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Could social science researchers help boost region’s economy?

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Published on 24 June 2020

Bringing together the skills of doctoral social science students and the North East business community
Bringing together the skills of doctoral social science students and the North East business community

This is the first time a programme has been introduced at our University, through the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Accelerating Business Collaboration Fund to offer doctoral students an opportunity to develop their employability skills through 10-week virtual placements in the private sector.

 The primary aim of the scheme is to build the capacity and capability of doctoral students, and early career researchers in social science, to engage and create opportunities and to collaborate with industry and business, helping to contribute to economic and societal development in this region and beyond.

The Sunderland programmes begins with a series of online workshops, running throughout June to September, created through the university’s network of experts from academia and business, open to cohorts of doctoral students within the region and beyond.

Once complete, the knowledge and skills acquired from the various courses can be used to secure placements for doctoral students within the private sector.

The first session - ‘You are not Prepared’, was hosted by visiting lecturer Dr Maurice Duffy, one of the world’s leading coaches on mind-set and change, and broadcast during his regular slot on BBC Radio Newcastle.

Dr Derek Watson, Associate Professor in Cultural Management at the University of Sunderland, explained: “By accessing this ESRC funding, we are able to offer bespoke training sessions to doctoral students to develop their employability skills. But in addition this is an ideal opportunity for businesses to get expert, free resources from the doctoral community. The workshops we are leading are open to all social scientists in the North East and beyond.

“The students get essential employability skills, which invariably, doctoral students are not traditionally involved in as their work is in the main research focused and the conversion of journal publications and conference papers.”

He added: “This programme also typifies the agility at Sunderland that we don’t work in silos, we are sourcing expertise across our university, and further afield, with the common goal of offering our doctoral students a richer learning experience.”

Professor Lynne McKenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society, said: “Our doctoral social science students will benefit from being taught and supervised by experts in the fields of social sciences and business, and will I am sure, find this a rewarding and enriching experience. This experience will also enhance their employability skills. Weare delighted to be part of this programme.”

Dr Maurice Duffy said: “We are now facing the biggest crisis of our lifetime. The decisions leaders, people and governments take in the coming months will reshape our world completely. They will reshape not just our healthcare systems, but also our economy, politics, culture and our children’s future world. We need a new leadership model that normalises the change the coronavirus pandemic embeds in our physiological, social and political landscape that will influence and propagate generations.

 “This is a time of change, presents a time to change, and creates an opportunity to be part of the change that will occur.”

He added: “The opportunity presented by this programme and collaboration is simply a fantastic chance to allow doctoral students access to real-life experiences. The programme defines a business strategy that will reshape organisations in the future, presenting a platform for exploration of the vital importance of Organisational Health, and creates an opportunity to learn new mind-sets for a new time. I congratulate all involved for this creative and essential learning programme.”

 About the Accelerating Business Collaboration Fund

 All these activities are resourced by ESCR Impact Acceleration Accounts at Sunderland, Durham, Newcastle and Queens Belfast Universities , who received top-up funds from the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) with the purpose of ‘Accelerating Business Collaboration’ (ABC) between the social sciences and the private sector.

All activities funded by the ABC are open to all researchers who consider themselves to be at least 51 per cent a social scientist across all institutions in the Northern Ireland and North England Doctoral Training partnership (NINEDTP). Institutions on the NINEDTP network include Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Queen’s Belfast, Sunderland, Teesside and Ulster universities.



These workshops can benefit personal development regardless of future career plans. Learnings from each workshop can be applied to a career in academia and in public, private and third sector. 

Places on each workshop are limited and will be via an assessed application process. For more information, including how to apply, click on the title of each workshop to be redirected to the NINE Impact website. 

Starting Monday 29th June, 10am – 12pm


Friday 3rd July, 10am - 1pm


Wednesday 8th July, 10am - 1pm


Thursday 9th July, 10am - 1pm