EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Infrastructure Systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment

Abstract

UK economic growth, security, and sustainability are in danger of being compromised due to insufficient infrastructure supply. This partly reflects a recognised skills shortage in Engineering and the Physical Sciences. The proposed EPSRC funded Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) aims to produce the next generation of engineers and scientists needed to meet the challenge of providing Sustainable Infrastructure Systems critical for maintaining UK competitiveness. The CDT will focus on Energy, Water, and Transport in the priority areas of National Infrastructure Systems, Sustainable Built Environment, and Water. Future Engineers and Scientists must have a wide range of transferable and technical skills and be able to collaborate at the interdisciplinary interface. Key attributes include leadership, the ability to communicate and work as a part of a large multidisciplinary network, and to think outside the box to develop creative and innovative solutions to novel problems. The CDT will be based on a cohort ethos to enhance educational efficiency by integrating best practices of traditional longitudinal top-down / bottom-up learning with innovative lateral knowledge exchange through peer-to-peer "coaching" and outreach. To inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists an outreach supply chain will link the focal student within his/her immediate cohort with: 1) previous and future cohorts; 2) other CDTs within and outside the University of Southampton; 3) industry; 4) academics; 5) the general public; and 6) Government. The programme will be composed of a first year of transferable and technical taught elements followed by 3 years of dedicated research with the opportunity to select further technical modules, and/or spend time in industry, and experience international training placements. Development of expertise will culminate in an individual project aligned to the relevant research area where the skills acquired are practiced. Cohort building and peer-to-peer learning will be on-going throughout the programme, with training in leadership, communication, and problem solving delivered through initiatives such as a team building residential course; a student-led seminar series and annual conference; a Group Design Project (national or international); and industry placement. The cohort will also mentor undergraduates and give outreach presentations to college students, school children, and other community groups. All activities are designed to facilitate the creation of a larger network. Students will be supported throughout the programme by their supervisory team, intensively at the start, through weekly tutorials during which a technical skills gap analysis will be conducted to inform future training needs. Benefitting from the £120M investment in the new Engineering Campus at the Boldrewood site the CDT will provide a high class education environment with access to state-of-the-art computer and experimental facilities, including large-scale research infrastructure, e.g. hydraulics laboratories with large flumes and wave tanks which are unparalleled in the UK. Students will benefit from the co-location of engineering, education, and research alongside industry users through this initiative. To provide cohort, training, inspiration and research legacies the CDT will deliver:

1) Sixty doctoral graduates in engineering and science with a broad understanding of the challenges faced by the Energy, Water, and Transport industries and the specialist technical skills needed to solve them. They will be ambitious research, engineering, industrial, and political leaders of the future with an ability to demonstrate creativity and innovation when working as part of teams.

2) A network of home-grown talent, comprising of several CDT cohorts, with a greater capability to solve the "Big Problems" than individuals, or small isolated clusters of expertise, typically generated through traditional training programmes.

Planned Impact

The CDT in Sustainable Infrastructure Systems will deliver the next generation of world leading engineers and scientists needed to supply critical Energy, Water, and Transport infrastructure to maintain UK competitiveness. The CDT will bridge the skills gap in the identified areas by training engineers to meet this challenge. Legacies lasting beyond the life-time of the CDT will be built in relation to the cohort, training, inspiration, and research.

Five cohorts of 12 highly talented graduates will enter the job market having been equipped with the skills required to meet the challenge posed. Transferable skills will include leadership, innovation and creativity, high level communication, broad understanding of sustainable infrastructure systems, and the ability to work as part of a network to solve problems defined at the interdisciplinary interface. Each graduate will exhibit a suite of technical competencies which when aggregated across the entire cohort will represent an internationally-leading cutting-edge skill base to rival the best in the world. The strength of the network formed will be greater than the sum of the individual parts and will provide the capability needed to meet "Big Challenges" that are difficult to address by individuals or small isolated groupings. The formation of the community represents the cohort legacy of the CDT.

The CDT, in collaboration with industry partners, Creativity@Home, and international training partners will provide a test-bed for innovation in training. Best practice will be developed and efforts made to constantly reflect on training needs and methods of provision as part of an incremental process of training advancement throughout the life-time of the Centre. Best practice will be passed on to the wider student community through influencing and enhancing the overall educational culture. Similarly, the industry sectors and international collaborators will benefit as the current staff base of the partners will learn new skills from our students during industry placement, and may also attend elements of the training programmes to upgrade their skills. The influence of the CDT will continue for years to come, and represents the training legacy.

Through outreach and public / political engagement the CDT is not only intended to inform and transfer knowledge (in both directions), but also inspire the wider community beyond the University of Southampton, while simultaneously influencing research direction and providing reality checks. Undergraduates mentored by dynamic and talented researchers will be more likely to follow a career path in engineering or science. The interests of school children, especially girls, currently under-represented in engineering and science, will be captured through participation in outreach events led by the cohort. Alumni engineers and scientists and industrial partners working on the ground will be enthused and excited by the new skills developed and transferred from academia to application. This will be the legacy of inspiration.

The CDT will produce 180 man years of cutting-edge research. Students will be supervised by internationally recognised research leaders, and international training partners, in an enhanced student training environment using state-of-the-art experimental infrastructure and techniques at a new Engineering campus. The research projects will aim to solve real life problems identified in collaboration with industry. Based on past success rates, the CDTs legacy in research will be immense. Impact will be achieved through publication of ~240 high impact articles (on average four per project authored by students and supervisory staff) in internationally respected journals, technical reports to industry, conference papers, influencing technical design guidelines and standards, publication on CDT and University web-sites, and dissemination through blogs, twitter, etc. This will be the CDT's research legacy.

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