PhDs that give students experience of industry are a hit with employers, says Nick Jackson

Big business and environmentalism are often seen as opposing forces. But, as the cost of European environmental legislation becomes apparent, more businesses are turning to environmental research - while researchers who want to make a real difference are happy to show them how to be green yet turn a profit.

Big business and environmentalism are often seen as opposing forces. But, as the cost of European environmental legislation becomes apparent, more businesses are turning to environmental research - while researchers who want to make a real difference are happy to show them how to be green yet turn a profit.

Surrey and Brunel universities have been blazing this trail for 12 years, with their engineering doctorate (EngD) in environmental technology. The programme has brought together about 60 companies and leading environmental researchers on a variety of projects, from technology to policy work.

Students spend three-quarters of their time with the companies, and the rest doing modules at the university. The attraction for business is obvious: access to top-notch academic researchers. Students get a good deal, too, with two supervisors, invaluable industry experience, and an impressive stipend of at least £17,000 a year tax-free.

The structured course helps students, says Dr Chris France, who has been running the Surrey/Brunel programme since 1993. Open-ended research can be a great frustration for PhD students and their supervisors. "We are very good at seeing research driven through to some answer," France says. "Because we have the pressure on us, we have to come out with some firm proposals."

Doing environmental research with a clear commercial benefit is what the EngD is all about. "We don't mind if people hug trees, but only in their free time. We want to show companies how they can make money while being greener."

For France, this influence is central. "The main thing we gain as a university is a link with industry," he says. "We can get our theories applied and tried out, so we're not just pontificating." Thanks to the EngD, Surrey is now the best place in the UK to study the environmental impact of the electronics industry.

Despite its title, students on engineering doctorate programmes do not need to come from an engineering background. Far more important is a background of academic excellence in engineering or the natural sciences, and some industry experience, as Matt Wayman knows.

Wayman got a First from Bristol in chemistry with environmental science and is now in his fourth year of an EngD programme at Surrey. He's working with the Transport Research Laboratory to examine the proximity principle of waste disposal, which states that it is always best to manage waste as close as possible to where it is generated, and which has become a standard of EU legislation.

"It's a PhD that is commercially applicable," Wayman says. "I wanted to do a doctorate, and with this you get to see the commercial side of things." Most important for him, though, is the influence his work will have on the environment.

One of the main features of the environmental technology course is how attractive it makes graduates to industry. Dr Kieran Mayers, a graduate of the course, now works as environmental programme manager for Sony Entertainment. "When I graduated, I went into a job almost immediately," he says.

Environmental strategy has come to the fore in Europe, and Surrey's EngD in environmental technology is an opportunity for companies and environmentalists alike to be green and still stay in the black.

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