Practitioner doctorate in sustainability

The unique Practitioner Doctorate in Sustainability course offers a major collaborative opportunity with industry.

2018/19 PDS student handbook

(1.2 MB .PDF)

The Practitioner Doctorate in Sustainability (PDS) explained

Dr Jacquetta Lee, Professor Chris France and two Doctoral Practitioners describe the PDS course, how it started, what we do and how our students are finding doing their research on 'real life' industry challenges.

About the course

Graduates and researchers are often faced with a dilemma between pursuing their research studies at doctoral level or taking a role in industry and applying their knowledge in the ‘real world’. The Practitioner Doctorate in Sustainability effectively allows you to do both.

Researchers spend the majority of their time in an organisation combining in-depth industry experience whilst pursuing research at a doctoral level. The researcher will work on a specific research brief which has been developed in partnership and is designed to resolve a current industry issue and contribute to the academic body of knowledge. This innovative course is aimed at high-achieving researchers and graduates whose vision is to become a sustainability leader in industry.

Through this course, our Centre partners with major industry leaders to jointly engage a high calibre postgraduate researcher (Doctoral Practitioner or DP), to be based with the industrial partner (partnering organisation) for at least two years.

The Doctoral Practitioner will work on a specific research brief which has been developed in partnership, and is designed to resolve current industry issues and contribute to the academic body of knowledge.

For further information on the course, and studying with us, please click on our course below.

The 2018/19 Practitioner Doctorate Students

Our 7 new students have been on an intensive programme of academic, personal development and transferable skills training over the past 8 weeks.  They have been working hard on their literature reviews and preparing for their move to industry where the applied research projects really begin.  We thank Costain Group, Heathrow Centre of Excellence for Sustainability, Estates & Facilities at Surrey, Surrey Nature Partnerships, Keller Group and the NCCUK for their collaboration and look forward to the industry based sustainability research that will have enduring value for these companies.

PDS Group

Becoming a partner organisation

Through our EngD course, we collaborate closely with each partnering organisation to design a research project aimed at both resolving the issues facing the organisation and adding to the academic body of knowledge in the relevant area.

We work with the partnering organisation – using a rigorous selection procedure aligned with its own – to engage a high calibre graduate with the right knowledge and skills for your project. This graduate, the ‘Doctoral Practitioner’ (DP), will be based on your premises for an initial period of two years. Around the end of the first year, a thorough review will take place. Towards the end of the second year, the Partnering Organisation will consider whether to bring the project to a conclusion, if appropriate, or maintain the momentum by extending the engagement for a further 12 or 18 months, thus allowing the opportunity for the DP, who may well have become an integral part of your company, to be retained.

Before joining you, the DP is fast-tracked through an intensive 12-week training course at the University to ensure that he/she is ready to commence work from day one. This is supplemented with a bespoke programme of on-going training, tailored to the needs of the organisation, the project and the DP. We will work with you to set clearly defined milestones throughout the project and closely monitor progress to ensure that the agreed objectives are reached.

Programme costs for organisations are typically around £10k a quarter, comparing favourably to the average consultancy fees or the funds needed to employ a full-time researcher. The initial 12-week training course and subsequent training fees are covered by the University.

Access to leading academic expertise

Selecting from our range of academic experts, you can work with the person or people whose experience and interests most closely match your business needs. Our academics will help you to dig deeper into your organisation’s sustainability challenges in order to identify the key issues and you will benefit from their dedicated input from design to delivery of a cutting-edge, industry-focussed research project, which will serve to address your short and longer term business needs.

A highly-qualified resource

The University will work with you to co-recruit a high quality Doctoral Practitioner (DP) to deliver your project. Applying their academic knowledge and skills to your research brief, our DPs are training to be the sustainability leaders of tomorrow. Your DP will be based on-site with you for at least two years and will be supported by at least two academic supervisors whose areas of knowledge closely align with the requirements of the project. The DP will have the status of “postgraduate research student” within the University and will receive a competitive stipend through the Programme.

A bespoke programme of training for your Doctoral Practitioner (DP)

As part of the Practitioner Doctorate in Sustainability programme, your DP will be required to complete an intensive 12-week training programme at the University prior to beginning work on-site with your company. During these 12 weeks, the DP will complete three core academic modules that address key sustainability issues, as well as skills training activities and a literature review. This not only means that your DP will be able to “hit the ground running” from the first day with you, it is also an opportunity for the project team to meet and fine-tune the project deliverables and objectives, as well as identifying a bespoke training plan for the DP to follow throughout the remainder of the Programme. The training programme will be designed to match the specific needs of the DP, the Partnering Organisation and the research project.

Control over your research agenda

The Practitioner Doctorate in Sustainability has been developed with maximum flexibility in mind. As an industry-funded programme, there are no restrictions to the research undertaken provided it fits within the remit of sustainability and the University’s requirements.

The DP is initially engaged for two years, after which the contract can be extended for a further 12 or 18 months. This offers the option of bringing the project to a conclusion, if appropriate, or maintaining the momentum by continuing the work and allowing the opportunity for the DP, who may well have become an integral part of your company, to be retained.

Full ownership of Foreground Intellectual Property generated through the project

Like most collaborative research programmes, each project will be covered by a studentship contract that we will negotiate with you. This is a three-way agreement between the University, the Partnering Organisation the the Doctoral Practitioner. Unlike similar programmes to date, we begin our legal negotiations with you from the point-of-view that you will own all Foreground Intellectual Property generated through the project. All we ask in return is for a licence to use the Foreground IP for the purpose of non-commercial research and education (including teaching). We are happy to provide a copy of our standard terms and conditions – please email

Reputation-building opportunities

By drawing on world-class academic input, organisations can gain an objectivity and rigour that is not achievable through the conventional consultancy approach, enabling them to accelerate their progress in the field of sustainability and take a leading position in their sector.

With the support of the Centre for Environmental Strategy, sustainability professionals can pursue opportunities such as speaking at industry conferences and publishing in trade journals, helping to raise their reputation as an innovator in this field.

Advisory consultancy options

You will have the option to book up to two days per year with the Primary Academic Supervisor for your project to provide advisory consultancy on any topic (not necessarily in relation to your main project). This means that at no extra cost, you can enjoy the benefits of an outside academic input into another project that you are working on, eg. brain-storming ideas, discussing upcoming concerns. In addition to these two days, you can book at least a further three days of consultancy with the Primary Academic Supervisor at a discounted rate.

Networking and CPD opportunities for Partnering Organisations

You will have access to a range of learning and networking events (e.g. academic seminars, CPD courses, conferences and workshops) hosted within the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the award-winning University of Surrey.Cost-effective solution.

Cost-effective solution

The programme costs for organisations are typically around £10k a quarter, comparing favourably to the average consultancy fees or the funds needed to employ a full-time researcher. We are able to offer a range of flexible options for payment and require just a two-year initial commitment, with the option to extend by 12 or 18 months pending review.

A lasting legacy of work

We believe that sustainability is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Our aim is to help you develop solutions based on academic evidence that will have enduring value for your organisation and even the wider industry sector.

Annual Conference

The Annual Practitioner Doctorate in Sustainability Conference

Each year all our researchers come together to showcase the research they are doing with bite-sized presentations, Q&A sessions and poster displays.  It is a great event for all cohorts at different journey points on their research to re-connect, learn, share and celebrate sustainability research. The research presented each year covers a range of industry sectors and includes collaborative research being done at:

  • IKEA
  • Carillion plc
  • Rolls Royce
  • Unilever
  • Thames Water
  • Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Keller Group
  • Costain Group
  • Surrey Nature Partnership
  • Heathrow Airport
  • Surrey University Estates - Energy & Water 

Each year we have a selection of our industry supervisors giving a keynote lecture about sustainability in their industry and the challenges and opportunities they are facing.  In addition we run 4 competitions during the day for Best Poster, Best Presentation, Best Question and finally the Best 3 minute thesis presented by the latest cohort.  I am delighted to announce that the 2018 winners are:

3 minute thesis awarded to Luke Deamer pictured below is the brick he used as a prop in his presentation.  Unfortunately Luke was unable to claim his prize in person.

Best poster awarded to Abeer Aballa

Best presentation awarded to Erica Russell

Best question of the day awarded to Abeer's industrial supervisor, Jonathan Wortley of Rolls-Royce who also had this to say about the event - "I just wanted to thank you for inviting me to the conference last Friday.  I found the broad range of topics of interest and I have been able to offer Abeer some useful feedback after seeing her present in an academic environment.  It was a valuable day."

Congratulations to all of our students, it was truly amazing to see the array of research taking place within this programme.  The posters will be on display within CES for all to view.

Contact us

If you wish to discuss research opportunities with us or become a partnering organisation, please contact us via email or by phone: +44 (0)1483 689076 for more information.

"These wonderful events exhibit the breadth and depth of excellent research within the programme and demonstrate the future benefits for industry"

Dr Jacquetta Lee, Director of Practitioner Doctorate in Sustainability

Edie Live in Birmingham

Dr. Jacquetta Lee talks at the event.

Contact us

Find us

Centre for Environment and Sustainability
Arthur C Clarke building, Floor 2
University of Surrey