16 October 2023

The i-Team programme - Matthew Mullett

The i-Teams programme is a fantastic opportunity to gain invaluable experience and to meet other researchers from different disciplines 
- Matthew Mullett, postgraduate researcher

How did you hear about the i-Teams programme?

I started my PhD in 2020 in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, analysing how sugar and tobacco was written about in the early 20th century. Ideally, I’d like to pursue a career in academia but know how competitive things are, so recognise the importance of having a back-up plan. The i-Teams programme was recommended to me by one of UEA’s careers advisors as a great way of gaining commercial experience and developing my CV.

Tell us about your experience with i-Teams

Doing a PhD is quite solitary, so it was great to meet and work with researchers from different areas. This included researchers with backgrounds in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and postgraduates from Norwich University of the Arts.  We met every Tuesday evening over 11 weeks, with free dinner provided at each meeting. We were divided into teams and given interesting tasks. My team looked at social supermarkets, which are providing affordable products to people who are struggling due to the cost-of-living crisis. In particular, we looked at how we could support social supermarkets to be more sustainable.

Tell us more about the project

We carried out research and visited a couple of local social supermarkets. We found that they rely on donations from companies. This means that there’s not much consistency in their range of supplies. They may have a surplus of some items some weeks, but they rarely have the full range of products that people may need. 

We looked at various options to resolve this issue and came up with a proposal to set up a charitable organisation that sources high-quality products for social supermarkets directly from suppliers. Doing this for zero profit would make goods much more affordable than in standard supermarkets. We pitched this idea at the i-Teams graduation event and it was very well received. Indeed, local industry partners have subsequently been striving to put our proposal into practice by setting up a new organisation to supply social supermarkets with high-quality affordable products.

What you recommend i-Teams to other researchers?

Absolutely! It’s great to have the opportunity to work on an interesting project and to demonstrate what you are capable of. It’s particularly beneficial to use and express the skills that you already have as an academic in the commercial world – showing adaptability and resilience to change, as well as the ability to research, plan and develop a product or proposal. While doing a PhD shows academic capability, it doesn’t demonstrate the ability to help build a successful team with people from different faculties and disciplines when working on a commercial project. But you do gain this experience with i-Teams.

What would you say to people who are worried about the time commitment of taking part in i-Teams?

Like many postgraduate researchers, I’m studying full time but also have a part-time job to help pay the bills. However, I found that the i-Teams programme wasn’t a major time commitment, as it was just one evening a week for a short period. You get so much from participating in the programme, in addition to free meals of course! So, it’s well worth doing and won’t get in the way of your studies.

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