Who am I? PhD s and Industry a personal view. Outline of talk. The Railway Research Centre at the University of Birmingham







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PhD’s and Industry – a

personal view

Chris Baker

School of Engineering, University of Birmingham

Who am I?

Head of Civil Engineering at the University of Birmingham

Director of Birmingham Railway Research Centre,

Director of Rail Research UK

Council member of EURNEX

Dual role

–As a “producer” of PhD’s

–As a “employer” of PhD’s

Outline of talk

The Birmingham Railway Research Centre

Rail Research UK and EURNEX

What does industry require of PhD graduates?

Different models of PhD study

Models for industrial involvement in PhD study


The Railway Research Centre at the

University of Birmingham

Multi-disciplinary centre with staff from a number of Schools

Around 20 full time academic staff involved in railway research

Around 20 post doctoral (or equivalent) researchers


Environmental effects

–Aerodynamics of trains

–Pollution dispersal

–Effects of climate on railway operations


–Deep stabilisation of track and embankments,

–Trenchless technology.

–Monitoring of railway tunnels

–High speed trains on soft ground.

–Stabilisation of track

–Geotechnical engineering.

Railway Research Centre

Motive power

–Energy consumption

–Traction drives

–Power futures

Asset Management

–Asset management systems

–Infrastructure performance modelling.

–Condition monitoring


–Multi-train simulators

Railway Research Centre

Systems Engineering

–Railway systems engineering and systems integration.

Risk Management

–Safety risk and reliability assessment

–Modelling and tools

–Safety cases



Rail Research UK


Concerns about:

Fragmented university research

Loss of knowledge

Need for multidisciplinary research Led to RRUK:

Consortium of 13 groups at 9 universities (Birmingham, Southampton, Loughborough, Manchester Met, Imperial College, Nottingham, Newcastle, Leeds)

Aims to provide a stable research base

Share knowledge and make it available

Rail Research UK

’To support the UK railway industry by

providing a focal point for university

based world-class research’

Mission Statement

Rail Research UK

Core funding £7M over 7 years from EPSRC (RRUK1 -2003-2006; RRUK2 2006-2010)

A range of disciplines from engineering to economics, human factors to transport

Bringing together existing skills but retaining geographic diversity

Creating the capability for a ‘Systems’ approach


Creation of 3 theme networks

Research projects using joint teams

Maximise information on website

Links to other industry groups – AGRRI

Headquarters at Birmingham and Southampton

Centre Management Team (Director, PI, Theme Managers, Admin staff - meets quarterly)

Council (all research group leaders)

Industry based Advisory Board

Rail Research UK

Theme A: Engineering Interfaces Research Focus

• Appraisal of track / sub-base performance using modern instrumentation and geotechnical engineering principles

• Predicting the life of various steel railway track

• Railway noise: curve squeal, roughness growth, friction and wear

• Train dynamic and aerodynamic modelling

Rail Research UK

Theme B: Whole System Performance Research Focus

• The influence of human behaviour on system performance

• Strategies for high-level traffic management

• Development of a system-level cost framework for the assessment of trade-offs between sub-systems


Rail Research UK

Theme C: Users, Community and Environment Research Focus

• Understanding and enhancing passenger and driver comfort and activities

• Understanding and forecasting demand

• Access and interchange for seamless journeys (freight and passenger)

• New integrated service concepts / comms technologies

• The future of rail in a changing transport environment

• Optimising options for prioritisation of eng. actions from the user’s point of view


European Rail Research Network of Excellence

Framework 6 Programme

Over 60 universities and 600 research staff

7 Regional groups: UK+Benelux Germany, Austria France Italy, Greece Iberia Nordic and East Europe

Supported by industry groups UIC, UNIFE, UITP


European Rail Research Network of Excellence

EURNEX is establishing 10 poles

Strategy and economics

Operation and system performance

Rolling stock and traction

Product qualification

Intelligent mobility

Safety and security


Infrastructure and signalling

Human factors



A personal view as Director of the Railway Centre – what do I require of PhDs to work in the centre?

Most contracts from the railway industry are between 3 and 6 months in length

Some longer term EU and Government funded projects

Wide range of subject matter – inter – and multi-disciplinary

of PhD graduates?

Proven intellectual rigour

A need for a minority of technical specialists – eg aerodynamics

Much greater need for high level flexible staff who can work on a variety of projects – eg at a system based level

Need for high level computational, communication and presentation skills

Knowledge of railway industry a great asset

Different models of PhD study

Different study modes

–With taught material

–Without taught material

Different examination modes

–Public defence after consultation with examiners

–Adverserial viva

Different thesis styles


Models for industrial involvement in

PhD study

Low level involvement

–Definition of project area and provision of data

Medium level involvement

–Definition and direction of project

–Financial support for student

High level involvement


Examples of PhD study

Analysis of unsteady crosswind forces on train

Train slipstreams and wakes

Large eddy simulation of flow around trains

Analysis of unsteady crosswind

forces on train

Study involved the analysis of data from full scale wind loading measurements on trains and development of new model for overturning risk

Self funded PhD student, based at UOB on PhD course with no taught material

Minor involvement with railway industry

Thesis and viva due in next two months


Development of risk prediction model

Wind speed relative to train

50 55 60 65 70 75 80 85 90 95 0 500 1000 1500 2000 t(s) w in d s p e e d ( m /s )

High level of specialist knowledge – project carried out with analytical rigour

Little broader knowledge

No great development of communication and presentation skills (small number of seminars and conferences)

Very limited knowledge of the railway industry

Employers will need to invest in further training and short term effectiveness will be reduced

Train slipstreams and wakes

Study involved the analysis of data from full scale wind slipstream measurements and development of an analytical model on the effects of slipstreams on people

No taught material

Project carried out with Railway Safety and Standards Board

Financial support to student


The effect of train slipstreams

Wind tunnel experiments and


P1(t) z ≈ P2(t) P3(t) m1 m2 m3 k1 k2 k3

Advantages and disadvantages

Specialist knowledge gained from working in a team – not always easy to distinguish students


Some broader knowledge of the railway industry

Good development of communication and presentation skills through regular reporting and project presentations

Production of dissertation a valuable exercise

Could be useful within industrial context with relatively small amount of extra training

Large eddy simulation of flow

around trains

Study involved the use of large eddy simulation to model the flow around trains in a variety of situations

Carried out in an industrial context with student being employed

Project were specified by students employer

Academic supervision provided by local University


Advantages and disadvantages

Potential conflicts in requirements of employer and need for academic rigour

Potential conflicts in allowing time for full analysis and writing up of results

Excellent knowledge of the railway industry

Excellent communication and presentation skills through regular reporting and project presentations

Production of papers exposes students to external views


For maximising the benefits of PhD graduates to industry sensitive industrial involvement in PhD programmes are required

More emphasis needs to be given to the development of communication and presentation skills

Much greater use of wide ranging taught courses (business skills, knowledge transfer skills etc) could be of benefit (EngD model)





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