SOFI CDT: a Ph.D. opportunity in soft matter in the UK

SOFI CDT (more formally known as the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Soft Matter and Functional Interfaces) is a doctoral training program based across three UK universities: Durham, Leeds and Edinburgh. SOFI is a broad and interdisciplinary program, recruiting up to 16 students per year from a variety of academic backgrounds including physics, chemistry, food science, maths and engineering. Academically, SOFI has a strong focus on soft matter science but offers its students a broader learning experience by incorporating training activities based on developing skills in business, enterprise, media and communications throughout the duration of the Ph.D. Each student also has the opportunity to spend time studying abroad.

Unlike the traditional Ph.D. process in the UK, SOFI students are not allocated individual Ph.D. projects on acceptance to the program; instead, they choose from a pool of projects after completing an initial six month training period. This training involves a series of mini group projects based around problem solving, presentation skills and understanding the fundamentals of soft matter science. The topics covered are so diverse (everything from liquid crystals to ice cream and polymer processing) that often when it comes to picking projects students end up opting for something they may not have even considered previously. The cohorts are based in Durham for most of this initial training period but also spend several weeks studying in Leeds and Edinburgh. This offers students a taste of life and research at each of the three universities before they decide where to complete their Ph.D.

One of SOFI’s key aims is to prepare its students for careers in industry as well as academia. The program has a large number of industrial partners supporting both the initial training period and individual research projects taken on by the students. The industrial involvement in the training is very hands on and involves lectures and projects coordinated by industrial partners as well as site visits. This provides fantastic networking opportunities for students, academics and industrial representatives alike. Each year the entire CDT is reunited at SOFI’s own conference, the UK Soft Matter Showcase. This event includes talks from some of the world’s top soft matter scientists, gives students the chance to present their work and also features a day of industry-led discussion which helps initiate future collaborations.

All of the opportunities afforded to students by SOFI are fantastic but one of the most valuable outcomes of the program is that the cohort based training system provides a unique network for peer-based academic and moral support. The close working relationships that students develop in the group training means that they are able to utilise each other’s individual knowledge and technical expertise to help solve research problems throughout the duration of their projects, making the most of the interdisciplinary nature of the program and soft matter science itself!

To find out more about SOFI please visit the website or check out the SOFI Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Vanessa J. Woodhouse

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