(Headshot photo: Fumi Kitagawa, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship & Innovation, UEBS, and University of Edinburgh PhD Enterprise Study Team)
This blog post forms part of our PhD Horizons series, throughout June, to highlight varied career paths following PhD study. This post, by Fumi Kitagawa, University of Edinburgh Business School (UEBS), on behalf of The University of Edinburgh PhD Enterprise Study Team, shares information from a recent project examining entrepreneurial training and opportunities for PhD students at The University of Edinburgh.
“Mapping Curricular and Extra-Curricular Doctoral Enterprise Education” is an ongoing project in collaboration between the UEBS and Edinburgh Innovations (EI), supported by the Enterprise Educators UK (EEUK). The project aims to map out and align curricular and extra-curricular enterprise/entrepreneurship education and training opportunities for PhD students in a multi-disciplinary and inter-faculty context at the University of Edinburgh.
PhD students can benefit not only from the university courses and research activities, but also from a number of interpersonal relationships with their supervisors, other students and researchers, as well as research and office spaces, facilities, extra-curricular activities and other university networks. Enterprise education and training are part of the growing university entrepreneurial ecosystem, which the students can benefit from for their long-term career development.
For PhD students, understanding different research commercialisation avenues and entrepreneurial pathways would be essential for your career choice. You have access to university research resources, channels of research commercialisation, and enterprise education, training and support, through which you can develop business competencies and enterprise networks. You may be aware that while the number of PhD students has been increasing, the number of academic jobs and public research expenditures has not grown at the same rate. Many universities are trying to adopt doctoral education to meet shifting societal expectations, for example, by emphasising transferable skills and employability. Under such conditions, entrepreneurial skills and knowledge can give a doctorate student a multitude of career options, including an opportunity to form a venture to exploit advanced knowledge in your research field; pursue intrapreneurship in corporate settings; and create a social enterprise to tackle societal challenges.
First, this study aimed to understand the enterprise training experiences and aspirations of PhD students at the University of Edinburgh. We ran an online survey between April and May, capturing 82 responses from doctoral students across the whole university. The key findings are:
- PhD students encounter various barriers to starting a business.
- Two-thirds of the PhD respondents have never considered launching a start-up.
- Main barriers include – time constraints, financial uncertainty, lack of business experiences/ideas, and the attitude of their PhD supervisors.
- Enterprise education is not widely available but it has had some impact.
- Majority of the PhD students (nine out of 10) have not taken any entrepreneurship course during their study, but those who did found it helpful and made them consider the possibility of launching their own venture.
- PhD students are interested in enterprise training, extra-curricular preferred to curricular.
- 59% of respondents are interested in enterprise training during their PhD study, in particular, in terms of enhancing opportunities for networking and funding.
- PhD students prefer short extra-curricular workshops rather than a credit-bearing weekly run course spread over the semester.
The survey findings are supplemented by individual interviews with PhD students, including those who have entrepreneurial venture creation experiences, those who have participated in extra-curricular university enterprise services (e.g. EI Student Enterprise Hub), and those who have taken credit bearing enterprise courses during their PhD study (e.g. courses provided by the Business School). The interviews provided diverse experiences and views from the PhD students across multiple disciplinary backgrounds with different natures and extent of enterprise experiences and enterprise education. We should also emphasise the obvious reality: PhD students are under pressure to deliver PhD research, complete taught courses and they have so many other commitments.
Based on the survey and a series of interviews, our interim recommendations are:
- A clear roadmap of the university entrepreneurial ecosystem, especially support and training opportunities available for PhD students is needed.
- PhD students from different disciplinary backgrounds can learn enterprise skills together – the university can help build inclusive and diverse PhD enterprise learning communities, across curricular and extra-curricular spaces.
- One size does not fit all! Enterprise training has to be flexible, diverse and inclusive. Also, specialist advice, mentoring and guidance is essential.
- Diverse needs of PhD students have to be taken into consideration e.g. those with families, and caring responsibilities.
- Enterprise support can be better linked to career development and support. The entrepreneurial journey would encompass after graduation, also. Networks with alumni will be helpful.
Building on these findings and recommendations, we will map out and identify different models of enterprise education and training across curricular and extra-curricular spaces, which would help inform and guide PhD students.
We will disseminate the outcomes through the summer. To receive more information about the study findings, please use the link: https://w2.irm.ed.ac.uk/DoctoralEnterpriseEducation
Thanks to The University of Edinburgh PhD Enterprise Study team:
EI – Max Chan, Dora Handrea, Christina Startko
UEBS – Fumi Kitagawa
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