- Previous events
- Vitae researcher development conference 2008
- Workshop programme NEW UPDATE December 08
- A4/B4 Workshop summary and outcomes
A4/B4 Workshop summary and outcomes
Postgraduate researcher strand
Understanding the changing needs of doctoral researchers
Prof Chris Park, Director of the Graduate School, Lancaster University and Prof Gina Wisker, Head of Centre for Teaching and Learning, University of Brighton.
Much attention is now focused on better understanding the research student experience and how it might be further improved, informed by detailed research. This session summarised the main sector-level findings from the 2008 Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) and described an ongoing Higher Education Academy project Supporting and enhancing doctoral students' research skills development . It aimed to develop greater awareness of the multi-dimensional nature of the research student experience, the factors that shape it and influence it both directly and indirectly, and the relevance of recent research to policy and practice in supervision.
PRES: Chris Park
16,524 doctoral students from 73 participating HEIs responded to the 2008 PRES, up from 10,544 respondents across 58 HEIs in 2007. The response rate also improved, from 25% to 29%.
Three in five respondents felt that their overall postgraduate experience exceeded their initial expectations and two-thirds were confident that they would complete their doctorate on schedule. The pattern of responses across HEIs was fairly even, with the great majority close to the mean overall score.
PRES explores postgraduate experience on a number of scales, related to eg supervision, intellectual climate, skills development and career development.
Supervision attracted the highest mean scale score. This scale was the most important one in ‘explaining' overall experience. Positive experience of supervision had the highest correlation with scores on confidence in completing on schedule. Non-science postgraduates rated supervision more highly than scientists, but across all subjects scores were higher in the earlier stages of the doctorate.
Intellectual climate attracted the lowest mean scale score. It was the second most important scale in ‘explaining' completion, but was significantly less important than the effect of supervision. Highest scores were accorded by maths and physical science scientists, lowest by law and New Route PhD candidates.
Skills development was the third most important scale in ‘explaining' overall experience, second in ‘explaining' completion (research skills). The highest scores were gained by ‘improved ability to learn independently' (81%) and ‘improved analytical skills' (78%) and the lowest by ‘opportunities to develop transferable skills' (57%) and ‘research skills' (61%).
A new scale introduced in 2008 ‘professional development and career development' revealed that fewer than half of respondents were encouraged to reflect on these needs, with professional development, at 44%, ahead of career development needs (40%). Only 35% reported being ‘encouraged to think about the range of career opportunities that are available to me'.
View Chris Park's presentation.
NTFS project ‘doctoral learning journeys' (2007-2010): Gina Wisker
This project is building on ongoing and complementary research, exploring:
- postgraduate (doctoral) student learning - variations in approach, dissonance,
- supervisory practices, dialogues
- communities of practice
- research development programmes
- threshold concepts in disciplines and generically at the doctoral learning conceptual threshold crossing.
- Does the theory of threshold concepts describe and appreciate the kinds of learning research candidates can/must make in their work for it to achieve a doctoral standard?
- Are there generic conceptual thresholds and how might we identify the crossing of such generic doctoral thresholds?
- Are there discipline-specific conceptual thresholds at the research level?
- How can we identify when a candidate has crossed a threshold?
- What elements of our work with research candidates can support and empower them to cross such thresholds?
The project's research questions are therefore:
- How do doctoral students signify their awareness of working conceptually?
- How do students' conceptual grasp and comments display crossing of subject-specific and generic doctoral thresholds?
- How do supervisors recognise students' conceptual grasp of research?
- What strategies and activities do supervisors use to encourage conceptual grasp by doctoral students?
- How do examiners identify and assess conceptually-robust research outcomes and skills developments?
Using extracts from interviews with supervisors, participants reflected on what conceptual threshold crossing at postgraduate level might look like and the role of the various stakeholders.
Key discussion themes were the:
- continuing need to improve postgraduate integration in departments (intellectual climate)
- importance of, and ways to support, good supervisory processes
- value of the concept of ‘learning leaps' (transformational moments) for informing training programmes and supervisor development/programmes
- importance of statistics revealing patterns.
View the A4/B4 presentation slides from Prof Chris Park
View the A4/B4 presentation slides from Prof Gina Wisker
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