Page 12 - PERIODIC 2016
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New             E  lements                                       in Graduate Training





              An innovative approach to graduate training is enabling the Department of Chemistry to build strong links
              with industry and train up a new generation of chemists with commercially-relevant expertise.


              Graduate study is often regarded                                   see some great progress in the projects
              as a rather solitary pursuit – a                                   and look forward to much more in
              single student working alone on                                    the coming months.” By enabling
              his or her own research topic, and                                 everyone to talk openly about the
              liaising mainly with an academic                                   science, it also promotes additional
              supervisor. Increasingly, however,                                 interactions outside the CDT (for
              a new approach is being sought                                     example, around research that may be
              through Centres for Doctoral                                       more confidential).
              Training (CDTs), which offer                                       The benefits both for graduates and
              graduate students the chance                                       industry are considerable. Students are
              to get a broad overview of a field of study before choosing a   admitted to the programme, rather than to a specific research
              specific research topic. CDTs tend to be more interdisciplinary   group, and in the first year they pursue an intensive course of
              than standard DPhil courses, and often contain a substantial   highly-focused training in all aspects of synthetic chemistry
              taught element, especially in the first year.
                                                               – working as a single cohort for much of this time. This year
              Based in the Department of Chemistry, the Synthesis for   gives a comprehensive overview of the subject area and enables
              Biology and Medicine CDT (SBM CDT) is now taking this   the students to interact with all the key academics, as well as
              approach a step further – by offering students joint academic-  many of the industrial partners. One student comments:  ‘We
              industrial training in cutting-edge chemical synthesis and   have six months of theoretical input, followed by two three-
              its impact on significant problems in chemistry, biology and   month lab rotations, and this is quite unique. Many people
              medicine. The SBM CDT has twelve industrial partners, many   have actually found that they are discovering interests that
              of them major international pharmaceutical and agrochemical   they didn’t even know they had, and may pursue completely
              companies – including GSK, Novartis, Pfizer, Syngenta, UCB,   different areas of chemistry.’
              Takeda, Janssen, Vertex, Evotec, AstraZeneca and DSTL -   Only in the second year do the students decide which specific
              each offering specific expertise to enhance the CDT’s training.   research group to join. All choices are student-led – a big
              The partners contribute to the design and delivery of the   improvement on a traditional 3-year DPhil (where the final
              course, as well as providing industrial links, student funding   research topic often has to be decided early, before the student
              and placements. This means that, from the outset, students   has the chance to explore all aspects of the subject). Here the
              are interacting with major industrial players in the field of   CDT has another innovative approach: research projects are
              chemical synthesis.
                                                               clustered in six Project Fields that enable multiple researchers
              Perhaps the greatest innovation is that this CDT is pioneering   to approach substantial problems that are too challenging
              an open-access and patent-free model to its research.   for a single doctoral student. The aim is to create a network
              Traditionally the issue of ‘intellectual property’ and the   of interacting scientists; unlike a conventional DPhil course,
              drive to patent good ideas can hamper both academia and   the SBM CDT brings together students from different years
              industry and lead to a restriction of the flow of ideas and   to discuss research with each other through Project Field
              solutions. Professor Martin Smith, Director of the SBM CDT,   meetings. This may happen informally on other DPhil courses,
              explains: “Our innovative academic-industry collaboration   but here it is a fundamental aspect of the course.
              model has facilitated the development of a vital collaborative   As a result, graduates are likely to come out of the programme
              network, encouraging exchange of information, know-how   with skills that are directly relevant to industry and with the
              and expertise between students and supervisors on different   ability to tackle the problems that really need addressing.
              projects and across our 12 industrial partners”.
                                                               The industrial partners have access to the Department and
              The CDT’s open-access approach leads to free and transparent   its academics, and to a pool of enthusiastic and interested
              exchange of information, not just between the Department of   graduates who will have the necessary expertise to solve the
              Chemistry and individual partners, but between the partners   synthesis problems of the future.
              themselves, and out into the wider research community. Dr   Text by Sarah Loving, Science Writer, Mathematical, Physical
              William Whittingham, External Collaborations Portfolio   and Life Sciences Division, University of Oxford.
              Lead at Syngenta, commented on the benefits of this pre-
              competitive model: “The open access model of the CDT, in      W: www.oxfordsynthesiscdt.ox.ac.uk
              which all partners see the results from all the projects, provides   T: https://twitter.com/OxfordSynthesis
              great opportunities for pre-competitive collaboration, not
              just between individual companies and academics, but also     F: www.facebook.com/SBMCDT
              between the companies themselves. We are already starting to   E: SynthesisCDT@chem.ox.ac.uk

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              Periodic       The Magazine of the Department of Chemistry
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