In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Researcher Development and Skills Training within the Context of Postgraduate Programs

  • Introduction
  • Historical Context
  • Policy
  • Debate
  • Guidance Handbooks for Postgraduate Researchers
  • Pedagogical Models
  • Interdisciplinary Doctorates
  • Professional Doctorates
  • Skills Development
  • Employability Skills
  • The Postgraduate Researcher Experience
  • Identity and Culture
  • Evaluation

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Education Researcher Development and Skills Training within the Context of Postgraduate Programs
Pam Denicolo, Dawn C. Duke, Julie Reeves
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0174


Rapid, unprecedented transformation in the policy and procedures of doctoral education since the turn of the millennium has resulted in considerable global debate in the higher-education sector about the nature and purpose of researcher development. Previously, despite differences among national groups (e.g., European, the UK and North American models of preparation for research and the examination procedures), general researcher development was firmly under the guidance of the research supervisor/advisor (“supervisor” used henceforth). Although opportunities for methods training or thesis compilation advice, for example, might be available within the department or institution, the basic apprenticeship model was pervasive with acknowledgement, particularly in the United States, of doctoral students being the future stewards of the discipline. Literature providing this historical background (Historical Context) and delineating policy initiatives (Policy) that emerged since the start of the 21st century provides the context for the debate. These developments are portrayed variously to postgraduate researchers through handbooks and reviews (Guidance Handbooks for Postgraduate Researchers). The current debate about the purpose of the doctorate and the nature of “doctorateness” has been fueled by how that policy has been interpreted into practice within the section Debate. The challenge to traditional pedagogical protocols resulted in the incorporation into research education of models of learning/teaching from other education spheres (Pedagogical Models), while the expansion both of the number and diversity of doctoral candidates resulted in the emergence of different forms of doctorate, each with its own procedural variances: see Professional Doctorates (also known as industrial doctorates) and Interdisciplinary Doctorates. One significant modification has been the emphasis shift from the production of a scholarly research report (thesis or dissertation as a monograph or coherent collection of publications with an overview)—a defense of process and results—to one giving equal prominence to the development of the researcher’s attributes and skills for the completion of the doctorate and for future employment (Skills Development). The concept of employability, both within and outside the sector, has in the early 21st century become increasingly prominent in debate and praxis (Employability Skills). The effect on researchers’ program experience and their identity and cultural perceptions (Postgraduate Researcher Experience, Identity and Culture) has evolved as a major source of interest for policymakers and education researchers, while both groups are required to evaluate the structure, functions, outputs, and outcomes of doctoral education (Evaluation). Researcher development as a relatively new phenomenon in the history of the doctorate continues to generate pertinent issues (Emergent Topics). Publications have been selected, as much as possible, from a variety of sources and include a range of disciplinary perspectives and international standpoints as well as leading research and key contributions. Where authors have more than one relevant publication in a section, only a representative one is provided while acknowledging that other work is available. Generally, the review spans the period since the late 20th century, with the subsections emerging from the literature. Each selected reference provides a conduit to further salient literature.

Historical Context

The author of James 1903 regretted what we would now call the rise in credentialism, that the doctorate in the United States was a requirement for higher-education teaching posts. A century later, Brown 2001 reiterates the sentiment, noting the continuing requirement for specific credentials for particular forms of employment, with a subsequent devaluation of such credentials, including the doctorate, as more people acquire them and employers require a means of differentiating candidates. These articles and others in this section provide a backdrop to the evolution of the doctorate from an academic research credential to a process of researcher development to fit researchers for a wider range of employment. As examples, two documents from the United Kingdom, Winfield 1987 and Harris 1996, illustrate the slow but growing interest in the processes of the doctorate to serve societal purposes. Burgess 1997 notes the growing tension between two models of postgraduate education—for knowledge generation and for career preparation. This interest suddenly burgeoned at the millennium, as documented for the United Kingdom in Park 2007, for the United States in Walker, et al. 2008, for Europe in Sursock, et al. 2010, and for the wider world in Jørgensen 2014. Following a century of benign neglect by government agencies in how universities conducted doctoral study, the decisive policy document that stimulated a plethora of policy initiatives eventually worldwide was European Ministers of Education 1999 (cited under Policy), commonly known as the Bologna Declaration, and its subsequent biannual elaborations. The documents cited in this section map the changing attitudes and processes related to researcher development both within the higher-education sector and the wider communities in which they are embedded.

  • Brown, D. K. 2001. The social sources of educational credentialism: Status cultures, labor markets, and organizations. In Extra issue: Current of thought: Sociology of education at the dawn of the 21st century. Sociology of Education 74:19–34.

    DOI: 10.2307/2673251

    This is a detailed, well-referenced sociological analysis of the rise of credentialism, with a particular focus on the use of qualifications, rather than candidates’ actual skills for the job, as entry requirements for particular employment. The results of this process are argued as weakening the value of each educational endeavor.

  • Burgess, R. G. 1997. The changing context of postgraduate education in the United Kingdom. Paper presented at the 1997 annual conference of the Society for Research into Higher Education, held at the Univ. of Warwick, Coventry, UK. In Beyond the first degree: Graduate education, lifelong learning, and careers. Edited by R. G. Burgess, 3–18. Buckingham, UK: Open Univ. Press.

    Setting the scene for comparisons of international perspectives on developments in postgraduate education, Burgess presents the main trends and developments in the United Kingdom, including its scope, organizational structures, quality issues, and major debates about postgraduate work, lifelong learning, and careers.

  • Harris, M. 1996. Review of postgraduate education. London: Higher Education in the Polytechnics and Colleges.

    Rather than being simply a footnote within a general document reviewing higher education, postgraduate studies became the main topic, with recommendations for researchers to be better supported by institutional codes of practice related to minimum standards of facilities, supervision, and methods training.

  • James, W. 1903. The Ph.D. Octopus. Harvard Monthly 36.1: 1–9.

    This article reminds us that despite the current concern with challenges to the meaning of the doctorate, some concerns about how the doctorate as a qualification is used have a long history of engendering polemic, particularly in relation to its status as a qualification. Reprinted in William James’s Memories and Studies (New York: Longmans, Green, 1911), pp. 320–347.

  • Jørgensen, T. E. 2014. Global trends in doctoral education and the European perspective. Journal of the European Higher Education Area 1:17–34.

    A project with a wider view (including East Asia, southern Africa, and Latin America) identifies and illustrates common debates and trends in doctoral education, including growth in candidate numbers and in competition for talent, as well as exemplifying the drivers of these changes.

  • Park, C. 2007. Redefining the doctorate. Discussion Paper. York, UK: Higher Education Academy.

    As a discussion paper to inform debates about the doctorate of the future, the first section charts the advances in doctoral-degree provision in the United Kingdom and perspectives on it, drawing comparisons with similar debates in Australia, the United States, and mainland Europe.

  • Sursock, A., H. Smidt, and H. Davies. 2010. Trends 2010: A decade of change in European higher education. Brussels: European Univ. Association.

    As the success of Bologna-driven reforms are evaluated, giving recognition to a decade of change in European higher education, the particular example of doctoral education undergoing substantial stakeholder-led improvement, such as doctoral schools and widespread training programs, is showcased for a wide range of readers from students to policymakers.

  • Walker, G. E., C. M. Golde, L. Jones, A. C. Bueschel, and P. Hutchings. 2008. The formation of scholars: Rethinking doctoral education for the twenty-first century. Doctoral Education for Future Generations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Providing a comprehensive vision for the future while reviewing the doctoral past in the United States, the authors present alternatives to the apprenticeship model, offering guidelines to the development of knowledge-centered, intellectual communities in which to embed researcher development.

  • Winfield, G. 1987. The social science PhD: The ESRC inquiry on submission rates; A report commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council. London: Economic and Social Research Council.

    This was one of very few reviews of higher education by UK government agencies that focused on postgraduate (indeed, doctoral) education. It grew out of a concern for the extended submission and completion rates of funded students and recommended a new route of a training PhD to add to the existing “knowledge” PhD.

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