By Cally Guerin
The International Conference on Developments in Doctoral Education and Training (ICDDET) is gaining momentum with its third conference in the UK held at Stratford upon Avon last week. As in 2015, this conference draws together perspectives from (primarily) the UK, Europe, North America and Australia. The doctorate is an international qualification and it was encouraging to see how speakers from all these regions are consistently on message: doctoral education needs to be thinking about what happens to our researchers beyond graduation.
Concerns about what happens after the doctorate were front and centre for many of the presentations and the keynotes. From Dr Hugh Kearns’ (Flinders University, Australia) opening keynote, to Dr Gary Slater (University of Ottawa, Canada) and Prof David Bogle (University College London, UK), the focus was on the production of a researcher who is ready to contribute to society.
Throughout the conference we heard about how the doctoral curriculum can include broad development of the researcher, with an eye on future employability. For example, the University of Edinburgh has introduced a formal course in entrepreneurship for a group of health sciences doctoral students, aiming to enhance graduates’ employment options on completion. The Business School at Liverpool John Moores University has a peer mentoring program to help newly arrived international students settle into their unfamiliar social and study environment. Mentors receive a formal certificate recognising their coaching and mentoring skills, representing double value for participants – they help build the local research culture, and also have a new line on their resumé.
There was continuing discussion of the generic or transferrable skills that are integral to doctoral education, and of course writing is at the centre of this. Dr Anne Lee’s supervisor development in Norway pointed to this: the topics supervisors regarded as most helpful in the course were those on giving feedback and development of writing skills, as well as sessions on ensuring ethical research.
Other speakers talked about how they were developing strong research cultures in interdisciplinary settings. For example, the Berlin International Graduate School of Natural Sciences and Engineering at Technische Universitaet Berlin provides a 3-month induction for its students (many of whom are international). Alongside basic disciplinary lectures, their program includes social activities and a mentoring buddy program to help integrate newcomers into the interdisciplinary group.
Efforts to engage in industry through doctoral programs were also an important element in discussions. Useful insights from Dr Leilani Endicott at Walden University (USA) revealed how important it is for doctoral candidates to be sensitive to the needs of partner sites when conducting research in schools, government agencies and private businesses. When managed well, such intersectoral research can lead to further employment opportunities within those organisations.
The ICDDET conference tends to focus on policy issues in various contexts. As is clear from what I’ve described above, many speakers returned to questions about the current and future purposes of the PhD in a changing economic, social and political environment. Dr David Oliva Uribe, Head of the European University Association (EUA) Council for Doctoral Education, brought together the strands of our discussions by identifying that conceptions of the contemporary doctorate are increasingly international, interdisciplinary and intersectoral in focus.
One of the heartening aspects of this conference is the clear confidence that the doctorate remains a valuable and relevant qualification; what is changing is how this education is used by graduates in their careers within and beyond the academy. These are challenging and exciting times for those of us working in doctoral education as we continue to imagine new futures for the talented and capable graduates of our programs. As with any conference, I could attend only a few of the parallel sessions on offer, and would love to hear what others learned at ICDDET this year.