UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Weijia Ding

Weijia completed an MA in Design from Nanjing University, China, and an MSc in Urban Regeneration from UCL, before starting her PhD in STEaPP in 2020.

Photo of PhD student, Weijia Ding
How did you come to realise you wanted to study for a PhD?

My interest in tech-novation and IP-based entrepreneurship was sparked during a management consulting project, where I also harboured some entrepreneurial aspirations. This experience ignited my passion for research, particularly in understanding how entrepreneurship and innovation thrive within different spatial structures and contexts. Recognizing the crucial role of innovation in addressing Grand Challenges, I saw a PhD as an opportunity for systematic research. It offers the time schedule flexibility, academic expertise, professional network, and global awareness necessary to deepen my inquiry and contribute meaningfully to the field.

Why did you choose to undertake a PhD at UCL STEaPP?

I chose to undertake a PhD at UCL STEaPP because of the department's renowned expertise in science, technology, engineering, and public policy. STEaPP's interdisciplinary research areas of policy and disruptive technology interplay perfectly align with my research interests in strategy and innovation. STEaPP offers a vibrant academic environment with interactions with leading academics, cutting-edge research facilities, and a multidisciplinary approach to addressing the grand challenges. 

What is the focus of your PhD?

My PhD works focus on academic entrepreneurship and innovation systems. There is a growing consensus regarding the importance of entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystems in both theory and practice. This interest is shared by practitioners and policymakers who aim to build sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems as a means of strengthening industrial resilience and innovation capacity. In particular, my research focuses on the use of  National Innovation Systems and Quadrable Helix concepts to explore the dynamics between universities, government policy and industry that influence the evolution of entrepreneurial universities, and the roles of ecosystem players to address the challenges of innovation ecosystem governance and partnership.

What has been the highlight of your PhD so far?

During my PhD journey, I've been fortunate to attend several international conferences, presenting my findings and engaging with leading minds in innovation policymaking, research and entrepreneurship. This exposure has been invaluable in shaping my understanding and approach to the field. Additionally, I've collaborated with teams from China, the UK, and the US, gaining diverse global perspectives on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Writing and revising for my forthcoming publication has been challenging but rewarding, enhancing my confidence as a researcher. Furthermore, my role as a reviewer for journals and esteemed conferences, including the Academy of Management, has been an enriching experience, contributing to my professional growth as a researcher. My PhD journey has opened exciting opportunities to apply my expertise. I've been involved in venture incubation at Tsinghua University and delivered guest lectures and workshops for young tech entrepreneurs. 

How would you describe the community at STEaPP?

The community at STEaPP is very approachable and positive. What I love and respect is the effort the department makes to create an inclusive and diverse space and the lack of hierarchy. PhD students have the privilege to be regarded as staff, take some teaching responsibility, and work closely with leading academics in their fields, benefiting from their insights and advice.

The department also provides various networking opportunities through seminars, workshops, and events. My PhD peers have always been welcoming, supportive, and great fun to get together.

What are the facilities like at STEaPP, and the UCL campus generally?

The study environment at STEaPP and UCL is exceptionally well-equipped, featuring advanced laboratories, comprehensive libraries, ample technology resources, and various study spaces, all supported by excellent service facilities. The campus, celebrated for its global diversity, offers a rich tapestry of cultural experiences and facilities, excellent gym and sports facilities, cafes and green spaces for networking. UCL's central London location provides easy access to various resources, from policy institutions to business leaders, enriching my network and experiences.

How have you found the support available at STEaPP, and the wider university?

The assistance provided by STEaPP and UCL is exceptional. As an alumnus, I deeply value UCL's efforts in inclusive culture and well-being. The university offers a wide range of resources, including academic advice, research tools, student services, and well-being assistance, all aimed at fostering our development. This environment of support significantly enhances our learning and personal growth.

What are your future plans/aspirations?

In the short term, to complete my PhD , write a good thesis, and contribute further through more publications.

Beyond that, I aspire to harmonise my professional and academic paths. I aim to become a lecturer at a global university, where I can impart my knowledge in innovation and entrepreneurship while continuing to evolve my research. I'm also passionate about opportunities that merge research with practical applications via engaging in innovative projects and collaborating with organisations to drive future innovations and entrepreneurship, tackling grand challenges along the way.

Do you have a mentor/role model who has inspired you?

Yes, I am indeed inspired by my mentors. My primary supervisor, Professor Joanna Chataway, is a significant role model in my research journey. Her advice, extending beyond academic expertise, has been invaluable. What resonates with me the most is her long-term passion and focus. She has an exceptional ability to identify fundamental research questions and dedicate herself to these areas, building knowledge over time. This approach of long-term commitment greatly resonates with me, and I deeply respect it. Additionally, she always remains patient with my queries despite her busy schedule. Her encouragement has been instrumental in shaping my desire to develop a career like hers, maintaining my passion and curiosity to become an influential scholar.

Professor Arthur Peterson, my other supervisor, also significantly contributed to shaping my research methodology and future professional development. He consistently has new perspectives and improved approaches to my research via mentorship. Additionally, interactions with other STEaPP staff and those from others, like the School of Management, have further enriched my interdisciplinary research experience.

What advice would you give to future PhD students?

  • Persevere through the process, even when it becomes challenging and you feel lost. Stick with it to the end.
  • Avoid perfectionism. Write frequently and start early, aiming to publish.
  • Remember that a PhD journey can be lonely, but only if you allow it to be. Make sure to reach out to your support network of family, friends, colleagues, and supervisors. 
  • Prioritising your health and finding a balance is of utmost importance. It's essential to maintain your well-being throughout your PhD journey.