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Students’ training

SENSE students will participate in a specially designed, comprehensive and innovative training programme. This will enable students from all backgrounds to become confident and knowledgable in the fields of data science, remote sensing, and environmental science. It will encourage their ability to work collaboratively, think creatively, and be comfortable in an academic and business environment. This means our students will develop new insights and algorithms with real-world impact, and be prepared for careers in industry, government, academic and beyond.

Our training is delivered through a multidisciplinary programme, providing research, personal effectiveness, professional, entrepreneurship, communication and career skills, together with subject-specific skills. Our programme for subject-specific and transferable skills is delivered through bespoke training by our consortium, including our industrial partners. We will also tailor specialist individual training to the student’s skill set, which will be informed from a detailed Training Needs Analysis (TNA) conducted in their first year, and updated annually.

The key principles offer SENSE CDT training programme are to:

  • Equip the CDT students with the skills, knowledge and confidence to thrive as leaders in a modern workforce
  • Provide excellent career prospects to all students through training, and opportunities to further develop through experience, in time management, written and oral communication, entrepreneurship, teamwork, leadership, decision making, research, data management, and writing good code
  • Involve industrial partners and space agencies within the training programme, and ensure all students spend 3 months embedded with an industrial partner to gain real-world experience
  • Develop a cohort of motivated, independent and knowledgable early career researchers, who will become the next generation of UK Earth Observation data scientists.

Our training programme can be summarised in this figure:

Infographic showing the different stages of the programme over four years.

First year

The first year of the PhD starts with induction events for the new PhD students and their supervisors. During the first month there will be a 2-day SENSE Industry Symposium, during which all years of SENSE students and their supervisors and trainers will mix with representatives of about 25 satellite, data analytics and environment companies, as well as space agencies (NASA, DRL, ESA), to discuss new developments, pressing issues, and exchange ideas.

Students will then start their first 6-week residential training, covering Earth Observation methods, data science, and climate science. This block will be based in the University of Edinburgh and cover the following six 1-week courses:

The courses will be taught by researchers from the SENSE consortium with expertise in the subject-area. They will be largely practical-based, featuring group and individual project work in addition to lectures and talks from industry. The fieldwork training will take place in the Scottish Highlands, from the base of the Firbush Outdoor Activity Centre on Loch Tay. Students not based in Edinburgh will be accommodated together in University-owned self catering apartments/houses, and funding will be made available for trips back home at weekends, or visits from family. If travel away from home is not possible, remote access to the course will be made available through live video and support from a ‘buddy’ from your institution who is attending.

Before Christmas, the students will have a Training Needs Assessment with their supervisory team, thinking about their project, the specific requirements of the student, and the training offered by SENSE, to find any gaps and identify specific courses to meet them. Budget will be available to attend courses, including those outside the UK if necessary. The students will also have the first of their CEMS online training on dealing with big satellite datasets.

The second 6-week residential training block will be held at the University of Leeds in the new year, with a one-week long oceanography course hosted at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. The following modules will be covered:

Around these training blocks the students will meet with their supervisory team regularly, developing a literature review, a plan for the following years, and receive training on communication skills, research planning, time management, ethics and integrity, team working and research methods with other NERC students from their host Univeristy.

Second year

After once again attending the SENSE Industry Symposium, the second year of study kicks off with a 3-day residential Science Communication and Outreach course run by Professor Mark Brandon (of BBC Natural History Unit fame) and his colleagues at the Open University. During this course students will be filmed and recorded in studio conditions, preparing them better for media appearances, and will make short videos about their projects for Outreach purposes.

Later this year the students will attend a 1-week residential Space Industry Week, hosted by the Satellite Applications Catapult and European Space Agency (ESA) in Harwell. During this week students will learn how industry ingest satellite data and convert it to operational products to be delivered to clients, and experience first hand how the ESA Climate Office produces products. They will also see presentations, visit, and have social events with a number of small and medium space data companies based in Harwell, and take part in a joint hackathon to create joint web-based satellite products.

As in the first year, ongoing training will be provided within their institution on professional, career and other skills.

Third year

The main training event in the third year is a 1 week residential course in ESA’s ESRIN facility near Rome, Italy. During this week students will present their research to ESA scientists and receive feedback, find out about the latest development with ESA satellites and data processing, and take part in a multi-day hackathon with ESA’s ‘Phi Lab’ team (who specialise in AI applications of satellite data).

Students will likely take part in a 3-month industry placement in their 3rd year, spending this time embedded in a company learning valuable skills and gaining experience. Their project will be presented (and up for prizes) at the SENSE Industry Symposium in either their 3rd or 4th year, as appropriate.

As with all years, ongoing short sessions (half to one day) on professional and careers skills, and ‘Pathways to Thesis’ sessions.

Fourth year

During the fourth year our students will be writing up and attending conferences, so little formal training takes place. There will be career and CV coaching sessions, sessions on finalising a thesis, and a 2-day residential course on Entrepreneurship and Intellectual Property hosted by the commercialisation teams from the Universities of Edinburgh and Leeds, with sessions led by CEOs from several companies from within the SENSE consortium.

Field data

Many of our students will collect data in the field to complement their satellite datasets, likely in their second year. Comprehensive training on field skills, remote first aid, ethics and project planning will be provided.


Most of our students will do a 3 month placement in their 2nd or 3rd year – see placements page for details.