Seeking Transformation? Study for an interdisciplinary PhD at the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability

Our Campus resides near this Lake
Our Campus resides near this Lake

“Education is the science of relations”

Charlotte Mason,

the founder of our Lake District Campus in 1892

Next year the University of Cumbria launches the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability. As Director of the new Institute, I am currently welcoming inquiries about potential PhD research. We will accept six PhD students, whether full time in residence (typically 3 years), full time away (typically 4 years) or part time (residence or away (typically 5 years). There is one opportunity for receiving a bursary to cover fees. The Institute is based in the heart of the beautiful Lake District in the UK, in the village of Ambleside, with Campuses also in Lancaster and Carlisle.

The Institute has a specific research focus, about which it welcomes proposals.  This is in the field of “transition”. All our work on leadership and sustainability seeks to enable personal and collective transitions to living in harmony with each-other and the planet. Leadership that makes a positive difference to communities and environments is the only leadership worth practising or learning. To us, sustainability means that everyone thrives in harmony with the biosphere and future generations. That does not mean maintaining or spreading a particular way of life, but a transition from behaviours and systems that are destructive, towards those that restore the environment and support individual rights, wellbeing, and community. It implies a systemic shift; large numbers of persons and organisations acting in a significantly different way. A transition to sustainability involves promoting ecological integrity, collective wellbeing, real democracy, human rights, support for diversity, economic fairness, community resilience, a culture of peace, compassion and inquiry, and the appreciation of beauty.

Studies of positive transformations suggest this shift will require interacting cultural, economic, technological, behavioural, political and institutional developments at multiple levels. Leaders during social transformations appear to have transcended a concern for self, yet sufficiently sustained their wellbeing, and empowered others. Therefore our work seeks to connect the systemic and the personal, and mobilise insights from diverse schools of thought on how transformations occur. Consequently, our research focuses on actionable knowledge, action research, combining diverse disciplines, linking local with global, and learning from old and new teachings that arise from diverse cultural settings. With us, you will not gain a straight-jacketed PhD in management, or politics, or sociology, but produce insight that is highly relevant and interdisciplinary.

Within the framework of transition, we are particularly interested in three areas.

Transformative Leadership: how to encourage the attributes and competencies that enable someone to participate in social transformation; how organisational and societal transformations occur; how to encourage personal transformations and wellbeing through learning experiences.

Innovative Resourcing and Exchange: innovative ways for people and organisations to share, swap, rent, or exchange, with or without official money; sharing economy, collaborative consumption, complementary currency; implications for business development, international development, and policy; implications for donors and foundations, including more catalytic and transformative philanthropy.

Scaling-Up Transitions: approaches that hold potential for the scale of change required by current global challenges; public policies for scaling social innovations; transformative cross-sectoral alliances; disruptive innovations in existing markets and industries.

If your research interests relate to this, please read on about our approach, to consider whether to submit an initial inquiry.

At the Institute we will combine what is normally expected for PhDs, with our own particular emphasis on purpose-led inter-disciplinary actionable research. Many people are unaware of what researching for a PhD involves, and mistake it for the writing of a thesis/book, or the winning of a credential. The thesis and the credential are the results, but the PhD process is about becoming a reflective and skilled researcher and communicator of research. Therefore PhD research with the Institute will involve the supervisor helping the doctoral candidate with most of the following elements:

  • developing and applying professionally ones sense of social purpose and without a completely fixed view. Specifically, we are interested in inquiries in personal and collective transition to fair and sustainable societies (broadly defined)
  • learning how to research (how to turn ideas, beliefs or doubts into inquiries with suitable research; which means learning about ontologies, epistemologies, methodologies, methods)
  • learning how to assess existing intellectual disciplines for the way they can both inform and restrict inquiry on the chosen topic; some sociology plus at least one other social science discipline are expected (relevant subjects include management, design, international development etc)
  • unlearning some existing assumptions in ways that help one to become critically reflective yet action-oriented in all aspects of life and work
  • learning how to analyse primary “data” of forms relevant to one’s chosen inquiry and to develop findings that are relevant to broader contexts (data can include lived experience; but then one needs to learn how to analyse ones experience, not just re-tell or re-articulate it)
  • learning how to identify findings that both contribute to existing fields of knowledge, but also a particular field of practice (i.e. to seek both academic and non-academic relevance for ones work)
  • learning how to communicate findings in ways that reach people in academia and beyond, including presenting findings in ways that can inform education (such as online or in-person lectures)

Proposals need to reflect some of this journey, and a thesis will need to demonstrate these outcomes were pursued and somewhat achieved. Myself and my co-supervisors will help doctoral candidates along this journey: you don’t have to have everything mapped out already, but be open to this depth of inquiry. Information on what I do is on the University website.

Still interested? Then please send me some information about yourself and your idea in the following format, by December 17th 2012.

Your Idea: Tell me in half a page what your area of research is, what your overall research question might be, why it is relevant to leadership or sustainability or transition, what existing research you have done on it, what stakeholders you have engaged about your research idea, and what existing theories/disciplines (if any) you think are relevant to it. If you have a provisional research question, then include it.

Your Motivation: Tell me in half a page why you want to explore this, in terms of your personal and professional development. Also explain how you will fund, or seek to fund, yourself, and what format you would go for (full time, full time away, part-time)

Please attach a one page CV and a sample of existing writing, ideally already published.

That is 2 pages in total (1 on research and 1 on CV), and a piece of writing.

Provide a skype ID or google talk ID so that we can interact more easily (my skype: jembendell).

I will contact you within one month of you submitting your information, potentially to discuss further your ideas and help you prepare a full proposal to the University.

Please note that information on our Institute is not yet available online – by joining the Institute you will help to shape our emerging programmes.

Dr Jem Bendell
Professor of Sustainability Leadership
Director, Institute for Leadership and Sustainability
University of Cumbria, UK

jem dot bendell at

8 thoughts on “Seeking Transformation? Study for an interdisciplinary PhD at the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability”

  1. Great Concept and very relevant to current and emerging in the developinng nations. It is really on time and I am very interested in the programme; one of the teaching areas on scaling up transitions becomes very important to me as a Nigeria.

  2. I am in the midst of finalising my Msc research paper for Cambridge university on sustainability leadership and psychometric profiling for corporate leadership development programs. I’d love to connect and understand more about what you’re doing on transformational leadership – potentially for future phd research.

  3. I’m wondering how will I make my blog in blogspot available via google web search? I’ve seen some blogs that can easily be googled but mine won’t show in google at all..

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