Doctoral School

Engaging with Business

The SeNSS DTP is committed to encouraging collaborations between social science researchers and private business and industry.

Engaging with businesses during a PhD is a great way to understand how research can make a difference in the world.  It offers opportunities to collaborate and co-produce knowledge and research with companies who can directly benefit from the research, and can offer insight and an alternative perspective on the problems being tackled.
At Sussex and across the Southeast Network for Social Science (SeNSS), there are several students who have benefited from business engagement through the ESRC Business Boost programme, for example:
  • A PhD student in the School of Psychology (US) collaborated with, and spent 1 week with Better Good (who develop the app Sparrow) in California, USA. Based on PhD research, the student was able to test and provide insights into psychological processes relevant to the Sparrow app, offering Better Good a way to personalise their app. The visit provided Sparrow insights from neuroscience methods and enabled the student to develop relationships and discuss possible collaborations.
  • A PhD student in the School of Global Studies (US) engaged with African diaspora networks in London, e.g. AFFORD, in order to investigate and support sustainable investments and financing in emerging markets. This resulted in a successful networking event, development of a podcast series and a website platform for sharing the academic research to relevant businesses.
  • Two PhD students – one from the School of Global Studies and one from the School for Education and Social Work (US) – worked together to explore the direction of commercially projected identity in children’s animation and toy production. They were able to engage with several animation studios in the UK and Europe, creating a space for reflection for the executives they engaged with, demonstrating the potential place for a considered approach to research.
Pippa Groome, PhD student at the University of Sussex, engaged with several London-based organisations, examining strategies to gender-balance in UK major infrastructure projects, and learned that:

“There is strong industry demand for my research, providing rich engagement opportunities. I need to respond openly and flexibly to accommodate industry interests, in the co-production of knowledge.”

Phil Jones, Managing Director of Wired Sussex, which operates Fusebox, a collaborative R&D space in Brighton, hosted University of Sussex PhD students, and said:

“Innovation is a contact sport….great ideas come through collaboration … one of the advantages for (technology) businesses of having social scientists in the Fusebox is they can begin to understand the impact of their technologies on people and on society”

 The following video highlights the work of the two students at Wired Sussex's Fusebox:


In 2018/19 over 25 other PhD students from across the 10 universities in SeNSS – 16 of which were located at Sussex - were funded to engage with businesses on social science topics that benefited both their research and business needs. Although the funding through the ESRC Business Boost has now ended, the University of Sussex is keen to support industry collaborations with PhD students, and assistance is available through Collaborate with US.
Interested in knowing more?
  •  Collaborate with US – if you’re based at the University of Sussex and interested in developing or continuing business collaborations, please get in touch, whether you’re a PhD student or supervisor. 
 Further resources
  • The projects funded in 2018/19, as well as the whole Business Boost programme, are summarised in this brochure and a final event captured by a "live scribe" in a series of infographics, see here.
  • Further case studies of other students from the Business Boost are found in an additional 3 videos, found here.
  • A business toolkit was developed to help those considering business engagement.
  • The ESRC has information on postgraduate collaborations here.


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