UKRI Reviews of Doctoral Training – The Good and Some Cause for Concern

The UKRI, the overarching government body that manages publicly funded research and innovation in the UK, has just published two reports on doctoral training one in STEM (the EPSRC report) and one by the equivalent in social sciences (the ESRC report). Both reports recognise the value of doctoral training with an emphasis on employers rather than the wider community. The reports highlight the need for future action in this area:

Alongside council-specific actions, the two reviews are also an important contribution to the evidence base for a new deal for postgraduate research, which will address:

  • funding and stipend levels
  • routes in, through and out of doctoral training
  • rights and conditions
  • diversification of models and access.

UKRI – accessed 10-10-2021

The EPSRC has released its review of doctoral training in the STEM arena within the UK. There is a wealth of information on the background to the report including outcomes from workshops with stakeholders and a review of the current literature. There is also the report itself and the recommendations therein.

List of recommendations  
Recommendation 1 To stimulate economic growth, EPSRC should increase the number of students it supports and the professional development that they receive. EPSRC-funded doctoral students go onto careers in innovation and research in manufacturing, information and communication technologies and other scientific and technical careers in industry and academia. To become a global science superpower, the number of people with these skills must grow and EPSRC must lead by increasing the number of students it supports. EPSRC should bid for an uplift of investment in EPS for doctoral education from the spending review and other opportunities.
Recommendation 2 EPSRC should better demonstrate the value of a doctorate, its outcomes, and the destination of doctoral graduates, so that this is understood by all key stakeholders.
Recommendation 3 EPSRC should continue to provide thought leadership in doctoral education to the EPS community by investing in the highest quality doctoral education provision which supports a diverse range of career paths.
Recommendation 4 EPSRC should provide a stable long-term baseline of investment to support a creative and innovative fundamental research community (such as the current algorithmic DTP investment), alongside a more dynamic framework to respond to and support emerging strategic priorities (for example by investing in more frequent CDT competitions and including studentship investments alongside research investments in top priority strategic areas).
Recommendation 5 To effectively support the UK’s increasing STEM capability, the system as a whole needs to grow. Recognising the high value placed on doctoral studentships by industry, EPSRC should engage with industry (both the current and new sectors) to encourage and enable increased industry funding and co-funding of doctoral students. These are effective ways of attracting industry investment into the R&D landscape.
Recommendation 6 EPSRC should showcase the ways small and medium enterprises can and do engage with doctoral students, to widen participation and enable overall growth in the system.
Recommendation 7 EPSRC should work with UKRI on doctoral student issues covered by the Government’s People and Culture Strategy expected to be published in summer 2021, ensuring that issues facing the EPS community are addressed. In particular, the New Deal for postgraduate research is expected to address areas such as the stipend level for doctoral students, the rights and conditions of doctoral studentships, financial sustainability of doctoral education investments, doctoral student recruitment policies, and the health and wellbeing of students.
Recommendation 8 The existing opportunity to employ graduates on UKRI grants does not replace our main route to doctoral education but could provide a valuable alternative career
Recommendation 9 EPSRC should work with the sector to provide greater recognition and visibility of the wider skills developed alongside research skills during a doctorate to ensure the employability of all doctoral graduates.
Recommendation 10 All EPSRC funded students should have access to opportunities outside of their research project (e.g., conferences, placements, public engagement), irrespective of the funding route. EPSRC should be explicit within each scheme that funding should be made available for opportunities outside of the research project.
Recommendation 11 EPSRC should prioritise funding excellent doctoral experiences and access to opportunities over student numbers, while ensuring value for money.
Recommendation 12 EPSRC should assist those who deliver the EPSRC doctoral investments in developing and sharing good practice.
Recommendation 13 It is essential that EPSRC continues to invest through a diverse range of flexible approaches so that we continue to support doctoral students’ varied needs, backgrounds and potential careers as well as the differing requirements of the research and innovation communities.
Recommendation 14 As EPSRC’s current mechanisms are well regarded, new initiatives should only be introduced where there is a compelling case for an alternative approach.
Recommendation 15 EPSRC should work with all stakeholders to ensure the current flexibilities relating to both collaboration and supporting students are well known and used.
Recommendation 16 Doctoral education should be available to people following a variety of career paths. EPSRC should work with stakeholders to continue to improve access, diversity of entry points to doctoral education and tailored support for individuals.
Recommendation 17 EPSRC should understand detailed EDI issues in each of our research areas or sectors and work with our community and representative bodies to address them. EPSRC will continue to work within UKRI on broader EDI initiatives.
Recommendation 18 EPSRC should explore how doctoral training investments can support the levelling up agenda.

Nasal chondrocytes as a potential alternative for tissue-engineered replacements for osteoarthritic joints

According to a recent study published in Nature, nasal-tissue engineered chondrocytes showed promising preclinical results to treat knee arthroplasty in osteoarthritic conditions. According to the authors, the in vitro exposition to inflammatory cytokines (IL-6, IL-1𝛽, TNF) did not imply articular cartilage phenotype loss. Successful tests were currently conducted in animals (mice) showing integration with the underlying bone. Two patients were also successfully treated with the novel therapy with a resulting reduction in pain and increased joint function. The results are promising for further clinical trials with controlled groups and for the treatment of other joints [1].


“Rheumatoid arthritis of finger joint with one-sided inflammation of the synovial membrane and articular cartilage” by MyArthritis is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


This article was written by André Plath as part of an ongoing series of scientific communications written and curated by BioTrib’s Early Stage Researchers.

André is researching Boundary Lubrication of Fibrous Scaffolds at ETH Zürich, Switzerland.




[1]    L. Acevedo Rua, M. Mumme, C. Manferdini, S. Darwiche, A. Khalil, M. Hilpert, D.A. Buchner, G. Lisignoli, P. Occhetta, B. von Rechenberg, M. Haug, D.J. Schaefer, M. Jakob, A. Caplan, I. Martin, A. Barbero, K. Pelttari, Engineered nasal cartilage for the repair of osteoarthritic knee cartilage defects, Sci. Transl. Med. 13 (2021) eaaz4499.

Kartogenin – a promising drug for cartilage regeneration.

Kartogenin (KGN) is a small, non-toxic, heterocyclic molecule, it has been known for effectively enhancing the chondrogenic differentiation of human bone marrow MSC (hBMSC), for exhibiting chondroprotective effects in vitro and for reducing cartilage degeneration [1].
KGN interacts with the actin-binding protein filamin A, disrupting its balance with the transcription factor core-binding factor β (CBFβ), giving it the ability to enter the nucleus and interact with RUNX1 to form the CBFβ-RUNX1 complex that activates the transcription of chondrogenesis-related proteins and enhances cartilage ECM synthesis [1].

Comparison between hBMSC proliferation and morphology on PCL nanofibers (A) and KGN-loaded aligned nanofibers (B): SEM images showing hBMSC morphology on selected electrospun scaffolds tested (at day 21). Results are presented as mean ± SD (n = 3). *p < 0.05. Scale bar: 10 μm. Image reproduced from [3].
KGN has been pointed out as a promising drug for cartilage regeneration in vivo [2].
In a recent study, it has been speculated that KGN released from coaxial aligned electropsun nanofibers in a controlled manner would promote hBMSC chondrogenesis. To access the bioactivity of the released KGN it was used the evaluation of KGN-loaded electrospun scaffolds ability to promote hBMSC growth and chondrogenesis. The experiments showed that KGN-loaded electrospun scaffolds promoted sGAG production and chondrogenic gene expression when compared to the respective non-loaded scaffolds, a promising result for the regeneration of the cartilage superficial zone. [3].

This outcome highlights the potential of KGN-loaded aligned nanofibers for the development of novel biomimetic MSC-based strategies to regenerate articular cartilage.


This article was written by Elisa Bissacco as part of an ongoing series of scientific communications written and curated by BioTrib’s Early Stage Researchers.

She is studying a PhD in Tribological Characteristics of Nanofibrous Electrospun Materials at ETH Zurich.



[1] Johnson K, Zhu S, Tremblay MS, Payette JN, Wang J, Bouchez LC, Meeusen S, Althage A, Cho CY, Wu X, Schultz PG, A stem cell-based approach to cartilage repair, Science. 336 (2012) 717–721. doi:10.1126/science.1215157.
[2] Cartilage Extracellular Matrix Scaffold With Kartogenin-Encapsulated PLGA Microspheres for Cartilage Regeneration, Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol. (2020)
[3] Silva J, Udangawa R, Mancinelli C, Kartogenin-loaded coaxial PGS/PCL aligned nanofibers for cartilage tissue engineering, Mater Sci Eng C Mater Biol Appl. (2020) 107: 110291.

Mechanical Engineers Walk the Walk – Well Cycle the Cycle!

Absolutely great effort from the School’s Med Tech cyclists Drs Peter Culmer and Andrew Jackson in support of Cancer Support Yorkshire. The route was the famous The Way of the Roses… nice play on words… unifying the pre-eminent counties of England, Lancashire and Yorkshire.

A mighty 250 km cycle across the country in one day!

Please donate on Just Giving:

This post was written by Richard M Hall on behalf of Andrew Jackson and Pete Culmer – Mechanical Engineering, University of Leeds.

Conspiracy theories as new pandemics arise… the role of the scientist!

Word Cloud from a set of Guardian posts on the origins of HIV

While reading the literature for a forthcoming grant submission on aspects of the HIV pandemic, I came across several articles both within and outside the mainstream media that relate to the development and spread of troubling assertions. These concern, for instance, the origin of HIV and an implied role of politicians in restricting or encouraging certain avenues of development to maintain industries’ pre-eminent economic position and profit-making. Sometimes these assertions develop into conspiracy theories which are explained, at a later date, in relatively simple terms, as is the case in recognising HIV sequences in the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Here, a bit more thought and critical evaluation would have prevented this avenue of thought, but instead it was posted on a pre-print server for all to see and then subsequently withdrawn, but not before the ‘engineered’ virus concept had taken hold in certain areas of the media.  The simple explanation was that a number of viruses have these sequences.

So what, as scientists, are we to do about preventing such misrepresentations in terms of engaging the public and our own self-management? Here are some thoughts:

  • Employ the skills that are central to our work as scientists, indeed as researchers more broadly, of checking, validating and providing critical insight to our work.  This is particularly important in the medical field generally, but in pandemics specifically, where there may be a heightened awareness of our own frailty and fear of new pathogens that arise from time to time.
  • Personally, I am concerned by the rise in the production of pre-prints from a niche activity to one that has now become mainstream. I suspect this is motivated by data-driven metrics (citations but also prestige) as well as the ‘first to print’, which may be important in exploiting base technologies. It can be argued, however, that this rapid dissemination of information is key, not only in developing collaborative research, especially in times of a pandemic, but also in allowing the quick development of frameworks and insights that may otherwise take months to generate if the peer-review process had to be adhered to. To protect both the research community and the wider public, servers hosting pre-prints have strengthened their assessment procedures once an article is posted. Nature Cancer provides a more nuanced overview of this issue as does the Lancet.
  • We should take it upon ourselves to assess the risks involved in how we report scientific findings, asking ourselves whether our published work can be misconstrued or misrepresented so as to allow a false discourse to emerge that can create a situation that does more harm than good.  I am not suggesting, in any form, that we should self-censor but there may be better ways of disseminating information to allow a more constructive debate.  A lack of transparency can also lead to a rise in misinformation, although we should endeavour to realise that the relationship between opaqueness, conspiracies and power, in the eyes of the public and other stakeholder groups, is a complex one and there are no easy fixes.
  • Following on from this we should aim to provide the public with timely information (see my second point) that adds to the debate, treats the individual or group with respect and takes out of the communication moralising (our prejudice) about their behaviour or activity. This is a multidisciplinary arena which works most effectively when it engages people from different disciplines and stakeholder groups to develop strategies relevant to the target cohort(s).
  • Words (and deeds) matter – choose your words carefully and have consideration for the cultural as well as scientific aspects of the cohorts’ living status.  Using certain words and phrases, however well meaning, can alienate, disenfranchise, further stigmatise and evoke distrust in the individuals or groups we are trying to help.  This applies across a range of illnesses and traumas, but particularly so for those in which there is significant stigma, such as mental health and HIV. In doing so, and where you can, try to make it a two-way dialogue and place the person we are trying to help at the centre of the research – co-create and co-produce – and ensure their contribution is valued.

Those outside science, medicine and research also have responsibilities, especially those that are in positions which require them to uphold given behaviour and adhere to certain protocols or codes of conduct. This is particularly important when using frameworks to build trust between stakeholders in the public at large and the wider concept of ‘truth’.

These are just a few thoughts and are not meant to be definitive answers. But I do hope to stimulate some debate.

ETH-Zurich Early Stage Researcher’s Participate in the Swiss Medtech and Additive Manufacturing EXPO 2021!

On September 14 and 15, 2021, the Messe Luzern hosted, simultaneously, the Swiss Medtech Expo and the Addictive Manufacturing (AMX) Exhibits. Andre Plath and Elisa Bissacco, BioTrib ETH ESRs, and their ETH-colleagues participated in the exhibit and visited the 160 exhibitors on-site. The trade fairs showcased new designs, materials, technologies, and medical processes. The event also had talks from key industry and research partners, among them several ETH professors. The talks were held continuously throughout the event in two stages. 

Swiss Manufacturing and AMX were interesting opportunities to be in contact with top-notch technology and with the latest developments in the biomedical industry. There we had an opportunity to network with key stakeholders and attend talks that will enrich our careers and our projects” says Andre.
The fair was really interesting; it gave us the possibility to observe and analyze the top-notch additive-manufacturing swiss technologies and to discuss with several field experts and professionals” according to Elisa.


This article was written by André Plath as part of an ongoing series of scientific communications written and curated by BioTrib’s Early Stage Researchers.

André is researching Boundary Lubrication of Fibrous Scaffolds at ETH Zürich, Switzerland.


Cartilage Tissue Engineering and Electrospinning

Cartilage-related diseases are a promising field to explore in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. The cartilage hydrated structure is aneural, avascular, and non-lymphatic, which complicates natural regeneration [1,2]. The increase in life expectancy and obesity is directly correlated to osteoarthritis –the disease caused by the degradation of cartilage. The painful consequences also increase comorbidities and burden patients and healthcare providers with exorbitant costs [3,4].

Currently, surgical and non-surgical therapies are employed to address osteoarthritis. They are not permanent solutions [5–7]. Therefore, several groups are developing hydrogels [8,9], electrospun mats [10], and other biomaterials to mimic the natural properties of cartilage. These implants can increase patients’ quality of life, reducing pain, comorbidities, and other undesirable effects after their clinical trials and regulatory agency approval.


Chondrocyte proliferation on neutralized chitosan fiber mats. Image adapted from under Creative Commons License

Yilmaz and Zeugolis discuss the promises, challenges, and future perspectives of electrospinning applied to cartilage tissue engineering [11]. They emphasize that although electrospinning literature is abundant in the Pubmed database, few studies explore electrospining’s potential applied to cartilage tissue engineering. The authors demonstrate with pre-clinical results that stem cell-seeded electrospun scaffolds combined with other techniques (3D printing and freeze-drying) can recover lubricating properties, mechanical resistance and restore cartilage tissue properties [11]. Although the reviewed studies consider small animals (rats, mice, and rabbits), they are promising to people suffering from the pain and harmful effects of osteoarthritis worldwide [11].


This article was written by André Plath as part of an ongoing series of scientific communications written and curated by BioTrib’s Early Stage Researchers.

André is researching Boundary Lubrication of Fibrous Scaffolds at ETH Zürich, Switzerland.




[1]        L.M. Billesberger, K.M. Fisher, Y.J. Qadri, R.L. Boortz-Marx, Procedural Treatments for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Review of Current Injectable Therapies, Pain Res. Manag. 2020 (2020) 1–11.

[2]        E.D. Bonnevie, V.J. Baro, L. Wang, D.L. Burris, Fluid load support during localized indentation of cartilage with a spherical probe, J. Biomech. 45 (2012) 1036–1041.

[3]        S. Glyn-Jones, A.J.R. Palmer, R. Agricola, A.J. Price, T.L. Vincent, H. Weinans, A.J. Carr, Osteoarthritis, in: Lancet, Lancet Publishing Group, 2015: pp. 376–387.

[4]        D.J. Hunter, L. March, M. Chew, Osteoarthritis in 2020 and beyond: a Lancet Commission, Lancet. 396 (2020) 1711–1712.

[5]        Y. Lee, J. Choi, N.S. Hwang, Regulation of lubricin for functional cartilage tissue regeneration: a review, Biomater. Res. 22 (2018) 9.

[6]        G. Musumeci, C. Loreto, M.L. Carnazza, F. Coppolino, V. Cardile, R. Leonardi, Lubricin is expressed in chondrocytes derived from osteoarthritic cartilage encapsulated in poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate scaffold, Eur. J. Histochem. 55 (2011) 31.

[7]        W. Kabir, C. Di Bella, I. Jo, D. Gould, P.F.M. Choong, Human Stem Cell Based Tissue Engineering for In Vivo Cartilage Repair: A Systematic Review, Tissue Eng. Part B Rev. 27 (2021).

[8]        Y. Gombert, R. Simič, F. Roncoroni, M. Dübner, T. Geue, N.D. Spencer, Structuring Hydrogel Surfaces for Tribology, Adv. Mater. Interfaces. 6 (2019) 1901320.

[9]        M. Jurak, A.E. Wiącek, A. Ładniak, K. Przykaza, K. Szafran, What affects the biocompatibility of polymers?, Adv. Colloid Interface Sci. 294 (2021) 102451.

[10]      J.K. Wise, A.L. Yarin, C.M. Megaridis, M. Cho, Chondrogenic Differentiation of Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells on Oriented Nanofibrous Scaffolds: Engineering the Superficial Zone of Articular Cartilage, Tissue Eng. Part A. 15 (2009) 913–921.

[11]      E.N. Yilmaz, D.I. Zeugolis, Electrospun Polymers in Cartilage Engineering—State of Play, Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol. 8 (2020).

Validation and Verification

Collectively, verification and validation are a cornerstone of many areas of research, none more so that in engineering and the physical sciences. Yet many early stage researchers have yet to appreciate their definitions or fully understand the signficance of these activities.  William Morales’, blog provides a brief introduction to Device Design Verification and Validation – useful for those just beginning in their careers in the MedTech arena or indeed anyone who needs a quick refresher.  However, there is still of lot of discussion about the use of the terms particulary between fields as there maybe nuances or historical context that means the defintions deviate – for instance the article at ResearchGate by Ryan and Wheatcroft (2017).  Simple defintions may employ something along the lines of:

  • verification - am I building something right
  • validation - am I building the right something

Software engineering, an increasingly important aspect of medical devices, especially through the rise of in situ/in vivo monitoring, has it owns definitions. Sargent defines the processes by which a researcher can V&V computational simulations whilst Viceconti et al (2021) discuss V&V for in silico trials.

Interesting paper that investigates corrosion and tribocorrosion behavior of binary and ternary carbide coatings for load-bearing implants

An exciting paper discussing the feasibility of binary and ternary carbide coatings for load-bearing implants with improved biocompatibility was published by Pana and co-workers in 2020. The peer-reviewed article was published in the Coatings journal and it is titled “In vitro corrosion and tribocorrosion performance of biocompatible carbide coatings”.

This work assessed elemental and phase composition, tribo-mechanical properties, corrosion and tribocorrosion of coatings deposited by cathodic arc evaporation on polished 316L SS discs (Ra = 50 ± 2 nm). TiNbC coating outperformed the other synthesized coatings in terms of initial surface roughness and corrosion resistance (shown by the lowest change in Ra before and after corrosion tests). Even though ZrC and TiNbC displayed similar polished wear tracks, the latter exhibited the lowest friction coefficient and wear rate on the tribocorrosion tests.

These results delivery an important advancement towards the development of coatings more biocompatible, presenting higher corrosion resistance along with improved tribocorrosion performance. The graphical abstract shown below showcases some of the results of this worth reading paper.


CC License – 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Pana, I.; Vladescu, A.; Constantin, L.R.; Sandu, I.G.; Dinu, M.; Cotrut, C.M. In Vitro Corrosion and Tribocorrosion Performance of Biocompatible Carbide Coatings. Coatings 2020, 10, 654.


This post was written by Pedro Luiz Lima dos Santos as part of an ongoing series of scientific communications written and curated by BioTrib’s Early Stage Researchers.

Pedro is researching the Functional Biotribology of the Surface Engineering of 3D Printed Components at the University of Leeds, UK.

A warm welcome to André Plath, our second ESR to start in BioTrib

BioTrib welcomes André Plath who has started as an Early Stage Researcher at the ETH Zurich within Prof Stephen Ferguson’s Group.  Like Pedro, André is from Brazil.  André will surely be pleased with the performance of his home country in the Olympics where the Brazilian Footbal Team won an exciting game over another soccer ‘Super-Power’ Spain, 2-1.  Whilst at ETH Zurich, André will research Boundary Lubrication of Fibrous Scaffolds as he brings new technologies to the fore for improving joint replacement and/or augmentation.

BioTrib’s first ESR – Pedro Lima Dos Santos

A big welcome to Pedro from Campina Grande in Brasil.

Some of you will have met Pedro already through the on-line courses etc we have held previously. Just to let you know that Pedro has now been in the UK for 2 weeks of which 10 days were spent quarantining. Previously he had been working as a researcher in Lisbon, Portugal.  Like England in the UEFA final, Brasil lost 1-0 in the Copas America final vs Argentina over the weekend and on home territory so he is probably in need of some sympathy!

Pedro will be researching surface modifications in additive manufacturing processes to enhance artificial joint performance.

What does a Lecturer/Professor actually do?

It is pretty much a standard joke about what academics do with their time including the perception we have lengthy holidays when the UG students are on vacation.  This view is held in not only amongst the public at large but by our own students, their parents and, rather alarmingly, by policy makers and even former Ministers of Education (I thought there would have been solidarity amongst professions that have a long summer ‘recess’).

Dr Susan Wardell from Social Anthropology at the University of Otaga, NZ, has produced an infographic of the life of an academic and the various tasks we have perform to fulfil our obligations to our stakeholders (see below). There is further info on Dr Wardell’s twitter feed. What is left off the infographic is the number of hours a typical academic works – which in the UK is in excess of that defined by the working time directive – 48 hours (when the UK was a member of the EU it was the only country to have an exemption from this legislation). Prof. Katherine Sang et al (2015) provides a critique of this phenomena. This is not an isolated discussion (just type ‘How many hours a week do academics work’ into a search engine) especially around the reducing focus on research.

An academic’s role within the University environment. Creative Commons License – Copyright, Susan Wardall – Source Twitter: Unlazy Susan.

10 ingredients for a successful supervisor/PhD student relationship – A thoughtful commentary from Elsevier Connect

The PhD candidate-Supervisor Relationship is probably the cornerstone of academic research, at least in Western Europe. The relationship, which can last anything from 3 to 5 or more years depending on the type and location of the PhD degree, provides a key transition for the student from being a learned individual to one who enhances these attributes and becomes more or less independent in their pursuit of excellence.

Some of the more successful relationships last a lifetime particularly for those candidates that continue a career in academia or a similar domain. Prof Torralba declares 10 key constituents for developing this relationship successfully. How do these attributes/features resonate with your experiences as a supervisor or student?

Leeds: The Summer Careers Festival 2021!

This Summer, we’re excited to share with you a series of virtual events to help you discover opportunities in Yorkshire, the UK and globally. Join us from the 7 – 10 June for the Summer Careers Festival, where you can book 1-to-1 meetings and group sessions with a huge range of employers who are looking to hire now!

We have over 160+ employers with live vacancies waiting to talk to you! If you’re looking for a summer internship, placement or a graduate level job – then the Summer Careers Festival is for you.

See what events we will run during the Summer Careers Festival below and click directly on each event to book your exclusive place.

Summer Careers Festival fairs and events:

To attend the Careers Day fairs you will have to download the CareerFair+ app and get your profile ready! Read the top tips here to stand out from the crowd and make sure to attend the pre-events webinars.

Here are some tips on how to join us and make the most of the Careers Days:

  1. Download the CF+ app (Google Play & App Store)
  2. Create an account – watch this video to see how!
  3. Allow notifications & add the fair to your calendar
  4. Listen to How to prepare for the Summer Careers Festival | Top tips from Marc and Kiera – webinar recording
  5. Browse attending employers (
  6. Research the companies and use filters to decide which employers you want to talk to
  7. Book 1-2-1 appointments and group sessions. Employers are adding their availability on daily basis – if you cannot book an appointment for a particular employer – make sure to log in to CF+ at a later date to check their availability again.