3.5 years PhD fully funded studentship offered by SPRU within the European Research Council (ERC) project EMPOCI (2020)

The Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), within the University of Sussex Business School, is offering two fully funded PhD studentships within the European Research Council (ERC) project EMPOCI on ‘Governing sustainable energy-mobility transitions: multi-level policy mixes, transformative capacities and low-carbon innovations’. The EMPOCI project investigates how global low-carbon transitions in the increasingly interconnected energy and mobility systems can be accelerated on a regional and national level.

Type of award

Postgraduate Research Studentships

PhD project

The PhD topic: Governing sustainable energy-mobility transitions in 1) UK with Scotland, 2) USA with California or 3) China with Guangdong

The EMPOCI PhD students will be enrolled for a PhD in Science and Technology Policy Studies and are expected to produce a cumulative PhD thesis (based on three peer-reviewed journal articles). The PhD topic will contribute to answering the overarching research question of the EMPOCI project on how to accelerate the low-carbon transition in the increasingly interconnected energy and mobility systems on a regional and national level. For this, the PhD students will be involved in all work packages of the EMPOCI project (except WP5), with each student focussing on a different country (UK, US or China) including a pioneering region within that country (Scotland, California or Guangdong).

Conceptually, each PhD will seek to enrich the interdisciplinary field of socio-technical innovation/transition studies (Koehler et al., 2019; Zolfagharian et al., 2019) with theories, concepts, and approaches from the field of policy studies to enable a better understanding of the governance of politically contested and complex multi-sectoral sustainability transitions (Kern and Rogge, 2018; Kern et al., 2019). For this, the PhD could, for example, draw on the advocacy coalition framework (Weible et al., 2011), discourse analysis (Hajer and Versteeg, 2005) or governance network theory (Klijn and Koppenjan, 2012), but other suggestions are also very welcome (Sabatier and Weible, 2014).

The proposed interdisciplinary framework shall foreground the causal interplay between actors (business, policy, academia, society), multi-level policy mixes and low-carbon innovations (technological, organisational, business model, social, institutional and/or policy innovation), and the role of transformative capacity and exogenous conditions for the unfolding co-evolutionary transition processes (Wolfram, 2016; Edmondson et al., 2019). By adopting a socio-political transitions perspective the PhD will recognize the existence of barriers arising from lock-in, vested interests and resistance to change, and will pay dedicated attention to the politics and power involved in transition processes (Geels, 2014; Stirling, 2014; Smink et al., 2015). This implies that acceleration not only calls for the coordination of efforts on different governance levels (e.g. national vs regional) and policy fields (climate vs industrial policy), but also for implementing policy mixes for creative destruction (Kivimaa and Kern, 2016; Rogge and Reichardt, 2016).

Empirically, each PhD student will focus on conducting one country/region case study, combining qualitative and quantitative analysis. Interested candidates should indicate whether they intend to study 1) the UK with Scotland, 2) the USA with California or 3) China with Guangdong.

The PhD topics shall follow EMPOCI in acknowledging that deep decarbonization requires simultaneous low-carbon transitions in multiple sectors (Geels et al., 2017; Schot and Kanger, 2018), such as across the electricity-mobility-ICT systems, reflecting trends in electrification, digitization and decentralisation (Canzler et al., 2017; Di Silvestre et al., 2018). PhD proposals can assume a broad perspective on energy-mobility transitions, but are also welcome to suggest (a) key area(s) for in-depth investigation, such as electricity storage/grid innovation or novel ICT/digitalization solutions at the interface of energy-mobility systems. In addition, PhD topics can give an equal weight on studying business, policy, academia and society as relevant actor groups, but may also suggest conducting in-depth investigations on (a) particular actor group(s), such as media, trade unions or NGOs.

Data will be collected through desktop analysis, expert interviews, multi-actor case studies and surveys, much of which will be undertaken in the country/region in question (incl. one year in the field). In particular, the qualitative case studies shall seek to investigate which role actors and their networks play for the interplay between policy mixes and low-carbon inno­vations, and how this is influenced by transformative capacity and exogenous conditions. In contrast, the quantitative survey analysis shall aim at investigating to what extent multi-level policy mixes explain the innovation activities of actors involved in multi-sectoral transition processes, and vice versa, and what is the role of transformative capacity for this interplay. The PhD topics may also propose to draw on big data analytics (e.g. social media analysis) and other novel methods (particularly from the field of policy studies) – thereby enhancing our understanding of the interplay between policy mixes and socio-technical change.


EMPOCI Project

In its 1.5°C report the IPCC stressed that global efforts to promote low-carbon transitions need to be accelerated to meet the Paris Agreement. This raises a number of questions for the emerging field of policy mixes for sustainability transitions, such as on the role of actors and multi-level governance in interconnected and politically contested socio-technical transition processes. The EMPOCI project, funded by the ERC, aims at addressing these knowledge gaps through its three objectives:

  1. To provide a novel conceptual and empirical understanding of the global interplay between multi-level policy mixes and low-carbon innovations in socio-technical transitions which foregrounds the role of actors and transformative capacity.
  • By bridging the innovation/transition and policy studies literatures and comparatively analyzing the increasingly interconnected electricity-mobility-ICT systems in four key countries (Germany, UK, China, USA), EMPOCI will advance the research frontier on transformative policy mixes for low-carbon transitions.

2. To develop and test widely applicable novel methodological tools enabling both deep and broad insights into the drivers and barriers in unfolding multi-sectoral transition processes towards sustainability.

  • Drawing on a multi-method research design EMPOCI will provide novel standards for assessing policy, agency and innovation dynamics in politically contested low-carbon transition processes (e.g. surveys, big data, foresight).

3. To co-design practically relevant multi-actor strategies for accelerating sustainable energy-mobility transitions, thereby supporting the Paris Agreement in combating climate change.

  • Based on EMPOCI's findings a transformative foresight process is organized with stakeholders from business, policy, academia and society to jointly derive implications for transformative policy mixes.

EMPOCI is a 5-year project that starts on June 1, 2020 and is led by Prof Karoline Rogge. Her project team will be composed of one research fellow (for 5 years) and two PhD students (for 3.5 years). The successful PhD candidates will be expected to start on June 15, 2020 or on September 15, 2020. For more information please see: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/research/projects/empoci 


PhD supervisors

Students interested in this topic will be supervised by Karoline Rogge. Potential co-supervisors include Lucy Baker, Marie Claire Brisbois, Adrian Ely, Tim Foxon, Phil Johnstone, Paula Kivimaa, Matthew Lockwood and Adrian Smith. You are welcome to indicate your preferred choice of co-supervisor.


Further Information on the School / Department

The University of Sussex Business School

The University of Sussex Business School was formed in 2009 and comprises the Department of Accounting and Finance, the Department of Strategy and Marketing, the Department of Management, the Department of Economics and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU). With a new home in the Jubilee Building, a state-of-the-art academic building at the heart of the campus, the Business School is a vibrant, ambitious and dynamic School with a strong research focus.

SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit)

Founded in 1966 by Christopher Freeman, SPRU was one of the first interdisciplinary research centres in the field of science and technology policy and management. Today, with over 60 faculty members, SPRU remains at the forefront of new ideas, problem-orientated research, inspiring teaching, and creative, high impact engagement with decision makers across government, business and civil society. Our research addresses pressing global policy agendas, including innovation challenges posed by the digital economy, the future of industrial policy, inclusive economic growth, the politics of scientific expertise, energy policy, security issues, entrepreneurship, and pathways to a more sustainable future.

SPRU researchers are driven by a desire to tackle real-world questions, whilst also contributing to a deeper theoretical understanding of how science, technology and innovation is shaping today’s world. A 2012 study published in the journal 'Research Policy' ranked SPRU second only to Harvard University in terms of its research impact in innovation studies.

With a community of over 140 MSc and doctoral students from all over the world, SPRU is also well known for its high quality, research-led teaching programmes.

The Sussex Energy Group (SEG)

The Sussex Energy Group (SEG) aims to understand and foster transitions towards sustainable, low carbon energy systems. Drawing from SPRU’s tradition, researchers in the Sussex Energy Group undertake academically rigorous, interdisciplinary and world-leading research that is relevant to contemporary policy challenges. SEG also educates the next generation of energy policy professionals through our MSc and PhD programmes.

SEG’s research interests are in the prospects for a more sustainable energy future. The group's expertise covers a wide range of areas, including energy innovation and transitions, economics and finance, energy justice, energy demand and behaviour, smart infrastructure, and energy supply technologies.

 Brighton, January 6, 2020


Canzler, W., Engels, F., Rogge, J.-C., Simon, D., Wentland, A., 2017. From “living lab” to strategic action field: Bringing together energy, mobility, and Information Technology in Germany. Energy Research & Social Science 27, 25–35. 10.1016/j.erss.2017.02.003.

Di Silvestre, M.L., Favuzza, S., Riva Sanseverino, E., Zizzo, G., 2018. How Decarbonization, Digitalization and Decentralization are changing key power infrastructures. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 93 (June), 483–498. 10.1016/j.rser.2018.05.068.

Edmondson, D.L., Kern, F., Rogge, K.S., 2019. The co-evolution of policy mixes and socio-technical systems: Towards a conceptual framework of policy mix feedback in sustainability transitions. Research Policy, 103555. 10.1016/j.respol.2018.03.010.

Geels, F.W., 2014. Regime Resistance against Low-Carbon Transitions: Introducing Politics and Power into the Multi-Level Perspective. Theory, Culture & Society 31 (5), 21–40. 10.1177/0263276414531627.

Geels, F.W., Sovacool, B.K., Schwanen, T., Sorrell, S., 2017. Sociotechnical transitions for deep decarbonization. Science (New York, N.Y.) 357 (6357), 1242–1244. 10.1126/science.aao3760.

Hajer, M., Versteeg, W., 2005. A decade of discourse analysis of environmental politics: Achievements, challenges, perspectives. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning 7 (3), 175–184. 10.1080/15239080500339646.

Kern, F., Rogge, K.S., 2018. Harnessing theories of the policy process for analysing the politics of sustainability transitions: A critical survey. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 27, 102–117. 10.1016/j.eist.2017.11.001.

Kern, F., Rogge, K.S., Howlett, M., 2019. Policy mixes for sustainability transitions: New approaches and insights through bridging innovation and policy studies. Research Policy, 103832. 10.1016/j.respol.2019.103832.

Kivimaa, P., Kern, F., 2016. Creative destruction or mere niche support?: Innovation policy mixes for sustainability transitions. Research Policy 45 (1), 205–217. 10.1016/j.respol.2015.09.008.

Klijn, E.-H., Koppenjan, J., 2012. Governance network theory: Past, present and future. Policy & Politics 40 (4), 587–606. 10.1332/030557312X655431.

Köhler, J., Geels, F.W., Kern, F., Markard, J., Wieczorek, A., Alkemade, F., Avelino, F., Bergek, A., Boons, F., Fünfschilling, L., Hess, D., Holtz, G., Hyysalo, S., Jenkins, K., Kivimaa, P., Martiskainen, M., McMeekin, A., Mühlemeier, M.S., Nykvist, B., Onsongo, E., Pel, B., Raven, R., Rohracher, H., Sandén, B., Schot, J., Sovacool, B., Turnheim, B., Welch, D., Wells, P., 2019. An agenda for sustainability transitions research: State of the art and future directions. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 31, 1–32. 10.1016/j.eist.2019.01.004.

Rogge, K.S., Reichardt, K., 2016. Policy mixes for sustainability transitions: An extended concept and framework for analysis. Research Policy 45 (8), 1620–1635. 10.1016/j.respol.2016.04.004.

Sabatier, P.A., Weible, C.M., 2014. Theories of the policy process, 3rd ed. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.

Schot, J., Kanger, L., 2018. Deep transitions: Emergence, acceleration, stabilization and directionality. Research Policy 47 (6), 1045–1059. 10.1016/j.respol.2018.03.009.

Smink, M.M., Hekkert, M.P., Negro, S.O., 2015. Keeping sustainable innovation on a leash? Exploring incumbents’ institutional strategies. Bus. Strat. Env. 24 (2), 86–101. 10.1002/bse.1808.

Stirling, A., 2014. Transforming power: Social science and the politics of energy choices. Energy Research & Social Science 1, 83–95. 10.1016/j.erss.2014.02.001.

Weible, C.M., Sabatier, P.A., Jenkins-Smith, H.C., Nohrstedt, D., Henry, A.D., deLeon, P., 2011. A quarter century of the advocacy coalition framework: An introduction to the special issue. Policy Studies Journal 39 (3), 349–360. 10.1111/j.1541-0072.2011.00412.x.

Wolfram, M., 2016. Conceptualizing urban transformative capacity: A framework for research and policy. Cities 51, 121–130. 10.1016/j.cities.2015.11.011.

Zolfagharian, M., Walrave, B., Raven, R., Romme, A.G.L., 2019. Studying transitions: Past, present, and future. Research Policy 48, 103788. 10.1016/j.respol.2019.04.012.


The two PhD studentships each cover a PhD stipend, a PhD fee waiver and additional benefits:

  • PhD stipend: A tax-free stipend of £15,800 annually for 3.5 years. In addition, there will be an opportunity to apply for a position as research assistant within the EMPOCI project.
  • PhD fee waiver: No tuition fees for 3.5 years (including UK, EU and international students)
  • Additional benefits: PhD research and training related costs for 3.5 years (e.g. equipment, travel budget for fieldwork, subcontracting of surveys, interview transcriptions, summer schools, conferences, workshops, open access publications, etc.)

 PhD candidates will also benefit from a stimulating research environment within which EMPOCI is based:

  • The Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) is one of the most diverse science-policy departments in the world, mentoring researchers from different backgrounds to produce interdisciplinary and mixed-methods research relevant not only for theory but also for policy and practitioners.
  • The Sussex Energy Group (SEG) is one of the largest social science research groups on energy policy globally which conducts world-leading interdisciplinary research on energy systems.


Essential requirements

We are seeking PhD candidates with an interest in the governance of low-carbon socio-technical transitions in the energy-mobility systems (in UK, US, or China) meeting the following requirements:

  • MSc degree: A very good Master’s degree in the social sciences (e.g. in innovation/transition studies, policy/governance studies, political science, geography/regional studies, and related fields). Exceptional candidates with a natural science or engineering background in fields related to EMPOCI will also be considered, if they wish to pursue a social science PhD.
  • Bachelor’s degree: A good Bachelor’s degree in any discipline(s), but preferably with relevance for studying sustainable energy-mobility transitions.
  • Methods skills: Prior experience with qualitative or quantitative research methods.
  • Language skills: Fluency in oral and written English; for PhD on China also fluency in Chinese.


Desirable skills and experience

  • Sectoral expertise in the electricity-mobility-ICT systems (incl. through work experience).
  • Country expertise on policy making for energy-mobility transitions in China, US or UK (incl. through work experience). Regional expertise on Guangdong, California or Scotland is a plus.
  • Prior studies or research in interdisciplinary innovation/transition studies, or related fields.
  • Prior studies or research on the politics of transitions, theories of the policy process, multi-level governance, policy mixes for sustainability transitions, or related fields.

Number of scholarships available



16 February 2020 23:59 (GMT)

How to apply

Applications should be sent to k.rogge@sussex.ac.uk by February 16, 2020 (end of day) with:

1.  Basic information (compiled in one pdf-document):

  • A letter of motivation (max. 1 page, incl. relevant prior experience and starting date)
  • Your CV (including courses taken and grades obtained, max. 2 pages)

2.  Your research proposal (pdf, 2,000 words, incl. bibliography – but shorter proposals will also be considered), including a clear indication of the country to be researched (UK, US or China).

3.  Your MSc thesis as pdf-document (or if not yet available a recent seminar paper in English).

4.  A reference letter emailed directly to Prof Rogge (e.g. from your MSc thesis supervisor, or your current/previous employer) with subject line “EMPOCI PhD: Reference for YOURNAME”.

We welcome applications from suitably qualified people, regardless of ethnicity, age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, and working patterns.


Contact us

Please direct enquiries about the studentships to Prof Karoline Rogge: k.rogge@sussex.ac.uk

General queries can be sent to: business-researchstudents@sussex.ac.uk.


Timeline post application deadline

  • Anticipated interview period: February 24-25 and 27-28, 2020 (typically virtual interviews)
  • A second round of F2F interviews might occur in March 2020 (to be determined)
  • Expected offers, conditional on departmental clearance: expected for end of March 2020
  • Successful PhD candidates are expected to start on June 15, 2020 or on September 15, 2020


At level(s):
PG (research)

Application deadline:
16 February 2020 23:59 (GMT)
the deadline has now expired


The award is available to people from these specific countries: