Our ‘Dual Focus PhD’ series tracks the working lives of our part-time PhD fellows. Many work at the highest of levels, both nationally and internationally, and they come to Maastricht in person for our part-time PhD programme on Innovation, Economics, Governance and Sustainable Development (IEGSD). This time we spoke with Emanuela Sirtori about her PhD Thesis entitled, “LED there be light: The evolution in LED technology and dynamics of entry into the LED lighting market.”
What made you choose to start a PhD trajectory?
When I decided to start a PhD, I was already working as a researcher in a company. I was on a career path that would lead me to take on more responsibilities as a researcher and a project manager. I needed to reinforce my research skills to become a better researcher and a more credible leader. The efforts paid off. I am more confident in my capabilities now.
From the title of the book, it is evident that your book deals with the LED lighting industry. Can you highlight how LED technological innovations influence firms’ behaviour in the market?
There is a dual relationship between LED technological innovations and firms’ behaviour. On the one hand, LED was game-changing technology for the lighting industry. It changed the technical features of luminaires and their production process, attracted new firms into the market, and it created new market niches. LED technology forced firms to take a strategic decision as to whether enter or not the nascent LED-based lighting market and whether to enter it earlier or later. On the other hand, it was thanks to firms’ experimentation and application of LED in other markets (e.g. calculators, traffic lights, cameras, etc.) that the technology could progressively evolve and improve. Hence it is not only LED that influenced the firm’s behaviour in the market, but also firms’ behaviour that pushed LED technological innovation.
The findings of your study can be relevant not only for firms but also for policymakers. You state that measures of technological relatedness can help governments identify production assets and capabilities that might be developed at a relatively low cost because they require a similar set of capabilities to those already possessed by the economic and innovation system. For countries currently in energy and climate crises, this could be important information. Can you elaborate on how that could work in practice?
Several countries and regions face the need to initiate a process of structural transformation towards activities at a higher added value to become more competitive, but also towards more sustainable and resilient economies. The notion of technological relatedness suggests that any structural transformation should build, first of all, on local and already existing assets and capabilities. When designing their industrial and innovation strategies, governments should consider the scientific and technological capabilities that the country already possesses in other fields and try to build on them, combining existing assets and capabilities to produce new knowledge. As the story of LED suggests, technology paradigm shifts happen through a process of gradual transformation that requires some time and long-term oriented efforts.
You completed your thesis in 5 years. This is a fantastic achievement, knowing you wrote the dissertation in a part-time fashion while working full-time. Can you share how you combined both activities and give some best practices from which current PhD fellows may benefit?
I tried different ways to make it work. In the first two years, I devoted my weekends and holiday times to the PhD. I realised that this was not the right strategy for me. It meant sacrificing too much of my personal life, and I certainly would have come to the point of hating the PhD. Then I changed my strategy. I have agreed with my company to take a few weeks off, from time to time, to work on my PhD only. Without the support and patience of my employer and colleagues, I would not have been able to finish. Suggestions for current PhD fellows? Involve your employer, and make him/her understand that your PhD is not only yours. It is in their best interest that you complete it quickly, so they should help you to make it possible.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.