Future challenges of doctoral training #vitae17

The future

A few months ago I agreed to give a presentation at the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference in September. It is scheduled for the half plenary session on the first afternoon and the title for my contribution is Future challenges in doctoral training. I have only 7 minutes to cover this topic so I am thinking about what I want to cover and what will have to be edited out!

This blog post is a work in progress as I sketch out some key ideas that I want to talk about.


A bit of context in terms of the programme is probably good; there will be other presentations before mine covering the following things:-

  • Diversity in programmes, doctoral provision and researchers
  • A history of the modern PhD
  • Understanding the [PGR] student journey
  • Academic Apprenticeships

Future of doctoral training

It’s quite a big topic to talk about so here are my initial stumbling musings

  1. Back to the future – Any talk about the future probably ought to start with some recognition of the past – Perhaps I shall talk about sometimes feeling like Marty McFly dropping in on the 2004 version of myself who was beginning to get to grips with the question of “how do we support PGRs for their future employability (even if that is outside of academia)? The first two presentations will probably give the overall history of doctoral education so no need to cover same ground but to think about what’s changed between when I graduated and now.
  2. Professionalising doctoral researchers – We have slowly been inching toward a more professionalised system of support for doctoral researchers, e.g. parental leave for PGRs, annual leave entitlement, development support. However, PGRs are still in that middle ground, treated like staff when it suits institutions and students when it doesn’t. I think a good example of this is around PGRs who teach. We could and should do much better when it comes to getting the balance right there. Are we then going to grasp the nettle and turn the whole recruitment of PGR students on it’s head and move to employ postgraduate researchers to purposefully invest in that support?
  3. The contemporary research environment. It’s different to how it used to be! The drivers, the strategies, the tactics, the reward system that many supervisors navigated in their careers are not the same any more. The pace of change toward open research, the transparency in how research is thought about, designed, implemented and disseminated are a world apart. Preparing doctoral researchers to succeed in that environment is challenging because it exposes the gulf between old and new.
  4. Innovation in researcher development. Programmes, workshops, action learning sets, e-learning modules. More choice, more workshops, more opportunities – this is good? Or is it? I think we are moving towards curation of materials, remixing and mash ups (can you tell I used to deejay as a hobby?) and trying to make these things as easy to engage with as possible. Video is king as the saying goes.
  5. Cohort based doctoral training entities (DTEs) – an important element in the doctoral training landscape. But are DTEs the future for all doctoral training? Are there better ways as we move to the future?

That’s all folks! Going to kick these ideas around and try and end up with just three main points for the presentation. Your input is welcomed.

Researcher Skills

Paul Spencer View All →

I'm a former researcher into the microbiology of the mouth who now runs a skills development programme for other researchers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: