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Exploring industrial PhD students and perceptions of their impact on firm innovation

Chapter in book
Authors Karin Berg
Maureen McKelvey
Published in Bernhard, I. Gråsjö, U. & Karlsson, C. Diversity, Innovation and Clusters. Spatial Perspectives
ISBN 9781789902570
Publisher Edward Elgar Publishers
Place of publication Cheltenham, UK
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Economy and Society, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE)
Language en
Keywords university, university-industry interactions, academic engagement, engineering, industrial PhD students
Subject categories Technology and social change, Other Social Sciences, Economics and Business


this chapter explores industrial PhD students, including their activities and their perceptions of the impact of their studies and of their role in university–firm interaction on firm innovation. The limited number of previous studies of industrial PhD students mainly focus on broader issues related to these students’ educational experience and learning outcomes (Thune 2009), whereas studies of PhD students moving to industry generally focus not on their activities during education but rather on what happens after graduation (e.g., Cruz-Castro & Sanz-Menéndez 2005; Garcia-Quevedo et al. 2011; Roach & Sauermann 2010). Here, we consider a specific empirical phenomenon, namely, industrial PhD students during their education, when they are simultaneously involved in both the university and the firm. Because little research considers our phenomenon, we address two questions through detailed qualitative research, within the empirical context of collaborative research in the field of engineering in Sweden. Given the lack of previous research on this topic, our first question is, How to define an industrial PhD student? To answer this, we consider the conditions for education and employment, their specific activities, and the frequency of activities bridging the university and firm. Then we seek to explore their perceived contribution to firm innovation during their education as PhD students, so our second question is What is the perception of how their activities impact upon firm innovation? To conceptualize this, we first present an existing conceptual framework for academic engagement with industry, and further elaborating on underlying concepts in order to develop a detailed analysis of the the micro-level activities of these PhD students. Our results identify several activities of these industrial PhD students that merit analysis in future research, and specifically in relation to the development of firm capabilities for innovation.

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