, said: “The Centres for Doctoral Training announced today will help to prepare the next generation of researchers, specialists and industry experts across a wide range of sectors and industries.

“Spanning locations across the UK and a wide range of disciplines, the new centres are a vivid illustration of the UK’s depth of expertise and potential, which will help us to tackle large-scale, complex challenges and benefit society and the economy.

"The high calibre of both the new centres and applicants is a testament to the abundance of research excellence across the UK, and EPSRC’s role as part of UKRI is to invest in this excellence to advance knowledge and deliver a sustainable, resilient and prosperous nation.”

Science and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, said: “As innovators across the world break new ground faster than ever, it is vital that government, business and academia invests in ambitious UK talent, giving them the tools to pioneer new discoveries that benefit all our lives while creating new jobs and growing the economy.

“By targeting critical technologies including artificial intelligence and future telecoms, we are supporting world class universities across the UK to build the skills base we need to unleash the potential of future tech and maintain our country’s reputation as a hub of cutting-edge research and development.”

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