EIT Digital Industrial Doctorates: bridging the present to the future to lead the digital transformation

Roberto Saracco, Head of EIT Digital Doctoral School

Roberto Saracco, Head of EIT Digital Doctoral School

"PhD Candidates must really feel strongly about digital transformation and believe that they can make a difference"

The EIT Digital Doctoral Schools offers, as one of the few European academic institutions, Industrial Doctorates. Within an Industrial Doctorate, PhD students work under academic supervision on research assignments from industry and benefit from continuous tutoring from this industry. The first five positions in 2017 will be revealed online this month. Ten more will follow later this year. "Europe needs Industrial Doctorates", says Roberto Saracco, Head of the EIT Digital Doctoral School.

An Industrial Doctorate responds to the needs of the industry, Saracco explains. In this respect, it differs from the "normal" academic doctorate. First, an Industrial Doctorate is based on an industry, that becomes the steering force. Second, students are immersed in a broad ecosystem of industries, so they interact with more industries than the sponsoring industry. Furthermore, their research programme will provide concrete results that can be tested by industry itself, in turn providing feedback to the continuation of the research programme.

Steer evolution

Another important difference to ‘standard doctorates' is the point of view, says Saracco. "Standard doctorates as well as our Industrial Doctorate research have a long-term horizon. However, our PhDs use this long-term perspective to explore concrete opportunities that are usable in the short term: this creates a virtuous cycle mutually influencing the long-term perspective and short-term implementation. We make sure our PhDs are aware of where industry is now, what they are investing in, so that they can steer the evolution based on what is feasible. By teaming up with industry our doctorates can bridge the present to the future to foster the digital transformation."

Industrial Doctorates

Industrial Doctorates are rather new programmes in the academic world. Their importance for prospective PhD students and for digital transformation is being recognised more and more. This year, for example, the French government has embraced EIT Digital's Industrial Doctorate by signing a cooperation agreement. In this CIFRE-EIT Digital arrangement, companies that hire PhD-candidates to do research receive extra financial support. In Denmark, Industrial Doctorates are already in operation, UK and Sweden are starting to introduce them and in Italy plans are being made. In 2016 already 8 EIT Digital industrial PhD candidates have enrolled.

Research with impact

The rise of Industrial Doctorates is, according to Saracco, a joint effort from the academic and industry constituencies to complement the needed research effort with impactful results. "The EIT Digital Doctoral Schools adds some plusses to this. EIT Digital invests in innovation activities and scaleups in five strategic areas (Digital Wellbeing, Digital Industry, Digital Finance, Digital Infrastructure and Digital Cities). It does this with its partnerships resulting in a strong innovation ecosystem. By embedding the Industrial Doctorates in this context, we accelerate digital transformation in Europe. We connect PhD students with our scaleups and our industrial partners so they have daily exposure to what is going on in industry and can do research that is meaningful for industry, in sync with their investments. Our PhDs will become the avant-garde for industry."

Digital transformation factory

Saracco strongly believes that Europe needs this kind of PhDs. "On a global scale, we must not pretend yet that Europe is taking the lead. Europe needs to partner on a global playing field and play the game. Only if Europe is innovating, it can become a credible partner. The alternative is to lag behind. Europe should not end up in a position where we only buy innovations of other continents, thus forcing European people to adapt their behaviour and their progress to the norms and values of other geographical areas. The buying and selling have to be in balance. Only then, Europe will be able to foster the European way of life. In the end, we want to be a major player on the world stage of digital transformation, and we want to steer digital transformation in Europe in a direction that is good for European people. That is why we need Industrial Doctorates embedded in the EIT Digital ecosystem. We aim to be a digital transformation factory."

New PhD positions

In 2017 EIT Digital Doctoral School aims at setting up 25 Industrial Doctorate positions. These positions will be run in EIT Digital's Doctoral Training Centres (DTC). In 2018, Saracco targets 35 to 40 additional Industrial Doctorate positions. The first five available positions are open now in the DTC in Trento. They are academically supervised by the University of Trento, which also grants the ICT International Doctoral Title and has a strong industry back-up. After completion of the doctorate the PhDs also receive a certificate of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).


The companies and research organisations that made proposals for the first five PhDs positions are Telecom Italia (TIM), Centro Ricerche FIAT (CRF), Engineering Ingegneria Informatica S.p.A. (ENG) and Fondazione Bruno Kessler. TIM is focusing on the Digital Industry and pushes for an innovative recommendation system for personalised retail solutions. The other four proposals are about Digital Cities and dive into subjects as autonomous driving, leading the automotive world to exploit 5G and to deliver innovative Digital Urban Services.

Digital Cities

Digital Cities is a popular theme, says Saracco. He sees a lot of proposals within the Digital Cities Action Line. "Also, the Digital Industry is picking up steam. It is important for us is that the conducted research is embedded in a strong environment, like we see in Budapest and Stockholm for Digital Infrastructure and Helsinki and Milan for the Digital Industry and Trento and Madrid for Digital Cities."


An Industrial Doctorate focusing on accelerating digital transformation, requires more than just a master degree in a technical subject, says Saracco. "Beyond that, candidates must really feel strongly about digital transformation at a personal level and believe that they can make a difference. You need to have a dream, the willingness to make it happen and the leadership qualities to do so. You have to be committed to your dreams. That requires a strong character that can go upstream. As long as you are committed to your dreams, you can succeed."

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