Supervision tops new PhD survey

Postgraduate researchers rate supervision as the most important aspect of a doctoral research programme, according to a new survey by the Higher Education Academy (HEA).

The Postgraduate Research Experience Survey 2011, now in its fourth year, gathers the views of current postgraduate research students across the UK. Supervision has always been ranked as the key element of a doctoral degree.

In the survey 95.9 per cent of respondents said that supervision and support are the key aspects of their doctoral studies. The second most important factor was opportunities to develop a range of research skills (89.6 per cent) followed by access to appropriate research facilities (88.4 per cent).

The findings reveal that most doctoral students are satisfied with the level of support they receive from their supervisors – 87.5 per cent said they felt their supervisors had the skills and subject knowledge necessary to provide adequate support to their research project.

With the opportunity to develop a range of research skills also ranking high on the list of priorities for doctoral students, it is interesting to note that 74.5 per cent of respondents feel confident in managing a research project based on their experience to date.

A higher number (84.4 per cent) said that doctoral study had enhanced their independent learning skills and 82 per cent said it improved their analytical skills – both important skills for academics and researchers to master.

In terms of career aspirations, the vast majority of respondents are hoping to work in academia upon completion of their PhD – either teaching and research or teaching only (44.3 per cent). By comparison just 14.7 per cent want to work as researchers outside higher education and only 13.4 per cent seek a purely research role within higher education.

Gaining teaching experience as a doctoral student is therefore of paramount importance in terms of enhancing career prospects. However, only 57.6 per cent of respondents said they had adequate opportunities to gain teaching experience on their research degree programme. And just 51.1 per cent said they received adequate support and guidance for teaching.

This is a key area that needs addressing and which is perhaps reflected in the ratings for the overall experience of doctoral study – only 64.1 per cent of respondents said that their research programme exceeded expectations.

Whilst it is true that this figure has increased from 60.9 per cent in 2008, there should be no room for complacency as clearly offering opportunities for doctoral students to gain teaching experience is important in helping to enhance career prospects for the vast majority of students who want to teach once they have complete their PhD.

Every doctoral student should be offered the opportunity at their universities to take the PG Cert in Teaching in HE – since all lecturers in higher education are now required to hold this qualification.

Download the Post Graduate Research Survey HEA Sep 2011

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