UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


2020-21 EPSRC Studentships

UCL STEaPP is inviting applications for two full EPSRC PhD Studentships

Two full EPSRC PhD Studentships are available at UCL STEaPP, covering fees plus a topped-up stipend of £23,186 per annum (2020/21 figure).

Potential applicants are encouraged to contact the project’s supervisors for an initial discussion before applying. Applications should be made via UCL's application portal, selecting the MPhil/PhD in Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy, indicating one of the supervisors listed for the projects below, and including a 2-page research proposal.

To apply for this Studentship you must have settled status in the UK and have been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the Studentship. Check here for more information about eligibility.

Policy Development in Practice: Tools and Innovation for Integrating Knowledge Types

The context for this project is a growing interest in the actual, practical processes of public policy development. Specifically, the project focuses on those activities that combine differing types of evidence to generate multi-, inter-, or even trans-disciplinary knowledge for policy.

Much has been argued in favour of grounding policy development in evidence-based approaches. This type of advocacy for ‘better’ use of ‘good’ evidence for policy is, however, often seemingly neutral or agnostic about the nature or type of evidence used or produced.
Experience suggests it is not uncommon for policy professionals to encounter a presumption in favour of quantitative over qualitative forms of evidence. Similarly, there are apparently persistent biases in favour of the knowledge produced by some disciplines (e.g. economic analytic insights over knowledge from the social sciences, etc.). In order to enhance the efficacy of analytic practices for policy, there is a need to better understand the mechanisms by which such knowledge siloes and biases might be practically overcome by policy professionals.

There is substantial anecdotal evidence on the practical successes and struggles encountered in making use of integrative forms of knowledge production for policy, and some areas of analytic innovation appear especially effective and successful in integrative knowledge production for policy: e.g. futures processes, participatory systems mapping exercises, and design-based techniques. Yet, little has been systematically captured about the challenges encountered in their practice, or why some innovations enjoy greater popularity and legacy over others. Both in practice and theory, we don’t really understand what is working, why, and in what context, or what does not.

The overarching research question to be addressed with this PhD project is therefore: how do policy analysts integrate effectively in practice? Potential subsidiary areas of interest include:

  • What methods are used to integrate different types of knowledge within policy teams?
  • What are some of the recent influential innovations in analytic practices?
  • What challenges are encountered in knowledge integration?
  • What makes employed methods credible or perceived as legitimate?
  • How easily are integrative methods learnt and adopted?

The specific research aims, purpose and questions should be shaped by the PhD candidate’s interests. Drawing on UCL STEaPP’s ongoing programme of work, we propose to begin with a research pilot focusing on UK-specific experiences, although there is scope to explore non-UK and international perspectives. The UCL STEaPP faculty has access to data sources via both UK and international policy profession streams and ‘innovation labs’ (and their analytical training and best practice events).

Science Attaché Networks: Modes of Operation, Impacts and Return on Investment

Science, technology and innovation (STI) issues are increasingly recognised as underpinning some of the major global challenges the world is facing and also have significant repercussions on economic growth. As part of their science diplomacy strategy, many countries are therefore starting to respond to this increasing demand by expanding, revamping or creating their network of science attaches (‘science’ referring here to the larger spectrum of STI) to stay abreast of the latest technological developments, enhance their policymaking and leverage collaborative opportunities.

Yet, crucial questions remain unanswered, for high income countries (e.g. the U.K. further developing its network in the EU) and low/middle income countries alike (e.g. Costa Rica in the process of creating its first science attaché position): what is the impact of a science attaché network and how effective is it? In other words, what is the expected return of investment and what are the best key performance indicators (KPI) to measure its impact and success? In addition, as traditional diplomatic/economic relations are being shifted away from the realm of the nation-state to actors such as large tech giants and innovation hubs, the conventional model of embedding a science attaché in an Embassy/Consulate is being reconsidered, both in terms of funding and effectiveness, and new innovative solutions are being designed (embedding an attaché within a university, creating a Consulate dedicated to STI with public-private partnerships, etc.): how are countries adapting to this evolving context? These questions and considerations are relevant to all countries, yet there is little to no systematic academic research that has been carried out in this realm, even though it could have major repercussions on knowledge systems at the international level.

As one of the largest networks, the U.K. Science Innovation Network (SIN) would be an interesting case study, and this academic research could have practical implications on the STI-driven foreign policy agenda of the U.K. (and of other countries STI policy/diplomacy), particularly in the context of Brexit. This work will require a deep dive into science attaché networks worldwide from both a theoretical and practical perspective and can only be achieved through methodical research involving interview-based research, comparative analyses of countries’ science attaché networks, developing KPIs, retracing pathways to impact through monitoring & evaluation, as well as understanding various financing mechanisms and adaptive governance models.

This research plan will need to be further refined and could be co-designed with partners from the U.K. SIN (FCO, BEIS) or other Ministries of Foreign Affairs and international organizations, depending on needs and practical research implications.

Visit the UCL prospectus to apply