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Students for industrial PhD

CNPq-funded pilot program at UFABC offers PhD tied to product development

Daniel BuenoFrom early October through November 10, 2014, registration is open for students interested in being considered for the Industrial Academic Doctorate (DAI) at the Federal University of the ABC (UFABC), in Santo André, in metropolitan São Paulo. “We are the only university developing a project of this type, which is why it is considered a pilot,” says Prof. Wagner Alves Carvalho, program coordinator. “The idea behind this proposal is that at the end of the process, what the doctoral candidate needs in addition to scientific production and a dissertation is to generate a product that can be used in industry,” he says.  The program, which is the result of an agreement with the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), began in August 2013. There are currently four projects underway, in the areas of nanosciences in advanced materials and energy.

Carvalho explains that a company interested in becoming a partner in the program needs to have at least one professional staff member in its organization who works in research, development and innovation.  “The project is designed as a partnership between universities and businesses,” he said.  It is up to the company to offer the infrastructure for project development and to designate an industrial supervisor who acts as a co-advisor.  At the same time, the student also has at her disposal an academic advisor and the entire university infrastructure.  “We have a group of advisors enrolled who serve as liaisons with the industrial supervisor,” Carvalho says.

Generally speaking, students who are looking for a doctorate already know the field they would like to work in and which companies they are interested in.  But the university also has a list of companies available to receive students in the pre-doctoral phase, which is what the first step in identifying the research project is called (for more information, visit: Some of these companies were contacted by the advisors themselves who already have project collaborations with them, and others were contacted by the university’s innovation agency.  Carvalho explains that when he presents the program at companies, the first question he hears is: “how much will we be paid for this?” Compensation is limited to insurance, meals allowance and transportation for the student selected–the same benefits given company employees.

Part of the application process for those interested, in addition to the documents normally requested in these selective processes, is a required letter of interest and two letters of recommendation.  “The letter of interest needs to justify the reason why the candidate is applying to this type of program rather than a classic academic program, since they are so different,” Carvalho says. Those who are selected initially enroll in the university as special students associated with the industrial academic doctorate.  “For six months, they work full-time at the company, looking for possible research projects to develop.”

Once the potential research project has been identified, the student drafts a proposal and forwards it to the program, to be submitted for approval by the industrial supervisor and the academic advisor.  “The proposal needs to be as broad as a traditional doctoral project and the chosen subject must be of interest to the company.” Once the proposal has been approved, the candidate is enrolled in one of the regular graduate programs.  Upon starting work at the company at the beginning of the pre-doctoral period, the candidate begins to receive funds under the CNPq grant, for up to six months. The grant will be extended for 48 additional months once the doctorate is approved.