Third-year Centre for Governance, Regulation and Industrial Strategy (CGR&IS) PhD student Samantha’s research examines the growth of the space industry in Scotland. She tells us about how the industry has skyrocketed and the importance of picking the right PhD programme for you.

What drove you to choose Bath for your PhD?

My choice was underpinned by the familiarity that I had with the University. I had previously interacted with Bath and its students in several professional capacities – especially when I was working in the Early Careers Employer Marketing team at Airbus.

Each interaction that I'd had with Bath was positive and I was aware that the School of Management ranked highly on league tables. So, when the opportunity arose to send in a PhD proposal, it was a simple decision.


What is your research topic and how did you decide on it?

I'm studying the evolution of Scotland's space industry. In particular, I'm exploring the ways that individual people and organisations have impacted its development, such as local entrepreneurs and innovators. My research also reflects on the influence of some more systemic factors, such as the funding available for research, development and innovation (RDI) projects.

I'm researching this because spatial inequalities have widened in many countries, including in the UK. Without intervention, these inequalities are likely to widen further due to technological development, climate change and an ageing population, amongst other things. To address this, governments and policymakers are seeking new and/or resilient economic development opportunities for their regions.

Currently, however, there is a limited understanding of the ways that individuals can help to influence regional industrial development. This is particularly true for the 'birth' of new industries, especially if the industry is highly technological or knowledge intensive.


What initially sparked your interest in the topic?

Typically, scholars in this field enter it via one of two routes. Either they are economists, interested in income distribution and subnational productivity, or they are geographers, interested in human geography and regional development. I'm interested in both, however my original profession was in marketing.

In 2019/20, I was conducting some market research that revealed how quickly Scotland's space industry was growing. Critics might argue that this growth is constrained by a restricted ability to scale, which might be true to an extent. However, Scotland is home to some remarkable space innovations and entrepreneurial activities. For example, AAC Clyde Space in Glasgow (founded in 2005) specialises in nanosatellite and small satellite technologies.

I realised that, in just 15-20 years, Scotland's space industry had evolved into a thriving ecosystem of space-related innovation. I was fascinated by this!


What are your findings so far?

By drawing on historical data, I'm able to show the process whereby Scotland’s space industry evolved from a single start-up in the early 2000s to where it is now. The influence that individual people had on this process is beginning to emerge in the data that I've collected so far. This is providing fresh insight into the ways that regional* innovation opportunities are realised. Interestingly, some local preconditions (such as activities in the 1900s) are also emerging as important.

*For the purpose of my research, Scotland's space industry is recognised as a region in the UK-wide space industry, although Scotland is of course a nation with a devolved administration, independent judiciary and separate education system.


What are the wider implications of this?

The findings are relevant for industrial transition attempts and smart specialisation strategies – an innovation policy concept that aims to boost regional innovation by helping regions to focus on their strengths.

Moreover, policymakers today are tasked with aligning regional development with societal grand challenges. For example, growing the space industry offers economic benefit. However, doing so in alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals could prevent the industry from being detrimental to society through pollution and resource depletion.

Arguably, this is already well-recognised in Scotland's space industry, as demonstrated by the 2022 publication of 'Space Sustainability, A Roadmap for Scotland’. This is said to be the first place-based sustainability roadmap published in the space industry globally. Researching how this was developed would likely generate novel insights and lead to some timely recommendations. I'm currently exploring ways to include this in my thesis.


What advice would you offer to others studying or considering a PhD?

For prospective students, I think it's good to realise that each PhD project is unique. While degree programmes at bachelor's and master's level are bound by institutional processes, there are actually many differences in the ways that universities, departments and individual professors operate. These nuances are amplified when you're completing a PhD.

What is the working style of the PhD supervisor? Which academic conferences do they attend? What events does the department host to train its PhD cohorts? What relationships does the university have with third parties relevant to your field? Questions like these could help students to choose a PhD offer that suits them.

Once the PhD starts, expect to experience more critique than ever before. Scholarly work is almost always challenged by others, and we work independently for a significant amount of time. Plus, the progress that we're making isn't always tangible. It can be a painful experience! My advice would be to try to realise that this is a normal part of the process.

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