Collaborative and Industrial PhDs

Aside from traditional PhD studentships based solely in academia, collaborative and industrial PhDs exist which involve an industry partner.

PhD studentships

PhD studentships are doctoral degrees at the highest level that a student can achieve. These studentships are offered by universities in a wide range of subjects. These degrees consist of a substantial research project spanning 3-4 years.

Some PhD studentships are supported by pharmaceutical industry. Having an industry partner can provide great benefits to the academic institution, pharmaceutical company, as well as the student including the sharing of resources  between academic institutions and industry such as state-of-the-art equipment, increased financial support, cross-functional training, and networking opportunities.

10% increase in PhD studentships since 2019.

3 in 4 PhD studentships are for 4 years.

45 UK institutes host industrial PhD studentships alongside many worldwide collaborative opportunities.

PhD Studentship numbers and duration

The 2022 industry-academic links survey found captured 601 PhD studentships with industry links with is an increase of 9.9% from 2019 survey results.

The data also showed that almost 3 in 4 PhD studentships are for a duration of 4 years – capturing an additional year which is spent in industry compared to a traditional PhD (Fig 1).

We also captured an increase in PhD studentships lasting for over 4 years. These data captured projects which were being carried out part-time – for example, full time employed by industry and funded to complete their PhD part-time by that company. Other data suggests that longer PhD studentship durations may be due to extensions to projects caused by restrictions as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figure 1. Duration of industrial PhD studentships. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns. Refer to previous iterations for more information on previous years.

> 600 PhD studentships this year




4 year PhD studentships

PhD studentship funding

PhD studentships may be funded in many ways including research council-funded, industry-funded, university-funded, or self-funded. Some studentships may also be co-funded by 2 or more different sources.

The pharmaceutical industry has a well-established partnership with research councils and academic institutions in the UK. One example of a collaboration between academic institutions and pharmaceutical industry is collaborative PhD studentships supported by research councils called Industrial Cooperative Awards in Science & Technology (CASE) studentships.

In contrast to 2019 survey data, the 2022 survey highlighted the EPSRC and MRC as the largest funding partners for PhDs across the pharmaceutical industry, closely followed by the BBSRC. These 3 research councils accounted for the funding of 60.5% of studentships. However, it is important to note that not all research councils may contribute equally in terms of financial support. For example, most projects funded by the MRC were co-funded projects.

Most industrial PhD studentships receive support from research councils

Figure 2. Funding of industrial PhD studentships. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns.

PhD studentships with integrated industrial placements - time spent in industry

Based on 104 PhD studentships, we found that 36.5% of students spend 3 months or less in industry during their PhD. 27.9% of PhD students spend 6 months in industry, and 22.1% of PhD students spent more than 3 years in industry (Fig 3).

The large number of PhD students spending more than 3 years in industry consist of full time employees at a pharmaceutical company completing their PhD degree part-time. The survey also captured difficulties in pharmaceutical companies hosting PhD students due to restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figure 3. Time spent in industry of industrial PhD studentships. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns. 

Almost 3 in 4 PhD students spend 1 year or less of their degree in industry

Academic institutes supporting industrial PhD placements

The 2022 industry-academic links survey captured industrial and collaborative PhD studentships at 45 institutes in the UK (Fig 4). The top 20 institutes to host PhD studentships in collaboration with pharmaceutical industry in UK are shown in Figure 5, with the University of Cambridge hosting most at 91 studentships.

24 PhD studentships were also captured across 15 institutes in 7 countries outside of UK including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, and the USA. The most popular country to host industrial PhD studentships outside of the UK is Sweden.

PhD studentships at 45 institutes all across the UK

Figure 4. Map of academic institutions supporting PhD studentships with pharmaceutical industry in the UK. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns. 

Figure 5. Top 20 academic institutions for supporting PhD studentships with pharmaceutical industry. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns. 

Top 3 Academic Institutes for Industrial PhD Collaborations in the UK:

  1. University of Cambridge
  2. University of Strathclyde
  3. University College London
Strathclyde has a clear and distinct institutional strategy aimed at growing partnerships with industry, and actively prioritises research efforts on the systems, institutions, cultures, and behaviours that shape people’s lives. With Health & Wellbeing as a core strategic research theme at Strathclyde, we are delighted to be placed as one of the top two institutions to host industrial PhD studentships with pharmaceutical collaborators. Strathclyde has realised appreciable research and knowledge exchange enhancement through being directly exposed to approaches, techniques, and cultural/corporate values within the pharmaceutical industry, which directly informs and impacts upon the development of undergraduate and postgraduate student training. The establishment of our rich array of pharma-aligned postgraduate students has resulted from a series of sustained and reciprocally beneficial relationships over a large number of years and has specifically enhanced the translation of new science to and from the pharma industry, allowing distinctive and ambitious initiatives to be more readily adopted. This has also created and maintained a well-trained, rounded, diverse, and vibrant student population, with the necessary attributes to lead in the global workplace. Billy Kerr, 1919 Professor of Organic Chemistry, and Deputy Associate Principal (Research & Knowledge Exchange), University of Strathclyde

Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIPS)

PhD students may collaborate with pharmaceutical industry in other ways apart from having an industry partner. One example, is a Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIPS) which is an integral part of some doctorate training programmes. PIPS are 3-month professional placements hosted by an external organisation that aims to provide training in non-academic skills and increase employability.

Video transcript

Tell us about your background

Hi, my name is Annelise Garrison and I'm a PhD student on the Midlands integrative Biosciences Training Partnership or the MIBTP, which is a doctoral training programme. I'm also currently an intern at the ABPI.

I began my scientific career in at the University of Galway in Ireland, where I did my honours bachelor's degree in pharmacology and a master's degree in regenerative medicine.

Last year I began my PhD at Aston University, which is a BBS RC and university co-funded projects on investigating the mechanisms of tissue fibrosis.

Tell us about your PhD project

So for my main research projects, I'm looking at the most exciting cell type you've probably never heard of, which are called pericites. So pericites are a form of mesenchymal stem cells, which cover every blood vessel in the body and provide support.

However, in fibrosis, which is when the wound healing process goes wrong, and leads to excessive scarring and tissue damage, and in severe cases, organ failure, these stem cells and cell types become more troublesome.

It's estimated that about 50% of deaths in the developed world are due to fibrosis. For example, after a heart attack. So therefore, my research is of importance as it aims to assess if we can potentially prevent or reverse fibrosis by torturing these pericites.

What prompted you to pursue a PhD project which included a pharmaceutical industry partner?

So my PhD programme, the MIBTP includes professional internship for PhD students also known as a PIPS.

This is a three month professional placement that allows me to develop non-research based skills at an external host organisation.

So I joined the ABPI for my internship to coordinate this year as industry academic links interactive reports, where I had roles in data analysis, coordinating submissions of videos and quotes, presenting the findings internally and to member organisations and also providing layouts and designing web pages for the final launch.

So apart from my industry placement, I've also been involved in numerous collaborative projects as part of my PhD.

So for example, I did a clinical diagnostics project on cytokine profiling of serum from COVID-19 patients at the universities, hospitals, Coventry and Warwickshire Sure, which was in collaboration with Warwick Medical School, and also the NHS.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced your experience?

So the pandemic has affected my experience in multiple ways, I finished my bachelor's degree, I completed my entire master's degree and I also began my PhD in different lockdowns through online learning.

So this meant relying on technology including video calls in order to connect with my colleagues and with the academics.

But importantly, I think it taught me some really great lessons on wellbeing, on resilience and of the importance of driving scientific research forward.

So where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

In five years, time, I will have hopefully completed my PhD after nine years in academia.

So therefore, I'm interested in joining the industry or collaborating with industry on various projects.

In industry or through an academic role in order to gain more exposure and ultimately to continue driving research forward and to expand our knowledge on disease states to ultimately help patients.


Annelise Garrison, a PhD student at Aston University on the MIBTP doctorate training programme, tells us about her PhD project and Professional Internship for Students (PIPS) experience.

Video transcript

Hello, I'm Hannah and I'm currently doing a PhD in biochemistry on the AstraZeneca/University of Cambridge programme. Before my PhD, I did an undergraduate biochemistry degree at the University of Nottingham. I've always been particularly interested in pharmacology and during my undergraduate course, I spent two summers doing summer placements in the pharmacology and cell signalling group at Nottingham as well as a year in industry at AstraZeneca.

My PhD project is aiming to develop a peptide inhibitor for a protein which is very frequently mutated across several cancers. The project primarily involves protein engineering and structure based design. Most of my work is carried out in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University, but my supervisors at AstraZeneca help to guide the direction of my project and I will definitely also be going to work at their site at some point. I already enjoyed my placement year in AstraZeneca and this inspired me to find PhDs, which had industry involvement. I knew that retaining links with industry could open many doors for me for the future, as well as providing access to additional expertise and facilities throughout my PhD. I also think that having a industry partner can enable your PhD work to have wider impact and there's even the possibility that your project can be continued by the partner and be used to develop medicines and the future.

During the first year of my PhD, my lab had limited capacity, which meant that I could not get going with experiments as quickly as I would have liked. My supervisor also could not come in, and so a lot of my initial training was done virtually which presented some difficulties. Saying this overall I do not think the pandemic has affected my work too much. It has also made me really appreciate the community of my lab now things are back to normal.

My current plan for after my PhD is to work at a small biotech and to hopefully eventually take on a team leader role there. This plan is constantly changing though, and I think having an industry partner for my PhD allows me to open my eyes to the many opportunities that we have as PhD graduates, while some other PhD students can be quite blinkered, in on academia.


Hannah Comfort, a biochemistry PhD Candidate on the AstraZeneca/University of Cambridge programme tells us about her collaborative PhD project and experience.

Hi, my name is Karina and I am currently a final year PhD student on the GSK University of Strathclyde collaborative PhD programme. Prior to this, I did my MSci at the University of Bath studying Natural Sciences and I majored in chemistry and minored in pharmacology.

My PhD project is a collaboration between the medicinal chemistry department and the biopharmaceuticals department. And the overall aim of my PhD is to combine small molecule drugs with a large antibody biologics to generate novel antibody drug conjugates.

As part of my MSc, I completed a one year synthetic chemistry placement at GSK Stevenage doing medicinal chemistry and I knew that I love this so much that I wanted to return to carry on my PhD here with GSK.

Working from home during COVID gave me a lot of time to reflect on my project, browse through the literature, write literature reviews, and so this was quite productive in that respect. I was also given a lot of time to think about my project and therefore design key experiments so that when I returned to the lab, I could turn out results as quickly as possible.

In five years time, I can definitely still see myself in the pharmaceutical industry carrying out drug discovery, as I find this to be extremely fulfilling. Whether this is going to be in small molecule research or antibody biologics or combination of both. I can not see it .So I guess that's something that I'll just have to figure out.


Karina Chan, a PhD student on the GSK-Strathclyde collaborative PhD programme, tells us about her experience of doing an industry-funded PhD and the opportunities this project offers.

Hi, my name is Kate and I'm in my third year on the collaborative PhD scheme between GSK and the University of Strathclyde. I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Durham, which was an integrated Master's course with a year in industry. And I was really fortunate to spend this year synthesising pharmaceutical compounds here at GSK. I enjoyed it so much that I stayed on and was fortunate to get a place on the PhD scheme. The scheme is a collaborative scheme between academia and industry, where we're predominantly based in industry at GSK and Stevenage, with support from Strathclyde up in Glasgow.

I work in the field of chemical biology and the interface between chemistry and biology, working to accelerate drug discovery. Specifically, I'm developing reactive functionalities, which are valuable tools to identify targets for compounds and to generally investigate protein targets that have disease relevance.

Having spent a year at GSK on placement, I was very keen to continue my PhD here. So I saw firsthand the great benefits of being based in industry that equips you with professional experience alongside the development as a researcher through the PhD qualification, having access to such a variety of resources and learning from people who are experts in their field is absolutely invaluable. It means that we're able to achieve a large amount of work very quickly and also conduct work that is highly impactful and applied directly to GSK projects. Beyond GSK it's brilliant to be able to tap into expertise and academia through supervision from Strathclyde, and more generally, with the many academic collaborations that we've grown within the chemical biology group at GSK.

The pandemic meant that we're not able to access the lab for a few months, which has a lab beef PhD student was daunting. However, I was grateful to have the time to learn new skills that I otherwise would not have had the chance to prioritise. I very much enjoyed devoting the time to learn to code in our and now I always use this to communicate my research results effectively, both internally at GSK and presenting at many external conferences. The pandemic also allowed me to spend time developing my writing skills and conduct many projects have introduced new exciting angles to my PhD research.

In five years time, I hope to be working in the healthcare industry as I find the field a great match to my strengths and thoroughly enjoy knowing that my work is contributed to people's well being


Kate Gilbert, a PhD student on the GSK-Strathclyde collaborative PhD programme, tells us about her experience of doing an industry-funded PhD and the opportunities this project offers.

Before I started my PhD on the GSK Strathclyde collaborative PhD programme, I did an integrated MChem degree at Oxford University. My master's project was in spin chemistry so quite different from where I ended up with my PhD work. And I then moved on to the PhD programme and the rest is history.

My PhD project sat sort of between Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology and was based at the GSK Stevenage site. I was working on bifunctional small molecules, including antibody recruiting molecules for targeted cell killing and lysosomal targeting chimeras or targeted protein degradation. My project began with a lot of synthesis. But I did do an increasing amount of biological assay work as I made my way through the project and I picked up new skills. And by the end of the PhD, I was running cell based assays and I was fortunate enough to learn some of the skills for that during a secondment to the GSK Upper Providence site in the US.

As I mentioned, the PhD was quite a big change from my master's project. And it was certainly a steep learning curve and the challenge when I started. And the reason for the change from my from my masters to the PhD and moving into the pharmaceutical industry was it was only very late on in, in my degree that we had any exposure really to medicinal chemistry and I remember the lecturer explaining the kind of design and mechanism of cisplatin. And it just got me really interested in the idea of rational drug design. And so when I saw the opportunity to learn more within the pharmaceutical industry that was really appealing to me.

I also knew that I did not want to stay in academia long term. So it was I thought it was a great chance to get some relevant experience in industry and of a work environment more generally, at the same time as taking on an academic project as a PhD. But at the time, I was not really looking for PhDs in academia and if I had not ended up on this particular programme, I think I would have probably worked in research and development and then thought about further study later on in my career.

So during COVID, the PhD students based at Stevenage and my cohort, they spent quite a lot of time out of the lab or on a rota with more limited lab time to make space for essential project work within the kind of socially distant system that was implemented. I was fortunate in that I had run some DNA coded library selection shortly before the pandemic began. And so I was able to spend quite a lot of time running data analysis at home. But one of the kind of unfortunate impacts was that I was not able to get up to Glasgow for us a common at the University of Strathclyde, which normally PhDs on the programme will do for three months or so. And I would have really liked to get some experience of a different type of chemistry and to get to know my academic supervisors group, and really spend some time in Glasgow it would have been great. So that was a bit of a bit of a shame. And the other thing that I think we all missed out on was, was in person conferences. I was lucky to be able to attend quite a few virtual events, which I really enjoyed. And I like presenting and communicating, communicating my science to other people, but it would have been really nice to present more in person and kind of connected people in a more meaningful way.

So I always find the question of where I would like to be, later on in my career, quite a tricky one. I never I never feel like I'm planning things out very far in advance. But I would like to stay in drug discovery in the future. And it may sound very cliché, but I would like to feel that I'm making a contribution to getting drugs to the market which will really make a difference to patients. When I finished the PhD recently I was not very sure which direction I want to go wanted to go in, in terms of the types of role to look for. I have just taken a job in clinical development on that site, which will be a big change and again, a lot to learn after the PhD. But I'm really looking forward to starting and seeing what I make of that new side of drug discovery.


Dr Katherine Macfarlane, a PhD student on the GSK-Strathclyde collaborative PhD programme tells us about her experience of doing an industry-funded PhD and the opportunities this project offers.

Video transcript

Hi, my name is William Lamb, I'm a research scientist with Santen pharmaceutical currently based at UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. Recently completed my PhD in retinal stem cell biology, also here at the Institute and supported by Santen. Before that I studied a master's in human genetic disease at UCL and I worked on projects involved in identifying loss of function, genetic variants, patients with rare inherited diseases.

So my PhD project was based upon identifying neuroprotective signals produced by Müller glial stem cells. I was based out of Professor Astrid Limb's lab where at a UCL and her group had discovered that these Müller glial stem cells were capable of promoting survival of neurons and protection of visual function in models of experimental glaucoma. Although the source of an effect had not been clarified, which was where my project came in, and I was looking at actually these extracellular vesicles, tiny membrane bound sacks essentially, which were produced by these cells and then released into the external environment, and our hypothesis, I suppose, and what we're working on now, is these vesicles could play a role in a novel therapeutic tool for retinal neurodegenerative conditions like glaucoma.

So I think my interest in research has always been focused particularly on projects that have this direct translational application to the clinic. My motivation, I think, as a researcher comes from the idea that something I do might contribute in some way to the development of a new treatment or medicine or diagnostic testing. With that in mind, I guess being fortunate to be sponsored by Santen and during my PhD work felt like a really great opportunity to get first-hand experience of a pharmaceutical industry. I'd like to think that I do have a, perhaps a better understanding of some of the more commercial pragmatic aspects of our research regard to sort of growing and developing a project with a specifically clinical focus.

So the pandemic is obviously an extremely challenging time across all of  academia and science as a whole. So we obviously we had our COVID enforced lockdown, and we're still dealing with issues around you know, the supply interruption to supply chains, huge delays, getting certain reagents and chemicals, etc. But I was quite fortunate actually, in that as I was approaching the end of my doctorate when lockdown started, I was able to spend a long time sort of home writing and finishing that without too much interruption, although obviously it was very surreal experience.

So in five years time, well, as I mentioned, I'm currently working for centre in the brand new UK Research Hub, which is a collaboration with UCL and Moorfields. And within that project, we have short and long term goals. It really adds to the ideas that I was investigating for my PhD. So in five years time, I'd like to think that would have brought some of those through to fruition and that the hub itself will be thriving and expanding, and really a really fruitful collaboration. I think I currently obviously still have that foot in academia, being phased out of UCL, and my ambition for this time is probably to move more completely into industry. I think obviously, the biotechnology based therapeutics field things like cell and gene therapies are attracting huge interest at the moment. It's very, very exciting. I would like to think that in five years time, be able to be playing a small part in the realisation of some of these new treatment strategies.


Dr William Lamb, a research scientist working in the new Santen research hub in collaboration with UCL, tells us about his experience of doing an industry-funded PhD and the opportunities this project offered.

Hi, I'm Amy Mickleburgh and I'm a second year PhD student at the University of Bristol. I'm partnered with UCB who are over in Slough. So I'm originally from Manchester, but it came down to Bristol to do my undergraduate chemistry degree and my master's and I stayed in Bristol for my PhD, which while is still chemistry is definitely more of a biochemistry based project.

So my project uses a technique known as nuclear magnetic resonance or NMR to study a protein called Alpha synuclein. So alpha synuclein is really heavily implicated in Parkinson's disease. But exactly how it causes Parkinson's disease is so poorly understood. So it's known that alpha synuclein aggregates to form Lewy bodies in the brain. But exactly how this process works is still quite poorly understood. So I'm, that's where my project comes in. Really. I'm using NMR to look at this early process and try and identify some drug targets because we still do not have a cure for Parkinson's disease.

So after I graduated, I knew I wanted to do research. And I knew I wanted it to be disease research, but I was not sure whether I should stay in academia or whether I should go over to industry. So finding this project that sort of the best of both worlds I felt was a really good fit for me. I felt that I would get an opportunity to meet a wider range of people and to develop a wider range of skills than I would if I was just at one institution. And I've definitely found that it really pushed me into develop my communication skills and also the way I present my work.

So I started my PhD in October 2020. So just after the height of the pandemic, and I was actually really lucky to be able to get lab time initially. So I was meant to start my project at UCB, which can happen because of travel restrictions. So I had to make use of video calls and emails to contact my supervisory team at UCB. And I actually found that the move to virtual communication has really benefited me, something I still use. It just means that I'm able to ask questions to the people who are experts in their field immediately, and that I'm able to have meetings with my supervisory teams at both institutions much more readily. And it means I do not have to travel so much. So even though COVID Probably slowed me down initially. I think overall, it's actually been quite beneficial for my project.

So in five years time, hopefully I'll have finished my PhD, and I hope to be working in industry. I personally, I would really like to be working on muscular dystrophy. But yeah, I see myself in industry in a team of like minded scientists, working on some of our toughest diseases.


Amy Mickleburgh, a PhD student at the University of Bristol who is co-funded by UCB and the BBSRC, tells us about her experience of doing a PhD with an industry partner and the opportunities this project offered.

My name is Lawrence Quenault I completed a Master's in biochemistry from the University of Warwick, during which I spent the last year at UCB, conducting a project that will become the subject of my master's thesis.

I started my PhD in February of 2022. During my PhD I'll hopefully be discovering some antibodies against a protein called DUX4 which causes the disease Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy and is also known as FSHD. And then we should be reformatting these antibodies so that they can convey biological action against DUX4 and for the antibody discovery phase. I shall be at UCB and then for the testing of the antibodies against DUX4. I shall be at King's College London in my supervisor Pete Zammit's lab.

During the completion of my Master's thesis I got a small experience of what to expect from working with both academia and industry. From industry you get lots of people who are experts in the nitty-gritty of their subject, whereas in academia you get access to people who are not necessarily experts in your area, but they are experts in their own and they also give you a different way of thinking, a different way of solving problems, which can always be useful for a PhD student.

And then doing a collaboration between industry and academia. You get access to both of those ways of thinking, which can only be a good thing for a PhD student.

At the moment, the pandemic has not directly influenced my PhD experience. However, it has led to sometimes being some products being shipped to me to be delayed which has led to me to come up with some novel ways of approaching certain experiments.

In five years time, hopefully I'll have a full time job using the abilities and knowledge I gained from my PhD, which would make a nice change from just being a student all the time. And yeah, that is what I'd want - to work in research.


Laurence Quenault industry-funded PhD with UCB and King’s College London, tells us about his experience and opportunities this placement offers.

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Last modified: 24 April 2024

Last reviewed: 24 April 2024