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  Science centres and sustainability

   The Business School

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  Dr Gary Kerr  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Science centres fulfil important societal roles – not only as revenue generating visitor attractions, but as vehicles for informal science learning and community engagement. Whilst some science centres cover a wide range of topics within the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) agenda – such as Glasgow Science Centre – others have more specialist remits, such as Dynamic Earth, which engages visitors in the story of the Earth and how the Earth works. Both are amongst Scotland’s leading 5-star visitor attractions.

As visitor attractions, science centres are often purpose-built, stimulate domestic tourism, contribute to the local economy, facilitate community engagement and contribute towards positive health and wellbeing. Uniquely, as visitor attractions, science centres also set out to address critical issues within the STEM sector, including a lack of diversity and an employment skills gap. Many science centres have programmes to promote social inclusion and reach out to disadvantaged communities including people with disabilities. Through community outreach, science centres are able to promote access to experiences that are otherwise not available to individuals, provide unique forms of entertainment and provide a visitor-led experience where individuals can explore STEM topics according to their own interests.

This project sets out to critically examine science centres in relation to the four pillars of sustainability: human, social, economic and environmental. Key research questions include:

1. How do science centres advance human capital and make access to education, knowledge and skills more equitable, whilst positively enhancing health and wellbeing?

2. How do science centres advance societal needs including community cohesion, development of social capital, and the building of relationships between different communities?

3. What role do science centres have in promoting environmental sustainability through raising awareness about natural capital (e.g. land, air, water, minerals) whilst simultaneously practicing what they preach?

4. If economic growth is a key objective of sustainable development, what role do science centres have in improving peoples standards of living, and how can science centres themselves make efficient use of assets to maintain profitability over time?

The successful applicant will benefit from the expertise of the Director of Studies (Dr Gary Kerr) and Second Supervisor (Dr Ellis Urquhart) – and colleagues within the wider Tourism Research Centre. Dr Gary Kerr completed his PhD on the critical study of science festivals and he currently researches how festivals, events and cultural venues can become more accessible for people living with dementia. Dr Ellis Urquhart researches the co-creation of visitor experiences and how technology and narrative development influences experiences within visitor attractions. His PhD thesis explored the role of technological mediation within audience experiences in Scottish visitor attractions.

Academic qualifications

A first degree (at least a 2.1) ideally in Tourism, Leisure Studies, Cultural Studies or related fields, with a good fundamental knowledge of theoretical and methodological concepts in visitor attraction management.

English language requirement

IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in each of the four components). Other,

equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s policy are available online.

Essential attributes:

• Experience of undertaking fundamental independent research in a related area

• Competent in qualitative research methods

• Knowledge of science centres and/or visitor attraction landscape

• Good written and oral communication skills

• Strong motivation, with evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project

• Good time management

Desirable attributes:

Practical experience of working at or with a science centre and/or visitor attraction

Experience in working with key stakeholders / industry partners

A MSc-level qualification in a subject related to tourism, leisure studies and/or cultural studies

Business & Management (5) Environmental Sciences (13)


Achiam, M., & Sølberg, J. (2017) Nine meta-functions for science museums
and science centres, Museum Management and Curatorship, 32(2), 123-143,
Giles, R. M. (2021). Science, technology, and literacy? Assessing the
potential for children’s reading and writing in four science
centres. International Journal of Early Years Education, 29(1), 88-95.
Gotwald-Feja, B., Beata, G. F., & Marlena, K. (2018). Science centres as the
drivers of change on social and educational arena. International Journal of
Economics, Business, and Entrepreneurship, 1(2), 127-137
Keith, L., & Kerr, G. (2022). Levelling the playing field: lessons from sport on
re-framing science engagement as a benefit to the individual. Journal of
Science Communication, 21(4), Article A03.
Kesgin, M., Murthy, R. S., & Pohland, L. W. (2019). Residents as destination
advocates: the role of attraction familiarity on destination image. Journal of
Hospitality and Tourism Insights, 2(1), 55-74.
Leask, A. (2016). Visitor attraction management: A critical review of research
2009–2014. Tourism Management, 57, 334–361.
Mackay, R., Minunno, R., & Morrison, G. M. (2020). Strategic Decisions for
Sustainable Management at Significant Tourist

 About the Project