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Researchers of Tomorrow is the longest and most intensive research to date on information-seeking practices and research behaviour among doctoral students. This gives it special significance in terms of the credibility of its findings, and these should be of key interest to a number of different stakeholders in the HE and research sector.

Researchers of Tomorrow

The research behaviour of Generation Y doctoral students

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in partnership with the British Library Researchers of Tomorrow is the UK’s largest study to date on the research behaviour of Generation Y doctoral students (born between 1982 and 1994). JISC and the British Library jointly commissioned the three year study in 2009, which involved 17,000 doctoral students from 70 universities at various stages in the project.

Our research findings reveal:

  • Doctoral students are increasingly reliant on secondary research resources (eg journal articles, books), moving away from primary materials (eg primary archival material and large datasets).
  • Access to relevant resources is a major constraint for doctoral students’ progress. Authentication access and licence limitations to subscription-based resources, such as e-journals, are particularly problematic.
  • Open access and copyright appear to be a source of confusion for Generation Y doctoral students, rather than encouraging innovation and collaborative research.
  • This generation of doctoral students operate in an environment where their research behaviour does not use the full potential of innovative technology.
  • Doctoral students are insufficiently trained or informed to be able to fully embrace the latest opportunities in the digital information environment.

These findings raise important questions about research development, training and support within research led organisations and the openness and sharing of research. 

Researchers of Tomorrow: the research behaviour of Generation Y doctoral students

Digital illustration 

Contents

Executive summary

Researchers of Tomorrow

Download the executive summary (pdf)

In 2009, the British Library and JISC commissioned the three-year Researchers of Tomorrow study, focusing on the information-seeking and research behaviour of doctoral students in 'Generation Y', born between 1982 and 1994 and not 'digital natives'. Over 17,000 doctoral students from more than 70 higher education institutions participated in the three annual surveys, which were complemented by a longitudinal student cohort study.

Researchers of Tomorrow is the longest and most intensive research to date on information-seeking practices and research behaviour among doctoral students. This gives it special significance in terms of the credibility of its findings, and these should be of key interest to a number of different stakeholders in the HE and research sector. For example:

  • For senior managers in higher education institutions the focus of interest may be on what the study reveals about research development, training and support, and the decisive role and influence of doctoral supervisors
  • For academic and research library staff the key concerns may be the evident impact of declining or at-risk subscription-based e-journal collections, and the reach of libraries and library staff in supporting information-seeking and research work
  • Strategic and funding bodies within both sectors might focus on the widespread misconceptions evident about open access and copyright, and the constraints on technology take-up, openness and sharing of research among doctoral students
  • Commercial and other research information service providers and publishers might give greater consideration to the students' perspectives when developing the technology-based tools that are increasingly used to augment products and services

The study found that Generation Y doctoral students are sophisticated information-seekers and users of complex information sources. They are not dazzled by technology and are acutely aware of critical issues such as authority and authenticity in research and evidence gathering.

Finding and using research resources

In a survey enquiry asking about their last incident of information-seeking activity, the majority of all doctoral students (including Generation Y) across all subject disciplines were looking for text-based and secondary, pre-published research resources (journal articles, books etc) and not primary source materials.

This apparent and striking dependence on published research resources implies that, as the basis for their own analytical and original research, relatively few doctoral students in social sciences and arts and humanities are using 'primary' materials such as newspapers, archival material and social data. In sciences, few may be drawing on large datasets. The implications of this are so significant that there is a strong case for more in-depth research in this area to determine whether the data signals a real shift away from doctoral research based on primary sources compared to, say, a decade ago. If this proves to be the case there may be significant implications for doctoral research quality and other long-term concerns, such as what this might mean for the concept of the doctorate as a 'research apprenticeship' if it includes little experience of finding and using non-published and 'primary' research sources and materials in research work.

Understanding the information environment

E-journals dominate as the main research resource across all subject disciplines. Getting hold of relevant research resources – especially access to e-journal articles in subscription-based journals – was consistently ranked by Generation Y doctoral students as the second biggest constraint on their research progress (after time constraints). If they cannot get hold of an e-journal article, almost half the Generation Y doctoral students said they will make do with the abstract. Fewer older students were inclined to do this.

Among doctoral students of all ages there is widespread lack of understanding and uncertainty about open access and self-archived resources. At the institutional level the authentication of access to and licensing limitations on subscription-based resources are generally perplexing for young doctoral students.

Of significant concern is evidence of an overall lack of understanding about the networked information and scholarly communications environment in which the students work. In the web-based environment they are often constrained in legitimately widening their research and dissemination by their misconceptions about open access and copyright. Also, they know that current citation-based assessment and authenticity criteria in doctoral and academic research discourage the citing of non-published or original material, such as web-based data, as research evidence in doctoral theses.

The question arises as to whether doctoral students are being properly supported and equipped to navigate their way through the plethora and variety of research materials and sources available on the internet. Are the mechanisms of establishing authority and legitimacy in research resources (such as peer review, citation, publisher/origin etc) still valid and adequate to help doctoral students make choices, and might these be widened to include, for example, the allowable citation of web-based datasets?

Take-up of technology and applications

Although Generation Y doctoral students are highly competent and ubiquitous users of information technologies generally, the evidence shows that they tend not to be early adopters or keen users of the latest technology applications and tools in their research.

Most technologies and applications provided by their institutions, and open web technology tools and applications, are used by a relatively small proportion of Generation Y doctoral students for research work, though they are more likely to use such technology than older students. The evidence shows that Generation Y doctoral students tend to use applications only if these can be easily absorbed into existing research work practices.

Current institutional engagement with open web and Web 2.0 technologies does not convince the majority of Generation Y doctoral students of the credibility of using such applications in a research setting, and reinforces their feeling that actively using, for example, social media and online forums in research lacks legitimacy. New web-based and other tools and applications may also challenge their traditional and conservative research working practices.

Can the key influencers in higher education institutions, such as doctoral supervisors, library and information support staff, become more effective in providing models of best practice and legitimacy?

Collaborating, sharing and disseminating research

The majority of Generation Y doctoral students work alone and not in research teams: they tend to share their research outputs only with their peers or work colleagues. They take their lead from their supervisors and other academic colleagues with regard to greater openness and sharing in research, and their views reflect those of academic researchers and wider scholarly communications in general.

Despite the widespread misconceptions about open access publishing, a gradual increase is discernible in the number of Generation Y doctoral students who published or intend to publish research findings in open access. Nonetheless, lack of understanding and uncertainty about the nature of open access remains a constraint on disseminating their research findings; typically their reservations include lack of impact factor or credibility of open access journals and strong preference for peer-reviewed journals, with a general assumption that open access journals are not peer reviewed.

There may be great value to doctoral students in being more open – in communicating and contributing within wider research networks – yet Generation Y doctoral students are constrained by their own lack of confidence in their research work, by the need for them to demonstrate originality in research findings, and by their supervisors' ambivalent attitudes towards greater openness and sharing. Together these challenge the accepted working practices in the current doctoral model. The question arises whether, in the light of international research trends, there is any higher education sector or institutional commitment to accepting changes in the doctoral research model implied by greater openness and sharing.

Institutional services and facilities to support research

The great importance assigned by Generation Y doctoral students to some institutional services and facilities (for example, e-journal or print journal provision) is not matched by equally high levels of satisfaction with the services and facilities on offer in their institutions.

Training for research work and for information use is an area of overall dissatisfaction among Generation Y doctoral students. Their preference is for face-to-face support and training, and they use their own peers as informal training providers regularly and frequently. Generic training content, not tailored to their subject area or to their own needs, is generally considered ineffective. The implication here seems to be that the 'closer to home' and more informal the training offered by the institution, the more effective it would be from the Generation Y doctoral student's point of view.

'Over 17,000 doctoral students responded to one or more of the annual surveys'

This raises the question as to whether there are better models for identifying and then responding to training needs among doctoral researchers beyond the widespread use of pre-scheduled and generic lectures, demonstrations and workshops. Can institutions find ways in which to use doctoral students themselves (properly resourced and reimbursed) within the peer network to help identify needs, pass on skills, knowledge and experience through mentoring, semi-formal hands-on support and actual formal training?

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the higher education institutions and the students for their collaboration in and contributions to the research.

We are also indebted to the cohort of 60 Generation Y doctoral students who signed up in 2009 for the longitudinal study, many of whom remained active participants in the research to the end despite the increasing pressures of their studies, providing us with interesting insights into the information needs and research work of doctoral students.

The research was steered by a project board with representatives from the British Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE). We are grateful for their guidance and support throughout the study.

The study was developed and managed by Julie Carpenter, Louise Wetheridge and Sophie Tanner at Education for Change Ltd, and the quantitative surveys were managed by Nick Smith at The Research Partnership. The views represented are those of the participating doctoral students. The conclusions are those of Education for Change, albeit endorsed and supported by the sponsors of the study, the British Library and JISC.

Introduction

Digital access

Origins

In 2007 the British Library (BL) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) funded the research study The Google Generation: Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future,[1] which focused on how young people in schools, 'digital natives' born after 1993, are likely to access and interact with digital resources in five to ten years' time. The research reported overall that, while the impact of technology on learning and research has been dramatic and widespread – 'we are all the Google generation now' – the information literacy of these young people has not improved with wider access to technology.

To complement the findings of the Google Generation research, the BL and JISC commissioned this three-year research study Researchers of Tomorrow focusing on the information-seeking and research behaviour of doctoral students belonging to the Generation Y demographic cohort.

Generation Y, the children of the Baby Boomers, is defined in this study as those born between 1982 and 1994. Generation Y students in the UK are not 'digital natives'; they were educated, at least up to their senior secondary years, in schools with limited access to computers and the internet. In a largely technology-free environment, it was assumed that Generation Y acquired information-seeking and enquiry skills without learning "to 'get by' with Google"[2] and that the nature of this early start may have had an impact on their research behaviour and information-seeking skills as doctoral students.

Scope

Researchers of Tomorrow is to date the longest and most intensive study of research student activity in relation to information-seeking and research behaviour.

Researchers collaboratingThe main focus areas of the study were to:

  • Map emerging research behaviour trends across the main subject disciplines
  • Investigate how doctoral scholars, in particular those from Generation Y, seek information both on- and offline
  • Measure the relative use of digital resources and physical resources (including research spaces)
  • Understand how Generation Y doctoral students search for and use digital content for research
  • Discover if and how they use emergent technologies to do so

Within this broad area of enquiry, the specific topics of the research changed and developed as a consequence of the long duration of the study and the mix of qualitative and quantitative methodologies adopted (see Annex 1). Evidence from the qualitative elements of the study allowed the formulation of questions and exploration of issues, which were then tested in national quantitative surveys. The results were then validated and given context through further qualitative work.

Researchers of Tomorrow: scope

Figure 1: Researchers of Tomorrow: scope

We began by asking fact-finding questions (see Figure 1) about:

  • What information and resources doctoral students used
  • How they searched for and accessed what they needed
  • Where they went (virtually and physically) to consult them

Quite quickly answers emerged leading us to ask some questions with a wider behavioural and institutional scope, such as:

  • What drove their selection in research resources
  • What skills and tools they needed to be effective in their research work
  • How they acquired these skills
  • Who influenced and supported them to be effective in their research work

And finally, so that we might learn more about how they understood and reacted to their research environment, we wanted to know more about:

  • Their attitudes to some of the fast-changing trends in academic research and scholarly communications
  • The key drivers of and constraints on their research work as they progressed in their studies

Participation

'The Researchers of Tomorrow study tapped into an eagerness among doctoral students to communicate about what they were doing'

The research on which this study is based took place between June 2009 and December 2011. In each of these years, up to 72 higher education institutions (HEIs) participated in the research through the active promotion and distribution of a questionnaire survey to their doctoral students, and over 17,000 doctoral students responded to one or more of the annual surveys. In parallel, 60 full-time doctoral students from 36 HEIs were recruited into a longitudinal qualitative cohort study. A profile of those 60 students is presented in Annex 2.

We were initially taken aback by the scale of response to the annual surveys. Preparatory focus groups confirmed, however, that a feeling of isolation in doctoral research is common. We concluded that the Researchers of Tomorrow study had tapped into an eagerness among doctoral students to communicate about what they were doing and how they felt about their work while they were on their doctoral journey.

Guide to this report

This report is based on evidence from the three annual surveys, supported by observations and direct quotations from cohort students in the longitudinal study, and some open comments from the surveys. The subject discipline of the students' studies is assigned to the quotation where it is known, unless doing so risked the anonymity of the student.

Several pen portraits of individual members of the student cohort are also included to illustrate the main themes.

Chapter 2 (Setting the scene) provides an overview of the total survey sample we used over three years, in terms of, eg type of doctorate, year of study, subject discipline etc. The main body of the report addresses four big themes relating to research and information-seeking behaviour:

The text and the data shown refer to the Generation Y sample only unless otherwise stated. Percentages shown are proportions of those respondents who provided an answer to that particular question (ie not a proportion of the sample overall).

Where appropriate, the report includes footnotes with html links to the analysed data online at the archived version of the Researchers of Tomorrow website.

All the survey data is publicly available in the UK Data Archive.

Setting the scene

Data

The quantitative research sample

'Of the 6,161 Generation Y doctoral students in the sample 94% were studying full-time'

A total of 17,113 responses were received to the three annual surveys, of which 834 were from students who had completed the survey in at least one other year. Of these responses 13,593 were complete and only these complete responses were used in data analysis. From these annual surveys we derived data on two samples:

  • Generation Y doctoral students born between 1982 and 1994 (sample size 6,161)
  • Older doctoral students (sample size 7,432), enabling comparison with the attitudes and behaviour of Generation Y

Demographics

Of the 6,161 Generation Y doctoral students in the sample, 94% were studying full-time. The data shows that:

  • 2,516 had some or all their funding from the research councils
  • 2,199 had funding from other external funding sources (eg third sector)
  • 650 were entirely self-funded

In years two and three of the survey, data was collected on funding from departmental bursaries or other contributions (average across both years: 26%) and from industry (average across both years: 9%).

More responses from female than male researchers were received in all three surveys. Male respondents numbered 5,629 in total, of which 2,579 were Generation Y; female 7,964, of which 3,582 were Generation Y.

Nearly 12,000 respondents, including 5,653 Generation Ys, were doing a traditional PhD or DPhil. Of the total sample, 814 were registered as doing a professional doctorate.

Year of study

A total of 2,368 Generation Y respondents across the three surveys were in the first year of their doctorate at the time they took the survey, 1,769 were in their second year, 1,387 their third, 563 their fourth, 59 their fifth and 15 their sixth or later. Figure 2 shows this breakdown across the threee annual surveys.

Percentage of respondents by year of study across three surveys

Figure 2: Percentage of respondents by year of study across three surveys

Subject disciplines

'Researchers who are 29 or younger are more likely to be in science subjects'

Figure 3 shows that, in the Generation Y sample, there was a consistent and good balance of respondents across the main research disciplines in each of the three surveys. Overall, the Generation Y sample included a higher proportion of science, technology and medicine students than the older student sample. This correlates with the recent emphasis put on these disciplines in government policy and research council funding (see Annex 3) and reflects national trends. Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data shows (see Figure 4) that researchers who are 29 or younger are more likely to be in science subjects, and higher proportions of those aged 30 and older are in social sciences and arts and humanities.

Subject discipline of respondents' research

Figure 3: Subject discipline of respondents' research

Average % of survey sample in subject disciplines compared to HESA population data

Figure 4: Average % of survey sample in subject disciplines compared to HESA population data[3]

'Nearly 50% of older students stated they always or very often cross subject boundaries against only 38% of the Generation Y sample'

The 2009 and 2010 surveys asked doctoral students about the extent to which their research required them to seek information from outside their core discipline. Across the two surveys, nearly 50% of older students stated they always or very often cross subject boundaries, against only 38% of the Generation Y sample. 18% of the older sample and 29% of the Generation Y sample said that they rarely or never do this. On the basis of HESA data these differences may be explained by the different weight in subject discipline between the samples.

Constraints on research progress

'Respondents in 2010 felt more constrained overall in their research than those responding in other years'

Each survey asked the doctoral students to rank, by severity, a number of possible constraints on progress in their research work (1 being no constraint and 5 being the most severe constraint). Figure 5 shows the comparative mean ranking of these constraints. The data indicates that respondents in 2010 felt more constrained overall in their research than those responding in other years.

Figure 5: Comparative mean ranking of constraints on research

Comparative mean ranking of constraints on research

Finding and using research resources

Online search

KEY FINDINGS

  • Text-based and secondary research sources are predominant, compared to primary sources, across all subject disciplines and all ages of student
  • Most students found the research information they sought in more than one kind of resource, but e-journals dominate
  • If they cannot get hold of an e-journal article almost half the Generation Y doctoral students make do with the abstract. Fewer older students are likely to do this
  • Only Google commands a similarly important role as an information source across all subject discipline.
  • Generation Y doctoral students seem rarely to be aware of the actual publisher or name of the e-information source, as they rely on their library's own interface or Google to locate and access resources
  • There is widespread lack of understanding and uncertainty about open access and self-archived resources among doctoral students of all ages

Information-seeking and locating research resources

In 2009 doctoral students were asked to think about the last significant critical incident of information-seeking activity they had undertaken, and tell us:

  • What kind of research information or material they began looking for
  • What they eventually found of value through this incident, and
  • The main way in which they located what they sought
What students were looking for

'Only Google commands a similarly important role as an information source across all subject disciplines'

The majority of all doctoral students (including Generation Y) were looking for specific or any relevant bibliographic references, or any published writing on the topic in question. Only 7% failed to find anything to satisfy their needs in the information-seeking incident they described.

In that critical incident, around 80% of each discipline group among students studying physical, biological, biomedical and medical sciences were looking for any bibliographic references on their topic or specific published material, while only around 10% of each group were looking for scientific or mathematical data. Similarly, in that critical incident about 80% of arts and humanities students were looking for any bibliographic references on their topic or specific publications, while only 7% sought non-published archival, or similar, material.[4]

'Heavy reliance on published and text-based information was indicated across all subjects'

We expected to find some variations between students in different years of study, especially among science students, given that the first year of all doctoral research usually focuses on literature review. However, the data showed no significant variations from year to year of study, suggesting a continuous need to find secondary and published research materials.

The cohort study validated this continuing reliance on text-based and secondary published information throughout all the different stages of the students' research. An early heavy reliance on published and text-based information was indicated across all subjects as the students did the 'ground-clearing' work of their literature review, positioned themselves as researchers and clarified their ideas during the first months and year of their doctorate.

"[At the moment I am doing] background work (eg locating source materials) – I always raid the footnotes and bibliography of any text I'm reading to see if it might hold texts which might be of use to me, and then I add them to an ongoing 'still to read' list." (Arts and humanities)

For many students in the cohort, the next research 'stage' after the literature review was to conduct their own original data-gathering through qualitative research or experimentation, or close textual and primary source material analysis. At this point, the science students seemed to move to a 'keeping up-to-date' mode. The process of seeking and reviewing relevant published works appeared to be a more continuous one for arts and humanities and social science students, whatever the stage of their research.

"My thesis is not a single neat process, but rather an accumulation of materials and ideas which interact with and modify each other, and which are also modified by other people's thoughts, by chance encounters in my reading and by my attempts to improve my facility for expression." (Arts and humanities)

What students found of value

Most students found the information they sought in more than one kind of research resource, but e-journals dominated. Figure 6 shows the responses from both survey samples, Generation Y and older students, as the results in each sample were almost identical.

Fewer arts and humanities than science, technology and medicine students ended up with e-journal articles in this information-seeking incident. This is consistent with the relatively fewer arts and humanities journals published electronically. Equally, the continued importance of the printed book for arts and humanities doctoral students is indicated in these results.

'The continued importance of the printed book for arts and humanities doctoral students is indicated in these results'

The data suggests a relative uniformity in the kinds of resources and materials sought and used by all doctoral students. The overwhelming majority ended their information-seeking incident with a book (e-book or print), a journal article (e-journal or print), a reference or abstract of an article, and not primary or original source material such as data, photographs or newspaper articles, or archival material.

Type of research resource found and subject discipline (total survey sample)

Figure 6: Type of research resource found and subject discipline (total survey sample)[5]

Main sources used to find resources: by subject discipline (total survey sample)

Figure 7: Main sources used to find resources: by subject discipline (total survey sample)[6]

How they found what they were looking for

'Google sources were strongly favoured above other sources by arts and humanities, social science and engineering and computer science students'

Of the total survey sample, 30% used Google or Google Scholar as their main source to find the research information they sought. Broken down by subject discipline (see Figure 7), however, the data shows some interesting differences. Google sources were strongly favoured above other sources by arts and humanities, social science and engineering and computing science students, while citation databases or e-journal search interfaces were equally as popular as Google among biological and biomedical sciences students. Arts and humanities students sourced their information from a wider spread of online and offline sources, including library catalogues.

The cohort students demonstrated a sophisticated awareness of how to use the networked information environment in which they worked, locating what they needed through external as well as their own institutional portals, and from wider generic internet sites. They were aware of the potential of using other institutional library resources, both online and offline.

However, many among the cohort made some early assumptions about the extent of 'joined-upness', or cohesion, of the academic library network in the UK and of access arrangements and services across the sector, which left them rather open to disappointment as their studies progressed.

The cohort students rarely seemed to be aware of the actual publisher or e-information source itself when searching for e-journal articles, for example relying on their libraries' own e-resource interface or a Google application to locate and access resources, without being particularly interested in the names or nature of the originating organisations.

Keeping and reading research material

Mobile search

Evidence from the cohort suggested a tendency among doctoral students to download and store much more than they ever read in detail. Many downloaded things or viewed them online and then if they looked interesting they would commonly print them out to read them. Many cohort members commented on how they dislike reading (as opposed to scanning) on screen.

"I keep printing to a minimum. However, if I find something that is particularly insightful I will print it, as I don't like reading on a screen. After that I usually recycle the paper and keep a backed up digital copy." (Social sciences)

Downloading material 'just in case' was also evident within the cohort, often forced by the transitory nature of web-based materials and information.

"A few weeks ago we had a big scare when an email was sent round and re-circulated by one of my supervisors that the whole Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority (QCDA) website was going to be taken down … So I got my boyfriend to effectively download the entire QCDA website … so at least we have a copy if they do take the website down. I'm quite unlikely to ever read the majority of the documents we downloaded, but I'm glad to know they are there if I or someone else needs them." (Social sciences)

Managing these research resources locally was a continual challenge in the cohort, including devising filing systems, using citation and reference management applications, the problems of printed copies etc.

Using other libraries

In the first year of the research study, most of the cohort, across all subject disciplines, used other academic libraries quite regularly, either by knowingly accessing resources online or physically visiting them, or both, though levels of use declined as they progressed through their studies and required a narrower range of materials.

There were two main reasons for their use of university libraries other than their own:

  • To overcome inadequacies or gaps in the collections of their own institutions
  • Because they worked or lived somewhere else and other university libraries were more convenient

"I am rarely on the campus at this point in my studies as my research is carried out at a local hospital. This means I actually access online databases through a portal provided by another university. I find that I can access most of the journals I require, with very few not being available." (Science, technology, medicine)

"I do use the libraries of other institutions in my local area to access books that my university's library doesn't have, which … is a regular occurrence. I also use these institutions' libraries and public libraries as a workspace, as the library at my home institution does not provide a work environment conducive to doing any substantive work." (Social sciences)

"I generally use the university library to access resources, however I live in Leeds so have, on occasion, used the Leeds/Leeds Met libraries – but perhaps not as much as I could have. I know the Leeds University library has many more resources in terms of books/journals but I'd only be able to use these for reference. I have SCONUL access to Leeds Met library, which means I can borrow a few books and use computers, which is really good." (Social sciences)

The survey data[7] also revealed that, among those students using other libraries, the most common reasons for doing so were:

  • To obtain access to material not available in the students' own institution (70%)
  • To take advantage of a more convenient location (24%)
  • To work in a quieter or more amenable place to study (22%)

'Overall, Generation Y doctoral students appeared to be less likely than older students to visit other academic libraries for their research'

Overall, Generation Y doctoral students appeared to be less likely than older students to visit other academic libraries for their research. Of the 2010 sample, 44% had done so during the previous academic year compared to 59% of the older sample. Subject discipline is a strong determinant of whether doctoral students physically visit libraries other than their own, and these results accord with the higher proportion of science, technology and medicine students in the Generation Y survey sample (see page 14). However, even Generation Y arts and humanities and social sciences students were slightly more likely than older students to have never used a library other than that in their own institution.

In the cohort those arts and humanities students using primary sources, including archival sources (eg original published play texts, film archives, image archives), as the basis for their own analytical and original research were almost always involved in going physically to another library or archive. This was true even where many of the resources they required had been digitised.

Using open access research resources

Open access in this study was defined as free online access to scholarly works through the removal of price barriers (eg subscription fees) and most permission barriers (eg copyright and licensing restrictions), making them available with minimal use restrictions (eg author attribution only).

'There is, in particular, considerable confusion between open access and open web sources or social media'

Overall, the cohort students were not aware of or did not completely understand what open access means, which significantly and negatively affected their use of open access research resources. This lack of understanding was then found in the survey to be widespread among doctoral students of all ages. There is, in particular, considerable confusion between open access and open web sources or social media.

"I have to verify the validity of the source. Wikipedia is nice to understand the background and basic concepts. I might use that knowledge to understand my research up to a bit. But I am hesitant to quote it directly in my work." (Engineering and computer science)

"YouTube videoblog entries are useful to my research, in the same way that blogs and autobiographies are – but I am aware of the potential for online resources to be removed, and the problems that can cause in referencing my sources. Similarly, while open source wikis might give an initial impression, unless they're peer reviewed I don't feel comfortable basing research on them." (Arts and humanities)

To test their understanding, the surveyed students were asked to consider the veracity or otherwise of seven statements about the meaning and nature of 'open access' and 'self archiving' as they are generally understood in relation to scholarly communications in the broadest sense.[8]

Table 1 shows the responses from the Generation Y sample; the data shows little or no variation in the older survey sample.

Table 1: Responses to statements about open access

Statements

True

False

Don't know / Not stated

1

Open access is all works that are openly available on the web, which do not need any payment or permissions to look at, access or use. [Statement not accurate in context of scholarly publishing]

66%

13%

21%

2

Open access is scholarly publishing in an e-journal without any payment requirement to access and no, or limited, restrictions on use. [Statement true]

63%

13%

24%

3

Self-archiving refers to authors depositing their work in open access institutional or subject repositories, or making material otherwise available on the web. [Statement true]

40%

7%

53%

4

Open access journals are not peer-reviewed. [Statement not true]

9%

55%

36%

5

Journal articles in conventional, non-open access journals are not self-archived by their authors. [Statement not true]

18%

21%

61%

6

Research funders are beginning to expect open access to the research they support; many have already adopted self-archiving mandates. [Statement true]

26%

6%

68%

7

Some conventional, non-open access journals provide open access after an embargo period of 6–12 months or longer. [Statement true]

33%

6%

61%

When asked about their actual use of open access research resources, Generation Y doctoral students were slightly more inclined to use open access or self-archived research resources in their research than older students, although only about half said they had no reservations at all about doing so. The main reservations expressed about using open access sources were concerned with:

  • Quality control, reliability and currency of thesources, particularly whether or not the journal or self-archived material was peer-reviewed

"I've had to look up the term 'self archived research resources' to be able to answer this question (not a bad thing I guess) … If quoting from such a source, I would make evident that that was the source. But it is not likely something I would do often, and only if the author was previously known to me. My reservations, when peer-review is not evident, are about the quality or dependability of the research presented." (Arts and humanities)

"There is no formal control over the content of open access data, therefore meaning that the data cannot be used with any degree of confidence and would not stand up to any real scrutiny at the end of my studies." (Engineering and computer sciences)

  • Scholarly value, impact or academic ranking of open access sources. Several survey respondents expressed the view that their supervisors and/or examiners would not approve of citing open access sources

"There are traditional currents in academia that look down upon use of open access, regarding it as less scholarly than peer-reviewed journals you must pay the earth for." (Social sciences)

  • Time required to track down open access sources and likelihood of obtaining a 'proper' citation for the source

"There is still a bit of a stigma attached to them that they do not have the same 'importance' as a conventional, non-open access journal. Also, some are not available through search engines such as Web of Knowledge and may not contribute to citation indices." (Physical sciences)

Constraints on finding and using research resources

Researcher at a PC

Access to journal articles

The cohort students indicated strongly that restricted institutional e-journal licences were a constant source of irritation, exasperation and mystification. With two or three exceptions, where students felt their subject area was well supported by institutional resources, most of the students encountered difficulties in accessing specific journal articles through their own institution.

"Our print journals are … not very much accessed (although I think this is as much due to students not knowing they are there), and our e-journal facility is quite poor (ie only some years are available for some journals). The range of journals is fit for purpose up until MSc level I think, but I would find it difficult if I only had access to my institution's library." (Social sciences)

"I think the institution needs to increase its Athens access – it is one [of the] worst I have come across. If it wants to be seen as a research university the students need resources. Getting to a page and clicking 'pdf' but not having access is a constant annoyance and now [we are compiling] a chart as to who had most problems in our office!" (Science, technology, medicine)

In the surveys doctoral students consistently ranked difficulties in accessing and obtaining relevant resources – particularly journal articles – as a relatively severe constraint on their research (see Figure 5). In each annual survey time emerged as the principal constraint (ranked from 1 to 5 according to severity, with 5 being the most severe), followed by problems with licensing restrictions on e-journal and other e-information databases, and general difficulties in finding and/or accessing relevant research resources.

Figure 8 shows the 2011 rankings for these kinds of constraints (now including reference to print materials as well) broken down by subject discipline.

2011 mean rankings for constraints on finding resources: by subject discipline

Figure 8: 2011 mean rankings for constraints on finding resources: by subject discipline

Overcoming constraints

Lab work

In the 2011 survey the students were asked what various steps they normally take when they need an e-journal or print journal article that is not available in their institution.[9]

'The data shows that biological, biomedical and veterinary science students are significantly more likely to make do with the abstract'

Over half said they order a copy through their institution's inter-library lending and document supply service. About one quarter said they visit another institution to find what they need (this proportion rises to 30% among older students). Of Generation Y doctoral students, 47% said they ask a friend or colleague in another institution to get the article for them; fewer older students do this (37%).

Of Generation Y doctoral students, 43% said they make do with the abstract, although fewer older students said they do so (36%). The data also shows that biological, biomedical and veterinary science students are significantly more likely to make do with the abstract in these circumstances (61% and 64%, respectively) than, say, arts and humanities students (27%).

On the face of it this could be of some concern, although a more nuanced view was provided by comments on this issue from the student cohort.

"Sometimes I find that I would like to cite from the abstract, but I am not sure how widely this is done. On the other hand, it may be obvious, from the abstract, that the paper in question is not very useful. In this case, access to it is not worth pursuing. Sometimes references are available as well, together with the abstract they can give a pretty good indication of what the paper is about and what sources it uses."

"I did [make do with the abstract] in my undergraduate [studies] and only would for my PhD if the reference was for something that was not as important so did not need the whole paper. I would not be surprised if people cite as if [they had] read the whole article but there is a way to cite 'only read an abstract' as for conferences there is not always a paper that accompanies the abstract."

"The 'make do with the abstract' thing could probably mean one of three things: (a) you read the abstract and realise that you don't need the article that much after all, so you don't bother citing it; I have certainly done this, (b) you read the abstract and cite the article as a very minor example of something (eg 'surveys that have been completed in this area include Smith & Jones (1999 …)'; I may have done this but try to avoid it, (c) you read the abstract and cite the article in a fairly major way, ie making out that you know exactly what was found and reported even though you haven't read the article at all. I definitely actively avoid doing this!"

Alexander BubbAlexander Bubb

Age: 26

University: Oxford University

Discipline: Arts and humanities

PhD topic: Comparative study of the lives and work of WB Yeats and Rudyard Kipling

Reasons for doctorate: To pursue an academic career

Submission date: 2012

Sources of information

Alex has relied primarily on physical books in libraries for his research, followed by articles. He also looks at newspapers for contemporary reviews. His institution fulfils most of his resource needs, but he also visits other libraries for specific resources. He finds it easy to get distracted by the many resources available, which he says may be interesting but aren't necessarily helpful to the research.

He finds it much easier to browse books on the shelf, particularly when looking for things in multiple languages (Alex uses many resources from the Indian Institute Library). He says that the online searching tools are not designed for this, and mean that students can't browse huge census volumes, so miss out on chance findings.

Technology

Alex does not consider himself very 'techie'. Although he uses social networking sites socially, he doesn't use them for research and wouldn't like to. He sees them as distracting, and is put off by the commercial element.

Alex regrets that he has never got to grips with bibliographic software such as EndNotes or RefWorks; he has done all his referencing the 'old-fashioned way'. He attended one short (one hour) and one long (three hour) session on RefWorks, but was unable to grasp how to practically incorporate it into his working methods. Often he found that training courses were somewhat baffling for people who do not have advanced computer skills.

He often found he had no time to keep up to date with recent research. This may have been easier if he had got in the habit of searching online bibliographies that relate to his topic. He hasn't used online tutorials or seminars, or found much use in videos on his topic.

Support

Alex relies heavily on support from peers, and has found his supervisor's support and guidance invaluable. He would have liked to have had a dedicated workspace to allow a distinction between work and home, a quiet reading area (the library gets very busy) and the social aspect of sharing an office, but he understands the resource constraints and why this isn't possible.

Take-up of technology and applications

KEY FINDINGS

  • Take-up of most institutionally-provided and open web technology tools and applications is low among doctoral students overall
  • Generation Y doctoral students are more likely than older doctoral students to use technology to assist them in their research
  • Generation Y doctoral students tend to use technology applications and social media in their research if they augment, and can be easily absorbed into, existing work practices
  • Levels of use of social media and other applications helpful in retrieving and managing research information are steadily rising among Generation Y doctoral students, but those applications most useful for collaboration and scholarly communications remain among the least used
  • Fellow students and peers are the major influence on whether or not Generation Y doctoral students decide to use a technology application and are their main source of hands-on help

Attitudes to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) among doctoral students

In 2009 the majority of Generation Y doctoral students self-identified as being in the category of 'elite technology users' in their personal lives.[10] They had "the most information technology, are heavy and frequent users of the internet and cell phones and, to varying degrees, are engaged with user-generated content. Members of these groups have generally high levels of satisfaction about the role of ICTs in their lives, but … differ on whether the extra availability is a good thing or not." [11]

About 39% took a pragmatic approach, not spending much time thinking about technology. Rather more of the older student sample regarded ICT as primarily tools for work, not social purposes (42% and 36%, respectively).

This overall caution about technology was reinforced in the 2011 survey data.[12] Of Generation Y doctoral students, 42% said they were "careful about new gadgets, but I think I grasp change more quickly than the average person!" with only 10% saying they liked to be "first on the block, and like to try out new gadgets before anyone else". Another 29% said they "tend to be sceptical about new gadgets; I'll only get one when they have proved their worth".

Nonetheless, despite their caution it seems likely that the majority of doctoral students, irrespective of age, would agree with one cohort member who described the computer as being "like a cosy, safe space", which "they could not imagine being without to accomplish their studies."

The internet and research behaviour

'Distractions inherent in using the internet and social media emerged as an acknowledged problem'

The cohort students, even those least willing to engage in technology, showed great appreciation of the internet and the help it provides in research, in terms of access and convenience. Conversely, they expressed frustration when the internet is not accessible. Appreciation was tinged with a sense of inevitability; the researchers cannot live without the internet, and technology makes their research manageable. However, nearly all the cohort disagreed with the notion that their ability to read books may have been adversely affected by their habitual and continual use of the internet, though they may read fewer books in some cases because of the subject and nature of their doctoral research.

Distractions inherent in using the internet and social media emerged as an acknowledged problem.

"The problem with the internet is that it's so easy to drift between websites and to absorb information in short easy bites that at times you forget to turn off the computer, rest your eyes from screen glare and do some proper in-depth reading. The fragments and thoughts on the internet are compelling (addictive, even), and incredibly useful for breadth, but browsing (as its name suggests) isn't really so good for depth, and at this level depth is what's required." (Arts and humanities)

A lot of the cohort students blamed themselves rather than the internet per se.

"When I am in 'book-reading mode', I give it my full concentration and don't think about anything but the book. While some things in my life are distracting and I do procrastinate a lot … I definitely wouldn't blame access to technology or the internet for this, and I don't think it affects my ability to concentrate or absorb things deeply." (Social sciences)

What technologies are used?

Data from the surveys suggests overall low levels of use of specialist applications or Web 2.0 in their research, with very little difference between the ages of the students.

In 2009 the survey respondents were asked to say how much they used and valued a range of technology-based tools, including Web 2.0 applications, in their research:

Use/value of technology tools

Figure 9: Use/value of technology tools

The data shows that a relatively high proportion of the Generation Y doctoral student sample had not used any of the listed technology tools for their research. As already noted, the students were highly competent ICT users so the lack of take-up of technology tools in their research was clearly not due to lack of skills. Evidence from the cohort study suggests that it is more likely to be because the students did not see the immediate utility within their research, nor did it suit their preferred ways of working.

Researcher outdoorsThe cohort vividly illustrated how doctoral students heavily rely on ICT in some form, from simple dependence on having all their work stored on their laptop and almost continuously using their favoured online applications to check for new research resources, to a general readiness to experiment with new tools and applications to help them to organise and record their research (eg EndNote, BibTeX).

It seemed important, however, that these new tools and applications did not transform the way that the students work (and wish to work).

For instance, one student told us:

"My supervisor and I ... both found it slightly amusing that I was expected to be making use of 'virtual research environments, social bookmarking, data and text mining, wikis, blogs and RSS-feed alerts'. I don't know what most of those things are, but I'm pretty sure none of them are reading articles, writing down my ideas, and discussing them with my supervisor, so I'm not going to panic about my development just yet!" (Social sciences)

However, he also reveals:

"I have used the Alceste software [textual data analysis] package for a first run at classifying the themes of the parliamentary discussion before the war, and expect to use it quite a bit more over the course of my work." (Social sciences)

Technology tools seemed to be readily taken up among cohort students if they complemented and enhanced the students' established research practices and behaviour and could be relatively easily understood and absorbed into existing work practices.

"I've found that iTunes U can be quite useful to complement reading. Not only do the methods vary … but I can use them at different times. I've loaded a couple of lectures onto my iPod and listen to them on my way into uni. Some of the material on iTunes is quite general and some too specific, so I wouldn't rely solely on this method but together with reading and/or classes it makes a handy tool." (Social sciences)

"Outside of university I find myself using resources like RSS feeds and Twitter quite a lot in order to keep up to date with events and sources of information of possible use to my PhD project." (Social sciences)

In terms of utility subject discipline differences emerge. For example, the 2009 data indicated more science than arts and humanities or social science students used and valued alerting services and RSS feeds (30% biological science students compared with 19% of arts and humanities students, for example), and that more science students used text and data mining tools (24% biomedical students compared with 11% social sciences).

On the other hand, arts and humanities and social science students are slightly more inclined to use social networking tools to support their research. Of arts and humanities students, 13% had used and valued Twitter and blogging, compared to 5% of physical science students.

Institutionally provided or supported technology

A more nuanced investigation of this issue was included in the 2010 survey. Institutionally provided or supported technologies and applications were considered separately from open web technologies (including social media).

The survey respondents were asked which of a range of institutionally supported technologies they had used during the past academic year (Figure 10).

More than a quarter of the Generation Y sample (27%) had used none of the technologies listed, and citation and reference management tools were overwhelmingly the most frequently cited applications in use (58%). All the other kinds of technologies and applications were cited by only 10% or less.

Nonetheless, Generation Y doctoral students were more likely than the older students to have used some kind of technology provided by their institution (72% and 64%, respectively).

Use of technologies provided/supported by own institution

Figure 10: Use of technologies provided/supported by own institution

Technologies on the open web including Web 2.0

Students were also asked about their passive and active use of technologies available on the open web for their research work during the past academic year (see Figure 11).

'Passive use of open web applications was much more common than active use'

The majority of all students surveyed had used none of the technologies listed. Overall, the data showed that passive use was much more common than active use, eg reading wikis but not creating content, following blogs but not blogging oneself. For example, 29% made passive use of internet discussion forums, while 13% made active use of them; 23% followed blogs but only 9% actively blogged themselves.

A few differences emerged between Generation Y doctoral students and older doctoral students:

  • Slightly more Generation Y than older students were active users of consumer social networks (29% and 23%, respectively), although
  • More older students than Generation Y (16% and 12%, respectively) made active use of discussion forums and
  • 60% of Generation Y had not used Skype in their research, compared to 52% of older students

As for subject discipline differences, the 2010 data reinforced the findings of 2009 that students in science, technology and medicine (with the exception of engineering and computer science students) made use of a smaller selection of these open web technologies than students in arts and humanities and social sciences.

Passive and active use of open web technologies

Figure 11: Passive and active use of open web technologies

Social media

'Reference management applications (such as bookmarking, sharing and organising references) were used overall by more than 75% of the Generation Y sample'

The 2011 survey focused specifically on the various potential uses of social media applications within a research setting (see Figure 12). Overall levels of use (including less often than monthly) of some of these tools was relatively high. For example, reference management applications (such as bookmarking, sharing and organising references) were used overall by more than 75% of the Generation Y sample, and RSS and alerting tools by about 60% overall.

'Over 70% had never maintained or collaborated online using wikis, and 58% had never posted contributions to themed discussions'

On the other hand, those applications most useful for collaboration and scholarly communications (blogging, collaborative wikis etc) were among the least used of the social media tools (see also Chapter 5 below). For example, 80% of students had never maintained their own blog for their research, and 78% had never posted to someone else's blog. Over 70% had never maintained or collaborated online using wikis, and 58% had never posted contributions to themed discussions. This data confirms what the cohort students indicated, that applications are readily taken up and used if they can be absorbed into and support existing working practices.

Figure 12: Use of social media in research work

Signs of change?

Over the three years of survey data there are, nonetheless, signs of increasing use in research for some open web and Web 2.0 technologies. For example, social media sharing sites were not used by 72% of the 2009 Generation Y sample, whereas this figure had gone down to 53% in 2010, and in 2011 only 48% said they never stored or shared files or folders with others using web-based file sharing.

The cohort also supported this evidence of a gradual increase in take-up. There were indications of a change after 2009 within the cohort, and across the subject disciplines, in their interest in using online forums and Web 2.0 applications to support their research. As the study progressed a number of the cohort members were discovering ways of using emergent technologies.

'Several members of the cohort also used Twitter to follow or to share'

For example, by 2011 the majority of the cohort used Facebook in their personal lives, but most would not consider using it for their work, as this implied to them an inappropriate mix of social life and work. However, more members of the cohort were using sites such as academia.edu and Mendeley to follow-up contacts made at conferences, to make contacts or organise a conference, and to share pieces of research. Several members of the cohort also used Twitter to follow or to share (eg one cohort member was following the housing minister at the government Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs).

This increased use of technologies also seemed to be associated with the growing confidence of the cohort students in having some real research outputs and results to talk about, since they were nearing the end of their studies.

Influences and help with using technology

Influence

Of those Generation Y doctoral students who had used some kind of technology application provided by their institution, half of them had been influenced to do so by their fellow students and peers,[13] while 40% cited their supervisors as their biggest influence in deciding to take up a technology tool. They were significantly more likely to act on the suggestions of their peers and their supervisors in this regard than were older doctoral students.

Peers and colleagues were also the most frequently cited influence on those students who made use of some open web technology applications in the previous academic year.[14] Most commonly, suggestions from peers (50%) and the specific nature of the research (48%) motivated them to do so.

Supervisors, library or technical staff were very much less likely to be the main influence on students' decisions to use these open web applications. The majority of the cohort confirmed that their supervisors were not very interested or particularly competent in the latest web technology applications.

Hands-on help

In using the institution's technology tools offer again, Generation Y doctoral students were more likely to have received help from their peers than were older doctoral students (60% and 45%, respectively) (Figure 13).

Provision of hands-on help with using technology provided by the institution

Figure 13: Provision of hands-on help with using technology provided by the institution

Constraints on technology take-up

'Only engineering and computer science students felt significantly constrained by lack of availability of specific technologies or tools in their institutions'

Only engineering and computer science students felt significantly constrained by lack of availability of specific technologies or tools in their institutions (2011 mean ranking 2.69 compared to time pressures as a constraint at 3.93, for example).

Several of the cohort students favoured using open source technology applications (eg Linux, Mozilla) to support the way they wanted to work and organise their research. They were critical of their university's lack of technical support for open source applications.

"The university's support and encouragement for Microsoft is really annoying … The computer service provides some support for Apple, but hardly any for Linux." (Science, technology and medicine)

Rebecca Warren-HeysRebecca Warren-Heys

Age: 26

University: Royal Holloway, University of London

Discipline: Arts and humanities

PhD topic: Memory in Shakespeare's second tetralogy

Reasons for doctorate: Passion for the subject

Submission date: 2012

Technology

Rebecca sometimes finds the internet distracting, but has generally embraced the ways new technology can help her with her research. She is signed up to academia.edu and Graduate Junction and actively uses them to make contacts and publish work. For example, she was contacted by another panellist prior to a conference for discussion.

She uses Facebook socially but cannot see its value for her research work, claiming it's too general, not localised to her area of interest, and has friends from all areas of her life.

Rebecca feels that institutions will have to start promoting Web 2.0 because they need researchers to raise their profile and disseminate information as widely as possible. She has long been advocating for everyone to have a personal web page with blogging facilities and thinks these are definitely the way of the future for young academics.

Managing resources

Rebecca downloads research resources from online sources such as JSTOR. Usually she prints what she's downloaded, because she doesn't like reading on the screen.

She would appreciate access to wider collections online and better e-book provision. She only goes into her institution once a month, so being able to work effectively remotely is really important. She sometimes finds herself struggling with the sheer number of books on her topic; the challenge is looking at the lists of books that the library catalogues throw up, and from the synopsis and contents page deciding whether or not a title will help her thesis.

Training

Rebecca is required by her funder (AHRC) to attend research skills training days every year. Her college has provided some of those days: others she found through sources such as the British Library and Vitae. Some she has found rather uninspiring and others incredibly useful. Consistently though, they took up a lot of her time, and when courses are irrelevant or badly taught, this is particularly frustrating.

Conferences

Rebecca has attended a lot of conferences throughout her PhD, often as an invited participant or a presenter. She sees attending at least a few conferences as obligatory, but again, they have eaten into her thesis writing time. She's found her own presentations at conferences rewarding and worthwhile, however.

Collaborating, sharing and disseminating research

KEY FINDINGS

  • The majority of all Generation Y doctoral students across all subject disciplines work alone rather than in collaborative teams
  • Informal networking with fellow students and peers is important to most Generation Y doctoral students in exchanging information and ideas and warding off the effects of isolation
  • The Generation Y doctoral student's main place of work – their institution or home – has an impact on collaborative and support-seeking behaviours
  • The majority of Generation Y doctoral students share their research outputs only with their work colleagues
  • Few doctoral students overall are as yet using institutional repositories, and concerns exist over, for example, copyright liabilities if their theses are made public this way
  • With regard to greater openness and sharing in research, Generation Y doctoral students tend to reflect a mixture of in-principle endorsement and the inclination to retain control over their own work, which characterises academic researchers and wider scholarly communications in general

Working alone or in teams

In arts and humanities and social sciences over 90% of the students work on their research alone. Even in the sciences, with the exception of biological, biomedical and veterinary sciences, the majority of doctoral students also work alone and not in collaborating research teams.[15]

The cohort study showed that young doctoral students could become increasingly isolated when they were working alone on their research topic. Although isolation was generally accepted as part of the doctoral studies effect, the importance of social contacts, exchange of information and discussion with other doctoral students (who could empathise with their situation) was frequently mentioned in the cohort discussions.

"One thing that I have found is that supervisors often tell you to go and talk to other PhD students. Partnership working is a small aspect of my topic, for example, but collaborative working is a huge part of N's, so I went to talk to her about it. And then G found that I was looking at [a particular] theory, so we had a chat about that, and swapped some references – which was really helpful too. Working in research groups, and together in big labs/offices really helps too." (Social sciences)

Networking, support and place of work

The research indicates that the student's choice of main workplace – whether their institution or home – had an impact upon networking and other collaborative and support behaviours.

'The importance of student peers in influencing and supporting choice and use of technology tools in doctoral research has already been noted'

The importance of student peers in influencing and supporting choice and use of technology tools in doctoral research has already been noted (see pages 38–39), and working mainly from an institutional base evidently had implications for the students' informal networking among their peers and with academic staff.

Figure 14 shows that more institution-based students in the 2009 survey made use of informal help and advice in using technology tools in their research, particularly from their peers, supervisors and other academic staff, than did the home-based students. Significantly more of the home-based students had no help at all in using technology.

Sources of help with technology by home and institution-based students

Figure 14: Sources of help with technology by home and institution-based students

At the beginning of the cohort study the majority of the students (in social science and science, technology and medicine) had a dedicated or shared office space (including university laboratories) within their institution, which was their preferred place to work. They appeared to prefer it because they could talk to their peers and to other people doing similar research, and bounce ideas around.

"I share my office with four other PhD students who are at different stages in their PhDs who are also very supportive and useful in sharing information and bouncing ideas regarding my research. This really helps puts things in perspective. Those who have been there longer than me are great in putting me in the right direction with regards to research/academic related information." (Social sciences)

"I am also in the privileged position of sharing an office with nine other PhD students studying in the same field so we share books amongst ourselves and between us we have a couple of bookcases of relevant texts." (Science, technology, medicine)

On the other hand most of the arts and humanities students in the cohort preferred working from home. Working mainly in their own room or home offered quiet and comfort, but they acknowledged that it could be isolating. Those working from home appeared to put less emphasis on peer networking and support and highlighted more strongly the unique nature of their research.

As the study progressed, and the cohort students came under increasing pressure of work with the end of their doctoral studies approaching, the balance between working in their institution and working at home shifted to a more even split, with a handful doing a mixture of the two. Physical visits to the institutions had become less necessary, assuming the accessibility of online research resources through institutional portals or the internet, and as discomfort or overcrowding in the institution took a greater toll.

"At first I didn't really like the isolation that came with working from home but now I'm getting used to it. My regular trips out to conduct fieldwork and social networking on the internet (Facebook) has helped me to feel less isolated." (Social sciences)

Those who continued to prefer working in their institution, however, cited as reasons the availability of human resources in the shape of peers and supervisors, and the need to maintain a distinction between work and personal lives.

Using social media to collaborate

Researchers in discussion

The importance of networking with their peers during their doctoral studies, for specific support and advice and also to mitigate their sense of isolation, does not seem to translate into widespread use of social networking online or social media in the context of research work.

'Low take-up and use of social media tools probably has less to do with a lack of appreciation of their potential than with the nature of doctoral students' work'

Aside from sharing references with other researchers, very few of the students in the 2011 survey made significant use of social media applications and opportunities to collaborate or communicate in their research (see Figure 12 above).

However, when asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the following positive statements about using social media in research, the majority of students endorsed them.

  1. An effective network using social media can be used to filter resources and comment on quality by drawing on information and opinions from a range of people ('crowdsourcing')
  2. Social media enables new kinds of research that were not possible before (not just quicker and faster)
  3. Using social media to share your ideas and writing means you can receive feedback as you go rather than waiting until you reach high-stakes moments like submitting to journals and presenting conference papers
  4. Social media provides an informal space where new ideas and research can be reviewed and discussed in a way similar to conventional academic conferences, but unbounded by time and place
  5. Using social media you can raise the profile of your work more rapidly than conventional academic publishing allows
  6. Social media provides opportunities to forge new collaborations and benefit from the experience of others to help with research processes (eg use of techniques, methods and analysis)
  7. Social media allows you to communicate, and formulate ideas and arguments, with other people from the same field or people they know

On a ranking scale of agreement (1 strongly disagree to 5 strongly agree) statements 6 and 7 elicited the strongest endorsement (mean ranking 3.81 and 3.85, respectively).

Only statement 2, which implies the transformation of research work practice through using social media, elicited a rather more ambivalent response (mean ranking 3.34).

This data indicates that the low take-up and use of social media tools to collaborate and communicate with peers and other researchers probably has less to do with a lack of appreciation of their potential to enhance research than with the nature of doctoral students' work and status as researchers.

The cohort students confirmed that, in the early stage of their studies, they did not feel confident enough in themselves or their research findings to share them with anyone other than their supervisor; their peers all had their own research to pursue and would not understand or appreciate too much detail. Social networking was regarded as something they did in their personal life but not in their work.

Constraints on technology take-up - interim research outputs

Researcher in a library

'More Generation Y doctoral students had produced or intended to produce posters at conferences'

Articles in peer-reviewed journals (widely assumed to be synonymous with journals requiring subscription – see page 46 below) remain the most frequently cited research outputs likely to be produced by doctoral students during their studies.[16]

Conference papers and posters at conferences were also cited by a high proportion of students as a way for them to disseminate their interim research findings.

The 2011 data (see Figure 15) shows quite distinct differences between Generation Y and older students.

More Generation Y doctoral students had produced or intended to produce posters at conferences, which is consistent with the higher proportion of science, technology and medicine students in the Generation Y sample, among whom posters were far more likely to be cited than among arts and humanities students.

More of the older students had produced or intended to produce conference papers, perhaps implying greater personal confidence and experience with their subject matter than Generation Y.

Intermediate research outputs produced or intended

Figure 15: Intermediate research outputs produced or intended

Publishing in open access

'Significantly more Generation Y than older students in 2011 had produced or intended to produce articles for open access e-journals'

It is also noteworthy (see Figure 15) that significantly more Generation Y than older students in 2011 had produced or intended to produce articles for open access e-journals.

Over the course of three years the survey data shows a gradual increase in the percentage of Generation Y doctoral students who had or intended to publish their emerging research findings in open access journals: from 28% in 2009 to 32% in 2010 and 49% in 2011.

However, as reported above (see pages 25–26), there is widespread lack of understanding and uncertainty among doctoral students of all ages about the nature of open access.

In 2010 doctoral students were asked to comment on any reservations they might have had about using open access or self-archiving as channels to publish or disseminate their own research work.[17] Around 70% of the Generation Y doctoral students and slightly fewer older students commented that they would have no reservations whatsoever.

Among those that did have reservations about publishing their work through open access channels, their main concerns were:

  • Lack of impact factor, status or credibility of open access journals in the eyes of academic colleagues and potential employers

"Currently the more prestigious journals are not open access journals; this is reflected in [the] research assessment exercise, with more weight given to conventional non-open access publications. As a junior researcher who is yet to establish himself within his field, it is important for me to publish in the more prestigious journals, even if they are not open access and even if on a personal level I disapprove of non-open access journals." (Physical sciences)

"I completely support open access but fear that old-fashioned members of my discipline will think that open access journals are not as good and will rate my work accordingly." (Social sciences)

  • A strong preference for peer-reviewed journals, with a general assumption that open access journals are not peer reviewed

"Peer-reviewed journals are better respected because of the rigours of the application process. If and when I publish articles, I would prefer to send them to a peer-reviewed journal because this implies my article has passed the journal's quality control. My work will therefore be better respected by my peers." (Arts and humanities)

"I want my work peer reviewed. I have no reservations about also self-archiving/open access publishing." (Physical sciences)

  • Importance of being cited in other publications and the assumed impossibility or difficulty of this with open access

"I wouldn't 'publish' anything as it wouldn't be possible to reference for others and so my work could in essence be stolen (at least I wouldn't increase my own or my institution's citations which renders 'publishing' like that pretty useless)." (Engineering and computer sciences)

"I would wish to ensure I am cited, have a certain prestige and develop a professional reputation – something I do not feel open access would necessarily allow." (Social sciences)

Cost to the individual researcher

"I think that it costs a significant sum to make your article open access. For this reason, I would be unlikely to go for it." (Biological sciences)

"I pay for 'academic' articles anytime I access them, so others should pay for mine if they need to consult them." (Biomedical and veterinary sciences)

  • Concern that copyright is not protected in open access journals: that open access and/or self-archiving would allow anyone to access the work and plagiarise it

"I would need to make sure it is published with a licence, eg Creative Commons, to try to make sure that other people don't use it without referencing it." (Physical sciences)

My concerns relate to the copyright of my work (eg if I make my work available on open access do I lose all copyright to my research etc?)." (Arts and humanities)

"[I am concerned about] losing intellectual copyright of something that [might] prove important and/or marketable at some point in the future." (Arts and humanities)

Copyright and intellectual property rights
'Survey data also reveals widespread lack of clarity and understanding about copyright and intellectual property rights'

The 2011 survey data also reveals widespread lack of clarity and understanding about copyright and intellectual property rights (IPR), related to publishing and disseminating doctoral research results.

Table 2: Responses to true/false statements about copyright and IPR

Statements

True

False

Don't know / Not stated

1

Intellectual property rights and copyright are more or less synonyms. [Statement is false]

22%

50%

28%

2

Copyright is an automatic right and arises whenever an individual or company creates a work. [Statement is true]

36%

41%

23%

3

Copyright can protect my ideas. [Statement is false]

52%

31%

17%

4

If a work is posted on the internet it is in the public domain and not protected by copyright law. [Statement is false]

18%

61%

21%

5

If a work does not have a copyright notice, it is not copyrighted. [Statement is false]

27%

40%

33%

6

If you don't defend your copyright, you lose its protections. [Statement is false]

27%

30%

43%

7

I, and not my institution, own my 'intellectual property'. [Statement is likely to be false in the UK]

26%

46%

28%

The survey put forward a number of common statements about copyright and IPR, and asked students to consider their veracity or otherwise. Table 2 shows the results.

Using institutional repositories

Few Generation Y (or older) doctoral students seemed as yet to be aware of or to be using institutional repositories to make their research outputs available.[18] In 2011 only 12% reported that they had deposited any research outputs in their institutional repository. Over half did not know whether their institution had any policy of encouraging doctoral researchers to deposit material in the repository.

The 2009 survey data on institutional support services also showed that 35% of Generation Y doctoral students were unaware that support was available in depositing their material in an institutional repository, and over half had never looked for such assistance,[19] confirming that, to date, institutional repositories have made little impact on doctoral students.

Many institutions have only recently begun to make the use of institutional repositories mandatory for doctoral students and researchers. This move was discussed with the student cohort, whose critical concerns and perceived constraints (especially relating to deposit of their final theses) appeared to focus on rights issues. For example:

  • Public access to the thesis online may make the individual student liable if copyright were to be infringed, which would not happen if the thesis were merely used for examination purposes and held by the university library in electronic or hard copy
  • This liability might be particularly critical in the case of humanities research, in which images and quotations are likely to be embedded in the main text and essential to the argument
  • Students might be inclined to avoid working on certain subjects where copyright was likely to cause greater problems
  • It would be difficult to find a publisher or journal that would be willing to print material that is already freely available online through a repository

Openness and sharing in research

Willingness to share

This data on publishing and disseminating research relates to wider concerns expressed strongly by the cohort about sharing their research findings and research data, as doctoral students and in the early stage in their research career. Several of the cohort students were concerned about, for instance, the confidentiality of their data and modes of working, and that other researchers might not understand their data in the 'right way'.

In the 2011 survey students were asked to say whether and how they share different kinds of research outputs: with work colleagues, the wider research community and with anyone else worldwide (see Figure 16).

Research outputs produced and whether shared or not

Figure 16: Research outputs produced and whether shared or not

The clear picture emerging from the data is that the majority of Generation Y doctoral students share their research data and outputs only with their work colleagues.

Materials that are associated with work in progress, such as laboratory or field notes, bookmarks to online resources and original data, are less likely than polished outputs to be shared at all by doctoral students. The data also indicated that older students were slightly less likely to share any kinds of research outputs.

Endorsement of benefits in principle

Despite their evident reluctance to share their research outputs wider than their immediate work colleagues, overall the doctoral students endorsed in principle the benefits of greater openness and sharing in research. There was strong agreement[20] that it can:

  • Increase the efficiency of research by, for example, avoiding duplication
  • Enhance the visibility of research and scope for wider community engagement, and
  • Promote scholarly rigour and enhance quality in research

From the cohort we determined that they tended not to regard the position of doctoral students in this respect as particularly different from that of all academic researchers (see Annex 3, page 77), except in degree of confidence they feel in their findings, and the paramount importance in a doctorate of being seen to be doing original research.

"Collaboration is a tricky subject for PhDs, because so much of the process comes down to 'what have YOU done'. Over-reliance upon collaborative projects would perhaps dilute an examiner's opinion of the contribution made by the student (regardless of the overall impact of the work)." (Science, technology, medicine)

"For PhD new researchers trying to set up a career, the visibility and community-building aspects of 'openness' could be more important than to those who are already established to some extent. Otherwise, I don't really see a significant difference between the benefits for PhD students and other researchers." (Social science)

This implies that, in taking a fundamentally cautious personal approach to sharing their own research, they took their cue from their own institutional environments and the influence of research colleagues and supervisors.

"The attitude I encounter in my institution is generally an unwillingness to be open about research outside of the institution and our collaborators and funders. Within the institution, or at least within my department, and with our collaborators, we are very open about our research and are happy to share data with new groups that are willing to work with us. But sharing data openly is not a thing we have embraced." (Science, technology, medicine)

"In my research area, there are certain programs which all research groups must have … and I had a great idea that each group would place their code online for free download by other groups, to improve productivity and allow other groups to reap the benefits of the … innovative methods generated over time … It never happened, and I suspect it never will – because people are too cagey about their research and so scared about being ripped off that they will gladly sacrifice any potential scientific benefits." (Science, technology, medicine)

"My supervisor certainly shares my view that collaboration helps add to the 'scientific gene pool' as it were, but even he expressed concern that too much of my data was not 'mine' and had been derived originally from other people's work (eg simulations done for me by others with more computing power). And similarly he isn't surprised when emails to other researchers are ignored or not answered fully. He certainly has no interest in publicising the output of the group to the 'public' (beyond conferences and papers) and showed little interest in developing a wiki, or site where the group's output could be promoted." (Science, technology, medicine)

Influence of supervisors

'About one quarter of the students did not know what their main supervisor's views were about greater openness and sharing in research'

Given the important role of supervisors and their influence on doctoral students, the 2011 survey posed a question specifically about supervisors' attitudes to greater openness and sharing in research (see Figure 17). The results display a similar profile of cautious interest and limited engagement.

About one quarter of the students did not know what their main supervisor's views were, which implies that the topic had not arisen in their communications and consultations.

Attitude of (main) doctoral supervisor to openness and sharing in research

Figure 17: Attitude of (main) doctoral supervisor to openness and sharing in research

Joseph DowningJoseph Downing

Age: 28

University: London School of Economics

Discipline: Social sciences

PhD topic: Community integration in the urban sphere in Southern France

Submission date: 2012

Main workspace

Joseph has found himself working at home or in cafés through most of his PhD. This is in part because he likes to use his personal laptop but doesn't like carrying it around, as all his notes, articles, bookmarks, music and so on are set up exactly how he likes, and it contains some specialist software, which he can't get on university computers.

There is a small space in the library for working at laptops, but it gets very crowded and the tables are very low. Visitors are also not allowed tea, coffee or snacks, which Joseph says he finds essential to productivity![21]

The dedicated communal PhD studies room is more relaxed and has the advantage of the company of fellow PhD students, but it doesn't have laptop spaces, only PCs on the desk, so visitors cannot use their own laptops. He's found that working at home, although cheap and potentially good for productivity, is slightly anti-social and isolating at times.

Resources

Joseph embraces the move towards paperless resources; large amounts of paper, in his opinion, are massively heavy if you ever have to go anywhere and generally cause more disorder than they're worth. However, if he finds something that is particularly insightful he will print it, as he doesn't like reading on a screen, and then recycles it and keeps a backed-up digital copy.

Joseph raised a concern about web-based resources: there is no guidance on how to manage web-based resources, which might disappear. How should researchers go about keeping a copy of them for referencing and referral purposes?

Institutional services and facilities to support research

KEY FINDINGS

  • While the majority of Generation Y doctoral students take up some training in finding and using secondary source research resources, they are less likely to opt for training in using technology-based methods and tools, such as e-research infrastructure or Web 2.0 applications
  • Among institutional training offers there is widespread and heavy reliance on 'traditional' modes of training delivery, such as lectures, talks or demonstrations, and workshops. Face-to-face methods are favoured by students over online delivery
  • Working mainly from an institutional base has positive implications for networking and support among peers and academics, but home-based Generation Y doctoral students may be more likely to make use of the support services provided by the institution
  • The high importance assigned by Generation Y doctoral students to some institutional services and facilities is not matched by equally high levels of satisfaction with the services and facilities on offer in their institutions

Training interventions and opportunities

Universities have interpreted the requirement to provide research skills training to doctoral students in varying ways, often with a core of mandatory modules and a range of elective training courses, some of which are online, and short seminars.

Within institutions, training is provided through different units and departments, including the doctoral training centres (DTCs) and the library services, depending upon the content and, sometimes, disciplines involved. According to the cohort study, from the students' perspective, it was immaterial where the point of provision of training lay and whether or not the training intervention was part of a formal Research Skills Programme or more ad hoc and demand-led.

Training received

In 2009 about one third of the cohort students had received formal research skills training since starting their doctorate. On the whole they did not have a high opinion of the quality or utility of the training interventions. Problems with training included:

  • It was more suited to master's or undergraduate students, not being pitched at a sufficiently advanced or detailed level
  • It was not available 'on demand', making it much less useful to doctoral students. Those who tried to seek training (a small minority of the cohort) found it difficult and by the time they succeeded it was no longer timely
  • Courses tended to be generic (eg statistics), not tailored to individual students or groups of students in specific fields. This generic nature limited the value

However, from those cohort students who had attended specifically library-led training sessions (usually elective), the response was generally more positive.

"Sessions provided by the library are excellent, covering everything from basic IT skills to advice on finding research matter. And they are also great for meeting and learning from other PhD students. I actually learnt to use RefWorks following a library session on research skills, when a neighbour decided to take some time afterwards to show me." (Science, technology, medicine)

Asked about what more training they would like, most of the cohort students said they either did not need any more or that they needed more advanced training tailored to their doctoral research, such as advanced IT or research methods, that built on their existing knowledge.

'Most of the cohort students said they either did not need any more or that they needed more advanced training tailored to their doctoral research'

In 2009 the majority of the Generation Y sample had received some kind of training in information-seeking and research resource use since the beginning of their doctoral studies, and of these the majority had found the training they received useful.[22] Figure 18 shows that the four topics of training most widely undertaken were:

  • Using portals and gateways, including their own institution's information portal (68%)
  • Finding/using research resources, such as subject-based bibliographical and journal resources (67%)
  • Managing references and using technology applications to do so (58%)
  • Finding research resources externally (54%)

Significantly fewer students had taken up training in using technology-based methods and tools, such as using e-research infrastructure and e-research methods (30%) or the use of Web 2.0 applications (24%).

Outside trainingThis is consistent with both the keen focus among doctoral students on using secondary and text-based research resources, which do not demand any particularly specialist or unusual technology applications, and with their more general attitudes to the use of emergent technology in their research, as described in Chapter 4. As this kind of training tends to be demand-led and elective, the majority are currently unlikely to spend time acquiring skills in technologies that they do not plan to use.

In subsequent annual surveys the students were asked what training they had received in the past academic year; the 2010 and 2011 data shows a similar picture (see Figure 18) and the same four topic areas as in 2009 attracted the most students.

However, 30% and 35% (2010 and 2011, respectively) of the Generation Y sample had received no training at all in research and information-seeking skills in the previous academic year; 23% said they were self-taught.

Training received: data from three surveys

Figure 18: Training received: data from three surveys

Differences between years of study

In 2010 the data showed that from year one of doctoral study onwards all training take-up tailed off steadily, particularly training in the areas of identification and use of research information and specific resources, which might be expected since most doctoral students acquire these skills and knowledge early in their study period (Figure 19).

Content of most recent training by year of study
Figure 19: Content of most recent training by year of study

However, this data also shows increased take-up of training in 'generic computer skills' and 'research and academic skills and methods' over the years of study, perhaps indicating a continuing need among a proportion of doctoral students to keep up to date with technology applications.
Modes of training delivery

'The cohort confirmed that their preference was always for face-to-face training in some form or another'

There was evidently a widespread and heavy reliance among institutions on 'traditional' modes of training delivery, such as lectures, talks or demonstrations, workshops etc. Online tutorials and learning packages were used by very few,[23] and the cohort confirmed that their preference was always for face-to-face training in some form or another, preferably tailored to the needs of individual students or groups of students in specific fields.

Benefits of training received

'About half the students felt they had developed new or been able to refine practical techniques and skills'

There was a range of benefits identified from the most recent training.[24] As might be expected about half the students felt they had developed new or been able to refine practical techniques and skills, and about one third felt that the training had helped them to develop new or refine existing knowledge and ideas, or made them feel more confident about their research.

Generation Y doctoral students overall appear to be slightly less convinced of the benefits of the recent training they received; they selected fewer benefits than the older students (mean 1.64 and 1.83, respectively).

Use of research support services and facilities

Figure 20: Use of research support services and facilities

Services to support research students

Library books

Support rather than training

Many of the cohort students expressed a preference for reaching out for support and advice from individuals such as their supervisors, library staff or peers, rather than attending formal training sessions to address their skills and knowledge gaps.

'Most of the students valued the knowledge, experience and helpfulness of the library staff to whom they turned for help'

From 2009, Figure 20 summarises the main kinds of less formal research support used by the Generation Y sample. Almost two-thirds (60%) of the students regularly took recommendations on research resources from their supervisors, and they were significantly more likely to do so than their older student peers (including those in the same doctoral study year).

Inter-library lending services were regularly used by about a quarter, and assistance from library staff in finding difficult research resources by about 10%.

The most valuable of these research support services, as indicated by the most students in the survey,[25] were:

  • Recommendations from supervisors on information resources
  • Inter-library lending and document supply services
  • Library staff assistance with finding/retrieving difficult-to-access resources
Using library staff support

Although subject discipline of study determines in part the levels of doctoral students' use of their university libraries, a small proportion of Generation Y doctoral students from all subject disciplines did turn to library staff for assistance and support, through physical visits to the library itself or remote advice.

More or less half of all the Generation Y doctoral students across all disciplines (Figure 20) had made some use of library staff assistance in finding and getting hold of the more difficult to find research resources. However, Generation Y doctoral students were more likely than older students (33% and 21%, respectively) never to use this kind of support from library staff.

In the cohort study, research help and support from library staff, not only in their own library but also in external library and archival services, emerged as very important in particular to arts and humanities and social science students.

Most of the students valued the knowledge, experience and helpfulness of the library staff to whom they turned for help.

"There's always someone friendly on the helpdesk to help out if there's a problem finding something. I even phoned our library from New York once to try to get hold of an article I couldn't access online, and the guy on the phone helped me to get it in about five minutes!" (Social sciences)

"What I like most is that the librarians are quite possibly the most enthusiastic and helpful people ever, and I certainly recommend finding a librarian who knows their stuff, because I have had tremendous amounts of help with my research so far, just simply by asking my librarian the right question. In one month I have mastered RefWorks, know all the key journals where my work would be, improved my note taking skills, searching skills and finally cracked Metalib." (Science, technology, medicine)

"The librarian here in charge of PGRs has also been most helpful in teaching me about searching and assisting me in finalising the search terms I should be using. This in turn makes literature searching so much more efficient, which is always a bonus!" (Science, technology, medicine)

The role of supervisors

The important role that supervisors play in influencing the research behaviour of doctoral students is indicated in several ways in the data and evidence we gathered. This role, of course, extends far wider than influencing information and resource use in their research. As might be expected, the first year of the cohort study revealed a heavy reliance by the students on their supervisors for broad support and guidance in the direction of their research, as well as specific assistance with identifying research resources.

Figure 5 shows that Generation Y doctoral students ranked their relationship with their supervisor(s) as a relatively minor constraint on their research progress, indicating a degree of satisfaction with this relationship overall.

Among the services and facilities that their institution provides, doctoral students ranked the importance of the level of knowledge, support and personal and communication skills of their supervisor(s) as second only to access to e-journals (see Figure 23 below).

The influence of supervisors is also seen in the students' choice of institutionally-provided technologies (see page 38).

Supervisors were influential in directing the cohort students to literature sources and often specific titles and articles, but as their doctoral studies progressed this was true only where the supervisors' areas of expertise were closely aligned with the research topic of the student. Where there was no such alignment, the students appeared to feel more on their own after the initial few months of study.

"The best thing about my supervisor is his wide knowledge and contact base, particularly the latter. He is the head of department so while he has a wide knowledge base, he is sometimes lacking in the specifics of my field."

The most important elements in the student–supervisor relationship appeared to be a good fit in terms of expertise and knowledge of the particular research area, and being able to 'get on' as people.

"My supervisor and I have a great relationship – in some ways, it's more like a peer relationship … we share experiences and frustrations."

"We get on because my background is in [my discipline] also, and because I don't always tell him what I'm up to … His role is almost entirely reactive. I submit pieces of work, and he responds to them."

As they drew closer to the end of their studies their supervisors were no less important, though the relationship itself may have changed. For instance, for some it had become more 'professional'.

"When it comes to support generally, when I am disillusioned by the PhD, frustrated or am fed up, it is not my supervisors that I go to talk to. Although I know they would listen, try to be sympathetic and offer advice, I feel that I would rather get that support via other members of staff in the department (such as members of my research group) and other PhD students."

"A successful supervisor has to go beyond mere subject knowledge and provide assistance for those areas which the student has no prior knowledge: organising a long-term study; publication, especially of monograph-length pieces; grants and postdoctoral awards; and eventual career goals … Facilitating this transition from student to profession has definitely been the most valuable aspect of my relationship with my supervisor."

'Generation Y doctoral students overall were more likely than older doctoral students to work principally from an institutional base'

The supervisors of the cohort students generally tended not to be particularly interested or up to date in using technology in research (a few of their supervisors declared themselves to be technophobes). This appeared to have had some influence on the researchers' choices of how to do their research.

"I have always excelled using new technologies so I feel he is holding me back a little. I don't use certain pieces of software because he looks bamboozled when I talk about them."

"My supervisor is not completely technologically illiterate, but he doesn't know anything about some of the computer-based tools used in some qualitative research – this has helped influence me away from using [certain] programmes … to support my work."

"I think that being a younger researcher (he's still under 40), he's quite good with technology. Not as good as me … However, he doesn't have a presence on, for example, Facebook, academia.edu, or other academic networking sites, as some other professional academics in the department do, so his coverage is patchy."

However, most of the cohort did not particularly expect technological awareness from their supervisors and any shortfall in this respect was not seen as a problem.

Working in the institution or at home

Researcher at home

Who works where?

While students tended to vary where they work according to the kind of work they needed to do and the kind of resources they needed to access (see page 42–43), Generation Y doctoral students overall were more likely than older doctoral students to work principally from an institutional base (Figure 21). This difference is probably largely explained by the much greater prevalence of arts and humanities and social science studies among the older students. Significantly more arts and humanities students of all ages favour working from home than those in other disciplines.

Use of social media in research work

Figure 21: Generation Y and older students: principal place of work

The research indicates that the student's choice of principal workplace may have an impact on a range of research behaviours. Working mainly from an institutional base seems to have positive implications for networking among peers and academics (see Figure 14), with a greater likelihood that institution-based students would turn to their peers and colleagues for support than those that are home-based.

'Home-based students were more likely to make regular or occasional use of the support services provided by the institution'

On the other hand, the research also indicates (see Figure 22) that home-based students were more likely to make regular or occasional use of the support services provided by the institution, such as consulting their supervisor or library staff on research resources, and institution-based students were more likely never to use such services.

There are obviously other factors in play in these choices, particularly bearing in mind that home-based students are more likely to be arts and humanities and social science students than, say, physical science students (38%, 58% and 94%, respectively, work mainly in their institutions). However, it is interestingly counter-intuitive that those working routinely away from the institution should be the students more likely to use the institution's support services and library staff, while those working routinely in the institution (and thus located perhaps close to the library or supervisor's office) appear more likely to rely on their peers for support.

Use and non-use of support services by home and institution-based students
Figure 22: Use and non-use of support services by home and institution-based students
Importance of institutional services

In 2011 the survey asked the doctoral students to rate in importance the services and facilities provided by their institutions and also to indicate their levels of satisfaction with the same services and facilities using the same ranking (1 not important/not satisfied at all to 5 very important/very satisfied). Figure 23 shows both these overall mean scores and indicates the priority in importance of different institutional services and offers.

'Institutional subscriptions to e-journals in their field was ranked of highest importance overall'

Unsurprisingly, institutional subscriptions to e-journals in their field was ranked of highest importance overall, closely followed by the knowledge, support and skills of their supervisors.

What is most interesting, however, is the significant gap between relative importance of and relative satisfaction with most of the services and facilities.

This data reinforces the messages from other parts of the research: overall satisfaction among doctoral students with, for example, access to institutional library services, inter-library loan services and the knowledge and support of their supervisors is good relative to the importance they attach to them, while satisfaction with institutional training provision, subscriptions to e-journals, and institutional access agreements with other academic institutions is not so good relative to their importance.

The overall level of satisfaction with the dedicated office or laboratory workspaces provided is also low relative to the high importance of this for the science and technology students. This was unexpected as none of the cohort students had been particularly critical of their workspace and office facilities in their institutions, except in the latter stages of their studies, when any distractions from or interruptions in their work were irritating.

In all subject disciplines institutional subscriptions to e-journals is ranked the most important, apart from biomedical and veterinary science students for whom dedicated office or laboratory workspace was just ahead of e-journals in importance. However, as might be expected, students in different subject disciplines tended to rank the importance of other elements of their institutional research environment differently.

For example, social science students also ranked dedicated workspace of high importance, more or less equal fourth with tailored training opportunities. However, for arts and humanities students both these elements are of relatively lesser importance; instead they place equally high importance on book collections in the library and access to institutional library services.

Importance of institutional services and facilities and satisfaction

Figure 23: Importance of institutional services and facilities and satisfaction

Verity LeachVerity Leach

Age: 25

University: University of Glamorgan

Discipline: Medicine, dentistry and health

PhD topic: Genetics and genomics in nursing practice

Reasons for doctorate: Continue research, the challenge. Stay in topic area and research

Submission date: 2012

Place of work

Verity has a desk in the research office of the faculty, and is expected to be in the office most days. She prefers this as it allows her to use the office printer, access the university journal databases and ask questions. She often works at home a couple of days a week, doing database searches and printing in the office so that she can do her reading and writing at home.

Finding and managing resources

Verity finds the library useful, although she tends to do everything online, so doesn't need to go often to the library. She often searches for journals using the university's online access, but finds it frustrating when they don't have access to the paper she is looking for and often has to trawl through a number of databases to find resources.

Verity tends not to download and keep many resources in soft copy, but rather prints them out and reads them, and then either uses them or stores them. She finds it easier to read information on paper rather than on the screen.

Getting support

Being located in an office with co-workers means she gets support from them and is also located near her supervisors. There are no other postgraduates in her subject in the institution. Nonetheless, she finds talking with colleagues in her office a huge benefit and finds it really helpful to have someone else's perspective.

Her supervisors have provided really helpful guidance on aspects like finding resources, writing questionnaires and reviewing the literature. There was a lot of guidance at the beginning, but Verity feels her ability and confidence to work independently has grown as she has progressed through her PhD.

Technology

Verity wouldn't describe herself as a 'techie' and says she had to be persuaded to join networks such as Facebook. At one point she put up a Genetics and Nursing forum on Facebook, but nothing really came of it. She uses Mendeley for referencing and finds it really useful.

Conclusions

Glasses

Information literacy

In preparing the terms of reference for this research study in 2009 there was an explicit assumption that Generation Y doctoral students, having been educated to senior secondary years in a largely technology-free environment and, therefore, not 'digital natives', would have acquired the information-seeking and enquiry skills that the Google Generation appears to lack[26] and would be able to apply these skills in their doctoral research.

This assumption has been validated by the Researchers of Tomorrow study. In particular, the cohort study demonstrated that Generation Y doctoral students are sophisticated information-seekers and users of complex information sources, who are not dazzled by technology and who are acutely aware of critical issues such as authority and authenticity in research and evidence-gathering.

Different stakeholder perspectives

This study is the longest and most intensive research to date on information-seeking practices and research behaviour among doctoral students, which gives it special significance in terms of the credibility of its findings.

The richness of evidence, covering multiple areas of young doctoral students' experience and behaviour, was drawn from individuals telling us about and reacting to their own institutional and research environment and experiences. The research findings should have significance and weight for a number of different stakeholders in the HE and research sector, though the implications of the findings may lie in different areas for different stakeholder groups:

  • For senior managers in HEIs the focus may be on what the study reveals about research development, training and support, facilities for doctoral researchers, and the decisive role and influence of doctoral supervisors
  • For academic and research library staff the key concerns may be the evident impact of declining or at-risk subscription-based e-journal collections, and the reach of libraries and library staff in supporting research information-seeking and research work
  • HE sector strategic and funding bodies might focus on the widespread misconceptions about open access and copyright, and the constraints on technology take-up, openness and sharing of research among doctoral students
  • Commercial and other research information service providers and publishers might consider the doctoral student users' perspectives on the utility and effectiveness of the technology-based tools that are increasingly used to deliver and augment their products and services

Finding and using research information and resources

 

Among all doctoral students, including Generation Y, there is an apparent and striking dependence on secondary published research resources. The study findings suggest that, as the basis for their own analytical and original research, very few doctoral students in social sciences and arts and humanities are using 'primary' materials such as newspapers, archival material, images, artefacts and social data. In sciences, few are drawing on large datasets (not specifically linked to pre-published research).

HEI library staff may be unsurprised by this finding. The underlying factors may include the sheer volume of international published research, the relative constraints of the doctoral model – which inclines research students to be conservative and cautious in their approaches and choice of research topics – and pressure on students to get their doctorate finished successfully in the allotted time rather than to innovate.

The indicative findings on this particular issue need to be validated, as the implications are so significant. There is a strong case for more in-depth research among doctoral students to determine whether the data signals a real shift away from doctoral research based on primary sources compared to, say, a decade ago. If this proves to be the case there may be significant implications for doctoral research quality related to what Park described as "widely articulated tensions between product (producing a thesis of adequate quality) and process (developing the researcher), and between timely completion and high quality research"[27] (see Annex 3).

There may also be other long-term concerns, such as:

  • What might it mean for Generation Y and younger researchers of the future who may go through their 'research apprenticeship' without any significant experience of finding and using non-published and primary research sources and materials in their doctoral research work?
  • What are the implications of this high dependency on secondary sources or published research for collecting institutions such as the British Library?
Understanding the changing information environment

Given their apparently heavy dependence on published research sources, the Generation Y doctoral students' overall lack of understanding about the networked information and scholarly communications environment in which they work seems of significant concern.

At the institutional level, the authentication of access to and licensing limitations on subscription-based resources, and the impact of different access agreements with commercial suppliers and other institutions are generally perplexing and often frustrating for doctoral students.

In the web-based environment, doctoral students can be prevented from legitimately widening the scope of their research using internet-based and open access research resources by a number of factors that include:

  • Widespread misconceptions about concepts such as open access, self-archiving, copyright and IPR
  • The citation-based assessment and authenticity criteria current in doctoral and academic research that discourage citing non-published or original material, such as web-based data, as research evidence in doctoral theses

The growing and increasingly legitimate plethora and variety of research materials and sources available on the internet prompts a number of questions:

  • Are doctoral students properly supported and equipped to navigate their way through this successfully?
  • Should institutions try harder to ensure that the gaps in doctoral students' understanding of their research information environment are addressed effectively and earlier in their postgraduate career, so that their expectations of HEI provision are more realistic?
  • Are the mechanisms of 'authority' and 'legitimacy' of research resources (such as peer review, citation, publisher/origin etc) still valid and adequate to help doctoral students make choices, and might these be widened to include, for example, the allowable citation of web-based datasets?

Take-up of technology and applications

Generation Y doctoral students tend not to be early adopters and keen users of the latest technology applications and tools in their research. Though they are highly competent and skilled in using ICT in general, in their research work they tend to be quite risk averse and 'behind the curve' in using technology.

The reasons for the relatively low take-up of many technologies among Generation Y (and older) doctoral students may include:

  • The technologies on offer in institutions are not always appropriate to needs (eg lock-in to proprietary systems, lack of flexibility in allowing use of new applications)
  • Some new tools and applications challenge existing, traditional and conservative doctoral research practices
  • HEIs' methods of engaging with doctoral students to demonstrate the potential benefits of using technology may lag behind individual interests and competences and be ineffective

Current HEI engagement with open web and Web 2.0 technologies does not convince the majority of Generation Y doctoral students of the credibility of using these applications in a research setting, and reinforces their feeling that actively using, for example, social media and online forums in research lacks legitimacy.

  • Can the key influencers in HEIs, such as doctoral supervisors, library and information support staff, become more effective in providing models of best practice and legitimacy?

Collaborating, sharing and disseminating research

Despite international trends towards greater collaboration in research (with industry, across international borders etc), Generation Y doctoral students are constrained by their own lack of confidence in their research work, the need to demonstrate originality in research findings, and their supervisors' ambivalent attitudes towards greater openness and sharing.

There may be great value for doctoral students in being more open, in communicating and contributing within wider research networks (eg in terms of overcoming personal isolation, not reinventing the wheel in information seeking, sharing new and innovative resources that open up research topics and questions etc).

Social media and file-sharing applications offer opportunities to do this, but the benefits of using social media to communicate, collaborate and share do not fit with their current research status; technology take-up among Generation Y doctoral students follows clear perception of value and use within current working practices.

Greater sharing and openness, and collaboration outside of an institutional research group, challenge the accepted working practices in the current doctoral model:

  • The question arises whether, in the light of international research trends, there is any HE sector or institutional commitment to accepting the changes in the current doctoral research model implied by greater openness and sharing
  • In this area, as in many other aspects of doctoral student research behaviour, the position of the supervisor is key; are there ways in which supervisors could be targeted with information, debate and tools to enable some constructive changes in attitude and practice?

Institutional services and facilities to support researchers

Generation Y doctoral students' preference is for face-to-face support and training, and they use their own peers as informal providers regularly and frequently. They are dissatisfied overall with what they perceive as generic training content not tailored to their own subject area or to their own needs. The implication here seems to be that the closer to home and more informal the training offered by the institution, the more effective it would be from the Generation Y doctoral student's point of view.

This raises the question as to whether there are better models for identifying and then responding to training needs among doctoral researchers beyond the widespread use of pre-scheduled and generic lectures, demonstrations and workshops.

It raises a further question: can institutions find ways in which to use doctoral students themselves (properly resourced and reimbursed) within the peer network to help identify needs, pass on skills, knowledge and experience through mentoring, semi-formal hands-on support, and actual formal training?

What would the cohort students have done differently?

Here are some of the conclusions about their doctoral research experience from the student cohort. What, with hindsight, might they have done differently?

Training and technology tools

On several wishlists was training on how to identify and access high-level, subject-specific information outside of their specialist area when their doctoral work required cross-disciplinary research (around 30% of all Generation Y doctoral students regularly found themselves crossing subject boundaries).

Many of the student cohort wished they had known about certain technologies and applications that they realised might have eased the workflow and research process; Google Scholar, cloud computing, EndNote and Mendeley were all mentioned as things researchers did not know about until too late.

Networking and sharing research

Several cohort members regretted not being more confident and proactive in seeking out and building networks and approaching more people relevant to their research. Others expressed regret at not taking or finding opportunities to mix with other postgraduate research students, feeling that they missed out on those relationships that help, guide and motivate.

"I didn't really appreciate how hard it would be and how much support would help – especially in terms of sharing experiences."

"There is an emphasis in PhDs on making sure you do something unique, but I wish I'd done something more similar to the people in my department. You need to learn from somewhere, and to communicate with people, to get support and learn together."

Some advised fellow doctoral students to join research groups and seminars whenever possible, even when not directly relevant, and take opportunities to make contacts in the academic world.

Taking control of their PhD

Many of the cohort members mentioned overcoming problems related to confidence, assertiveness and knowing how much power they had in controlling their own research.

"I should have learnt to say no to demands from [my] department to help out."

"I should have been more assertive in getting a response out of my supervisor – I always worried about how he's really busy didn't want to take up his time."

"My supervisors pushed me away from [a] publishing focus because it was more important I focused on getting the PhD done – but I wish I'd published more."

Annex 1

Cost effectiveness

Research methodology

The research comprised:

  • A qualitative longitudinal study following a cohort of 30–60 full-time UK Generation Y doctoral students from across all subject disciplines for two and a half years
  • A large-scale annual quantitative survey for three years, surveying the research and information-seeking behaviour of a representative sample of all doctoral students studying in the UK, whether UK citizens or international students

The longitudinal cohort study

At the heart of the Researchers of Tomorrow study was the attitudes and behaviours of a cohort of Generation Y doctoral students'

At the heart of the Researchers of Tomorrow study was the attitudes and behaviours of a cohort of Generation Y doctoral students; 60 students were recruited into the study in 2009 from 36 UK HEIs. In the final months of the study (autumn 2011) 30 of these students were still actively participating, despite increasing pressure on them as they neared the completion of their PhDs. A profile of the cohort students can be found in Annex 2.

The qualitative work with the cohort served to keep us informed about the research and information-seeking challenges and patterns in their doctoral journeys, enabling us to understand their experiences. This provided both validation and often explanations for the findings emerging from the quantitative surveys of the doctoral student population in the UK. We were able to test and use the cohort's feedback to shape new questions as the study progressed, and to identify issues of critical importance and emerging interest that we were unable to anticipate at the start of the study.

The cohort of students participated through:

  • Contributions in regular blog entries at a dedicated Moodle desktop, accessible only to the research administrators and cohort members
  • Subject-based and general discussion forums to which we posted discussion questions periodically, and in which topics of interest arose and were picked up by the cohort members with no prompting from us
  • One-to-one telephone interviews in three annual rounds
  • Attendance at one of two workshop and social events for the whole cohort held at the British Library in February 2010 and February 2011

Annual quantitative surveys

A national survey questionnaire was developed, with different question sets that incorporated a few areas of overlap, and run online from July to September in each of the three years of the study. This quantitative data allowed us to compare:

  • Attitudes and behaviour of the student cohort with the wider community of Generation Y and other doctoral scholars
  • The survey responses of Generation Y with those of older students

For each annual survey a two-stage sampling approach was employed. First an approach was made to all 164 HEIs in the UK by named letter (and email) asking them to collaborate in distributing the questionnaire. This was followed up with telephone calls. Willing institutions (see Table 3) were then asked to send all doctoral students an explanatory email containing a link to the online questionnaire, with a reminder sent two or three weeks later.

Table 3: Number of HEIs participating in each year

2009

2010

2011

68

72

56

From these annual surveys we derived data on two samples:

  • The Generation Y survey sample of students born between 1982 and 1994
  • The wider survey sample of doctoral students that enabled comparison between the attitudes and behaviour of the Generation Y survey sample and those of older students. The profile of the sample in each year is described in Chapter 2

Survey responses by type of institution and region

The surveys attracted collaboration from a good spread of types of HEI (see Table 4) from across all regions and nations of the UK (see Table 5).

Table 4: Type of participating HEI and number of survey respondents

HEI type

No. of respondents

Percentage of total

University: old pre-1962

8,709

64%

University: old 1962–1991

2,568

19%

University: new 1992

1,734

13%

University: new post-1992

559

4%

HE college

23

0%

Table 5: Survey responses by UK region and nation

UK region

No. of respondents

Percentage of total

North East

340

3%

North West

465

3%

Yorks and Humberside

1,513

11%

East Midlands

868

6%

West Midlands

786

6%

East of England

829

6%

London

3,112

23%

South East

1,473

11%

South West

1,132

8%

Wales

893

7%

Scotland

1,350

10%

Northern Ireland

832

6%

Total

13,593

100%

Annex 2

Digital knowledge

The Researchers of Tomorrow student cohort

The 60 students who became the Generation Y cohort in the longitudinal study were a diverse group geographically, institutionally, by subject of study, funding and a range of other features.

The original cohort consisted of 25 male and 35 female doctoral students. They were all between 23 and 28 years old (born after 1982). They were not 'digital natives'; they did not grow up with Google and most went through UK compulsory education without the internet and, for the most part, without computers in school up to junior or senior secondary level.

The cohort students were all studying full time. All three broad subject disciplines were represented in nearly equal proportions of male and female participants.

  • 21 students were in the arts and humanities, for example studying history of art, visual portrayals of Stuart princes, and the work of a little-known Soviet documentary filmmaker
  • 21 students were from the social sciences, for example researching the psycho-social impact of breast cancer among ethnic minority women, public policy development, and the use of well-being powers by local authorities in England
  • 18 students were in science, technology and medicine, for example studying inorganic chemistry, and malarial transmission in Laos

One member of the cohort was explicitly an inter-disciplinary researcher studying the experiences of people living near road and rail networks (acoustic science with psychology).

Nine were self-funded (predominantly arts and humanities students, some with institutional fee waivers); 19 were fully or partly funded by a research council; 18 had a university studentship/bursary; seven were fully or partly funded by a public or third-sector organisation; six were fully or partly funded by a private corporation.

Many took on extra activities and responsibilities such as undergraduate teaching or working directly with their external funders.

Students in the cohort were all in the first 18 months of their doctorate when they were recruited; they were all due to complete after June 2011. Several passed upgrades from MPhil studies to doctoral status between June 2009 and March 2010. At the beginning of the study, more than half said that they were studying for a doctorate primarily because they wanted to pursue an academic career.

Typical of Generation Y students more generally, the majority of the cohort students were 'elite' users of ICT; they enjoyed using technology, regarded the internet as very useful and used it frequently for work and socialising. In their personal lives, most were enthusiastic users of social networking sites (Facebook) and media sharing tools (Flickr, YouTube).

Annex 3

Background and research context

Socio-economic and policy background

'As participation in HE has expanded so has enrolment in doctoral studies and it continues to increase'

During the last decade HE in the UK, including doctoral research, has been the focus of significant policy shifts and economic pressures. As participation in HE has expanded so has enrolment in doctoral studies and it continues to increase. For example, in 2007–2008 there were just over 80,000 doctoral research students enrolled in UK HEIs. In 2010–2011 there were 87,780, just over 4% of all HE students.

The policy context for doctoral research during the period of this study has been shaped largely by:

  • European Union (EU) developments and convergence
  • HE and research policies in the UK responding to EU developments, and other socio-economic factors
  • Doctoral studies models in the UK
  • HEI and doctoral research funding models

EU developments in HE and research

In Europe, both the Bologna Declaration of 1999 (the aim of which was to create a European Higher Education Area) and the Lisbon Strategy of 2000 (formulated to create a European Research and Innovation Area) have had an impact on the perspective and conceptualisation of doctoral studies. Although doctoral education has been integrated as the third phase of HE in the framework of the Bologna Declaration, the presidential conclusions of the EU Lisbon Summit stated that more and better trained researchers were needed in order to make Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world. Doctoral education is seen as the link between the two goals of creating a European Higher Education Area and a European Research and Innovation Area in order to make European HE more attractive and competitive in the global economy.

In 2005 the European Universities Association defined ten 'Salzburg principles' on doctoral research including the principle of defining and treating doctoral candidates as early stage researchers, and the principle that, while the advancement of knowledge through original research should be the core component of doctoral studies, "doctoral training must increasingly meet the needs of an employment market that is wider than academia."[28]

The European Commission (EC) adopted in 2005 a European Charter for Researchers, and a Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers,[29] which are designed to help make research a more attractive career and increase mobility by giving researchers the same rights and responsibilities across Europe.

A UK-wide process enables UK HEIs to gain the EC's 'HR excellence in research' badge, which acknowledges their alignment with the principles of the Charter and Code of Conduct. In October 2011 26 UK HEIs had been thus accredited.

HE and research policies in the UK

In the spirit of the Lisbon Summit and the Salzburg Declarations, in 2009 the policy statement Higher Ambitions made clear the government's commitment to understanding and exploiting the "ways in which research can make a greater economic and social impact", entailing "the need to focus on resources where they can have the greatest return … In all likelihood that will mean more research concentration where institutions are strongest."[30]

In early 2010 the government commissioned a review of postgraduate education to look "into whether the postgraduate system in the UK works as well as it could, and whether there is value in government adopting a more strategic role in shaping the direction of this sector."[31] The review also concluded that "in an era of scarce resources it is important that public funding is focused so that world-class research centres can be sustained – particularly in high cost science and technology disciplines."[32]

This policy was endorsed in 2010 by the coalition government in its response to the report of the House of Commons' science and technology select committee: "the Government's priority is providing ongoing support of Britain's best science and research, and that science and research should make the best possible contribution to economic growth."[33]

In 2011 the government published its HE White Paper,[34] which introduced radical and controversial new funding regime policies based on the recommendations of the independent Browne review of HE funding and student finance,[35] in which government funding for HE teaching will be largely replaced by funds raised through student fees and private or third sector sources and "where more teaching funding will follow the choices of students."[36] At the same time government funding for HE and research in the short term was reduced in response to the difficult national and international economic circumstances.[37] Levels of research funding from government, particularly in science, technology and medicine, were to remain largely unchanged, and research-intensive HEIs were considered to "benefit from the very modest nature of the cut in research funding, as opposed to the more significant cut in teaching funding."[38] These policy and budget developments together engendered a great deal of uncertainty about HE funding in the medium term.

Other social policies introduced by the government in 2010–2011 also appeared likely to have an impact on HEIs. For example, the student visa reforms, which came into effect in April 2011, were considered likely to have a detrimental effect on non-UK student numbers in UK HEIs, and a consequent impact on HE funding and international competitiveness.

Doctoral studies in the UK

In 2007, the Higher Education Academy collaborated with a number of organisations to launch a national debate about the doctorate in the UK and its fitness for purpose. A briefing paper to support the debate[39] outlined the perspectives of different stakeholder groups, the main drivers for change and how the UK HE sector has responded, and posed a series of key questions for discussion. Since then, key drivers for change in doctoral research in the UK include an emphasis on skills and training, submission rates, quality of supervision and national benchmarking. There also remain "widely articulated tensions between product (producing a thesis of adequate quality) and process (developing the researcher), and between timely completion and high quality research." [40]

"The most common doctoral degree is the traditional Doctor of Philosophy (PhD or DPhil), usually awarded following an oral examination of the candidate's research thesis, and normally taking three to four years of full-time study to complete. In recent years, new models of PhD have emerged, offering a larger taught element or combining advanced research with wider skills training to prepare students for a broad range of careers. These models have developed in recognition of the fact that a PhD is not solely a route into academia, and that a large proportion of PhD graduates progress into senior positions outside the higher education sector."[41] Professional doctorates are increasingly offered in a variety of professional fields including engineering (EngD), nursing (DNursSci), veterinary medicine (VetMD), education (EdD), business administration (DBA) and clinical psychology (DClinPsy).

The 2010 review of postgraduate education found that "although it is still fairly common for postgraduate students to have progressed directly from undergraduate study (roughly 20% of postgraduates enter through this route), the age of postgraduates is widely distributed. Full-time postgraduates are much more likely to be in their early twenties, whereas a far greater proportion of part-time participants are aged over 30."[42]

The review also found that "the length of a UK PhD course is less uniform than that of masters but on average lasts three to four years and this is reflected in the way PhDs are funded."[43] Recently, some higher education bodies have argued for normalising a four-year PhD (rather than three or 3½ years). The Council for Science and Technology, for example, reasoned that a four-year PhD provides time for students to acquire wider skills in communication, problem solving, entrepreneurship and management.[44] The Wellcome Trust has also developed a flagship four-year programme.

HEI and doctoral research funding models

A high proportion of postgraduate research students receive some form of public funding. "The largest funder of postgraduate researchers [is] the research councils, which provide studentships for 25% of all full-time postgraduate researchers in the UK. In 2008-09, the research councils provided funding for 19,200 doctoral studentships, at a cost of £376m. The vast majority of these were funded through Doctoral Training Grants (DTGs), allocated as block grants to HEIs who are given the flexibility to decide how many studentships to fund, of what length and in which disciplines. Students may receive a fee-only award, or a full package of support that includes a 'stipend' for living costs."[45]

The efficiency and cost-effectiveness of funding doctoral research are of concern, particularly to the research councils, and are reflected "in the increasingly tightly-defined expectations of research councils relating to submission rates (the percentage of doctoral students who submit within a specified period of time, usually four years), and the interest of the funding councils (such as HEFCE) in completion or qualification rates (the percentage of doctoral students who complete within a specified time, usually seven years). All research councils now have clearly-defined thresholds for submission rates, often set at 70% submission within four years … and many threaten to impose serious financial sanctions (including withholding postgraduate funding for a two-year period) on institutions whose performance falls below threshold."[46]

These thresholds and sanctions are strongly felt by HEIs and supervisors, who are under pressure to propel doctoral students towards timely completion. In turn, students are under pressure, for funding reasons, to complete their research within the defined deadline.

Research development and training

In 2001, the UK research councils, in collaboration with the UK GRAD Programme, developed the Joint Statement of Skills Training Requirements of Research Postgraduates,[47] setting out the skills that postgraduate

researchers funded by the research councils would be expected to develop and demonstrate. It was expected that different mechanisms would be used to support learning as appropriate, including self-direction, supervisor support and mentoring, departmental support, workshops, conferences, elective training courses, formally assessed courses and informal opportunities.

The Roberts agenda, prompted by the SET for Success report[48] recommendation that all doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers should undertake a minimum of two weeks' training per year in transferable and generic skills, was subsequently backed by funds provided to the research councils to pay for this additional training ('the Roberts money').

Universities have interpreted the Joint Skills Statement and the Roberts agenda in varying ways, often with a core of mandatory modules and a range of elective training courses (some online) and sessions.

The 2010 review of postgraduate education noted that "postgraduate students need appropriate support, information and advice to get the most from their experience" and quotes the National Student Forum in saying that "the consistency and sometimes the level of support postgraduates receive still lags behind that given to undergraduates" highlighting "some areas of continuing concern, including: patchy information, advice and guidance; variable support from supervisors; and issues of social isolation."[49]

"Research Councils are increasingly targeting funding [to postgraduate researchers] in the form of block grants to Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs) … DTCs provide a cohort-based approach to postgraduate researcher training by funding a critical mass of postgraduates in excellent research environments. DTCs offer a structured programme of development with embedded transferable skills training, and in many cases also offer greater opportunities for interdisciplinary working."[50]

The expansion of DTCs together with emerging new models of doctoral research such as the professional PhD, have implications for HEIs, which are under increasing demand to respond effectively to students' training needs and to the broader issues of appropriate training.

A study on information-handling training for researchers – Mind the Skills Gap – commissioned by the Research Information Network (RIN), found that "the range of skills defined by the Research Councils … includes several which would fall within definitions of 'information literacy' used by librarians and information specialists (as well as most interpretations of 'research information methodologies and tools') … But important dimensions of research information skills and competencies such as engaging with and understanding the scholarly information system are not included."[51]

The report also describes a number of shortfalls in the existing institutional offer to researchers, such as:

  • Few signs of strategic thinking about the place of information training within the wider training provision, or of attempts to align library, information and training strategies with broader research strategies: the Roberts agenda and the research councils' Joint Statement on Skills
  • Central units responsible for developing and delivering training for researchers tend to emphasise generic skills (accessing and interpreting information, searching and systematic appraisal), while library and information specialists emphasise a different set of skills and competences, based on the concept of "information literacy"[52]

Research and emergent technologies

Researchers have made a distinction between 'transformative' and 'general purpose' innovations: "A transformation occurs when a new technology enters the market that is unlike anything that has gone before and requires that users must discover what it is used for and how best to apply it. Alternatively, there is a range of general purpose technologies with which many or most people may be familiar that continually undergo change. In these cases, new models may be produced that represent enhancements of earlier versions."[53]

In the study If You Build It, Will They Come?[54] RIN set out to investigate whether or not the potential of the Web 2.0 technologies to transform the way in which researchers work and communicate has been realised. The study focused on a range of generic tools – wikis, blogs and some social networking systems – as well as those designed specifically by and for people within the scholarly community.

The study "indicates that a majority of researchers are making at least occasional use of one or more Web 2.0 tools or services for purposes related to their research: for communicating their work; for developing and sustaining networks and collaborations; or for finding out about what others are doing. But frequent or intensive use is rare, and some researchers regard blogs, wikis and other novel forms of communication as a waste of time or even dangerous … In deciding if they will make Web 2.0 tools and services part of their everyday practice, the key questions for researchers are the benefits they may secure from doing so, and how it fits with their use of established services."[55]

RIN found that factors influencing take-up of Web 2.0 applications to support scholarly communications include "cultural, organisational and institutional factors such as:

  • ownership and control of research outputs by individuals, institutions and publishers
  • institutional, individual and cultural factors shaping collaboration
  • the quality and provenance of information
  • institutional and technical solutions and resolutions of issues of standardisation, IPR and security."[56]

There are also evident differences in take-up of Web 2.0 between subject disciplines for scholarly communication and sharing: "respondents in computer science and mathematics are disproportionately represented among frequent users; while researchers in the medical and life sciences are relatively under-represented." Social sciences and arts and humanities researchers are relatively infrequent users of Web 2.0 technology, though it appears that the latter are "prominent among frequent bloggers."[57]

Significantly, the study found that different kinds of Web 2.0 applications are used by different groups for different purposes with little overlap. For example, "frequent use of social networking services does not … imply frequent use of other kinds of web 2.0 tools and services, or innovative attitudes and take-up of new channels for scholarly communication."[58]

Scholarly communication and sharing

There is some evidence to suggest that "frequency of use of the kinds of web 2.0 tools associated with producing, sharing and commenting on scholarly content is positively associated with older age groups, at least up to age 65, and more senior positions. The propensity for frequent use is highest among the 35-44 age group and lowest among those under 25; and highest among research assistants and lowest among PhD students." [59] However, "both age and seniority seem to play a significant role in propensity to use social networking services frequently, much more so than in the propensity to use Web 2.0 tools to communicate scholarly content. PhD students and respondents in the under 25 age band are more likely to make frequent use of social networking services."[60]

In a study of academics that were currently using social media in their research – Social Media and Research Workflow – CIBER found "age is in fact a rather poor predictor of social media use in a research context". Rogers' well-known model of technology adoption offers a far better explanation for take up: "Innovators and early adopters are 1.26 times more likely to use social media professionally".[61] Overall the study concluded "social media have found serious application at all points of the research lifecycle. The three most popular social media tools in a research setting are those for collaborative authoring, conferencing, and scheduling meetings."[62]

The theme of scholarly communication is also taken up in another RIN study – Open to All? – on openness in research based on case studies of the practices of established researchers and not PhD students. The report notes, "we are currently at some distance from a world in which the processes and outputs of research are fully open to all. A relatively small number of individual researchers and research groups are active in promoting openness. A much larger number are sympathetic or even enthusiastic, but not always open in all their practices. Many other researchers are cautious, and see many barriers and constraints to overcome if a presumption in favour of openness is to become an everyday element of policy and practice."[63]

The report concludes that "the key issue for policy-makers is not so much how to maximise openness, but how best to support individuals, groups and communities to work with the degree of openness which provides clear benefits to them. That requires a clear understanding of what works for different groups and communities; and better policies and strategies to incentivise openness to the degree that it is appropriate in different contexts."[64]

Annex 4

Reference library

References

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Annex 5

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Park, C. (2005) New variant PhD: the changing nature of the doctorate in the UK. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management. 27 (2), pp 189–207.

People Science & Policy (2009) PhD student focus group research: report prepared for the British Library. PSB/08/043.

RIN (2009) Patterns of information use and exchange: case studies of researchers in the life sciences. A report by the Research Information Network and the British Library.

RIN (2011a) Social media: a guide for researchers. Prepared by Alan Cann, Konstantia Dimitriou and Tristram Hooley for the Research Information Network. February 2011.

RIN (2011b) E-journals: their use, value and impact: final report. Prepared by CIBER for the Research Information Network. January 2011.

Footnotes

[1] CIBER (2008) Information behaviour of the researcher of the future. Available at: www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/reppres/gg_final_keynote_11012008.pdf

[2] ibid.

[3] Calculated from HESA data, 2009. There are some differences in subject categories between HESA data and the survey data: this data is not definitive.

[4]This data refers only to the external research information and sources that the doctoral students were looking for at a particular moment in time. Most doctoral students would also, and in parallel, be creating and managing their own original data. The questions asked in the survey were not about the creation of original data and no implications about original data creation should be inferred from these findings.

[5]Methodological note: this data is from 4,900 individuals reporting on 'critical incidents' of information-seeking in summer 2009, all ages and all doctoral study years.

[6]Methodological note: this data is from 4,900 individuals reporting on 'critical incidents' of information-seeking in summer 2009, all ages and all doctoral study years.

[7]2010 survey, Q20–22. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/86-q20-22-visiting-other-libraries.html

[8]Thorin, S.E. (2003) 'Global Changes in Scholarly Communication'. In: Hsianghoo, S.C., Poon, P.W.T. and McNaught, C., eds., eLearning and Digital Publishing. Available at: www.springerlink.com/content/w873x131171x2421

[9]2011 survey Q9. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/95-2011-q9-what-you-do-when-you-need-e-or-journal-articles-not-available-at-your-institution.html

[10]2009 survey Q5. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/70-question-5-what-kind-of-information-technology-user-are-you-in-your-everyday-life.html

[11]Adapted from Horrigan, J.B. (2007) A typology of information and communication technology users. Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project.

[12]2011 survey Q5. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/87-2010-q5-thinking-about-how-you-adopt-new-technologieswhere-would-you-place-yourself.html

[13]2010 survey Q12. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/80-2010-q12-which-of-the-following-influenced-your-decision-to-use-these-technologies.html

[14] 2010 survey Q15. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http:/explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/82-2010-q15-which-of-the-following-influenced-your-decision-to-use-these-open-web-technologies.html

[15]2010 survey Q28. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/85-2010-q28-do-you-work-on-your-own-in-your-doctoral-research-or-as-member-of-a-collaborative-research-team.html

[17]2010 survey Q26. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/84-2010-q26-what-if-any-reservations-fo-you-have-about-using-open-access-or-self-archived-resources-through-which-o-publish-your-research-work-.html

[18]2011 survey Q14–15. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/91-institutional-repositories.html

[19]2009 survey Q14. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/75-2009-q14-which-of-the-following-kinds-of-research-support-services-or-facilities-in-your-institution-have-you-used-and-their-value.html

[20]2011 survey Q12. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/93-2011-q12-how-strongly-do-you-agree-or-disagree-with-the-statements-on-openness-and-sharing.html

[21]LSE wishes to note that this embargo has now been relaxed.

[22]2009 survey Q6. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/71-2009-q6-since-starting-your-doctorate-have-you-received-training-of-any-kind-in-any-of-the-following-information-seeking-and-research-skill-areas.html

[23]2010 survey Q6. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/77-2010-q6-which-was-the-most-recent-training-you-received.html

[24]2010 survey Q10. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/78-2010-q10-what-difference-has-this-most-recent-training-made-to-you-and-your-research.html

[25]2009 survey Q14. Available at: www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120416111516/http://explorationforchange.net/index.php/context-setting-survey/survey-results/75-2009-q14-which-of-the-following-kinds-of-research-support-services-or-facilities-in-your-institution-have-you-used-and-their-value.html

[26]CIBER (2008) Information behaviour of the researcher of the future. Available at: www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/reppres/gg_final_keynote_11012008.pdf

[27]Park, C. (2007) Redefining the Doctorate: discussion paper. Higher Education Academy. January 2007. Available at: www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/ourwork/research/redefining_the_doctorate.pdf

[28]Doctoral programmes for the European knowledge society. Salzburg, 3–5 February 2005 General Rapporteur's Report. Available at: www.eua.be/eua/jsp/en/upload/Salzburg_Report_final.1129817011146.pdf

[29]European Commission (2005) The European charter for Researchers AND The code of conduct for the recruitment of researchers. EUR 21620. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/euraxess/index.cfm/rights/europeanCharter

[30]BIS (2009) Higher ambitions: the future of universities in a knowledge economy. London: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2009 p 4.

[31] BIS (2010a) One Step Beyond: making the most of postgraduate education. March 2010 p 13. Available at: www.bis.gov.uk/assets/BISCore/corporate/docs/P/10-704-one-step-beyond-postgraduate-education.pdf

[32] ibid p 75.

[33] BIS (2010b) Government Response to the House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee Report: "The Impact of Spending Cuts on Science and Scientific Research" p 4. Available at: http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/science/docs/g/10-1089-government-response-impact-spending-cuts-science

[34] BIS (2011) Higher Education: students at the heart of the system. June 2011. ISBN: 9 78010 181 222 1. Available at: http://bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/higher-education/docs/h/11-944-higher-education-students-at-heart-of-system.pdf

[35] Browne, Lord (2010) Securing a sustainable future for higher education: an independent review of higher education funding and student finance. Available at: www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/corporate/docs/s/10-1208-securing-sustainable-higher-education-browne-report.pdf

[36] David Willetts, Universities Minister, 17 March 2011. Available at: www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12762556

[37] In the 2011 budget, the overall government grant for HE teaching was cut by more than 8% and that for research by nearly 3% compared with 2010–2011.

[38] HEFCE Chief Executive Sir Alan Langlands 17 March 2011. Available at: www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12762556

[39] Park, C. (2007) Redefining the Doctorate: discussion paper. Higher Education Academy. January 2007. Available at: www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/ourwork/research/redefining_the_doctorate.pdf

[40] ibid p 6.

[41] BIS (2010a) One step beyond: making the most of postgraduate education. ibid p 16.

[42] BIS (2010a) One step beyond: making the most of postgraduate education. ibid p 26.

[43] ibid pp 40–41

[44] Council for Science & Technology (2010). A Vision for UK Research. March 2010. p 4. Available at: www.cst.gov.uk/reports/files/vision-report.pdf

[45] BIS (2010a) One step beyond: making the most of postgraduate education. ibid p 22.

[46] Park, C. (2007) Redefining the doctorate: a discussion paper. Higher Education Academy. ibid p 15.

[47] RCUK (2001) Joint Statement of the Research Councils' Skills Training Requirements for Research Students. Research Councils and Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. Available at: www.vitae.ac.uk/CMS/files/upload/RCUK-Joint-Skills-Statement-2001.pdf

[48] Roberts, Sir Gareth (2002) SET for success. The supply of people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/set_for_success.htm

[49] BIS (2010a) One step beyond: making the most of postgraduate education. ibid p 39.

[50] ibid p 42.

[51] RIN (2008) Mind the skills gap: information-handling training for researchers. Research Information Network July 2008 p 6. Available at: www.rin.ac.uk/our-work/researcher-development-and-skills/mind-skills-gap-information-handling-training-researchers

[52] ibid pp 7–8.

[53] CIBER (2007) Information behaviour of the researcher of the future. Work Package V. Trends in scholarly information behaviour: Technology trends: by Barrie Gunter. p 7.

[54] RIN (2010a) If you build it, will they come? How researchers perceive and use web 2.0. Prepared by Rob Procter, Robin Williams and James Stewart for the Research Information Network. July 2010.

[55] ibid p 5.

[56] RIN (2010a) If you build it, will they come? How researchers perceive and use web 2.0. ibid p 14.

[57] ibid p 22.

[58] ibid p 33.

[59] ibid p 22.

[60] ibid p 33.

[61] CIBER (2010) Social media and research workflow. CIBER, University College London, Emerald Group Publishing Ltd, 14 December 2010. p 13. Available at: www.ciber-research.eu/download/20101111-social-media-report.pdf

[62] CIBER (2010) Social media and research workflow. ibid p 5.

[63] RIN (2010b) Open to all? Case studies of openness in research. A joint RIN/NESTA report. September 2010 p 8.

[64] ibid p 48.

Annex 6: List of tables and figures

Tables

  • Table 1: Responses to statements about open access 26
  • Table 2: Responses to true/false statements about copyright and IPR 47
  • Table 3: Number of HEIs participating in each year 74
  • Table 4: Type of participating HEI and number of survey respondents 74
  • Table 5: Survey responses by UK region and nation 74

Figures

  • Figure 1: Researchers of Tomorrow: scope 10
  • Figure 2: Percentage of respondents by year of study across three surveys 14
  • Figure 3: Subject discipline of respondents' research 15
  • Figure 4: Average % of survey sample in subject disciplines compared to HESA population data 16
  • Figure 5: Comparative mean ranking of constraints on research 17
  • Figure 6: Type of research resource found and subject discipline (total survey sample) 21
  • Figure 7: Main sources used to find resources: by subject discipline (total survey sample) 22
  • Figure 8: 2011 mean rankings for constraints on finding resources: by subject discipline 28
  • Figure 9: Use/value of technology tools 33
  • Figure 10: Use of technologies provided/supported by own institution 35
  • Figure 11: Passive and active use of open web technologies 36
  • Figure 12: Use of social media in research work 37
  • Figure 13: Provision of hands-on help with using technology provided by the institution 39
  • Figure 14: Sources of help with technology by home and institution-based students 42
  • Figure 15: Intermediate research outputs produced or intended 45
  • Figure 16: Research outputs produced and whether shared or not 49
  • Figure 17: Attitude of (main) doctoral supervisor to openness and sharing in research 51
  • Figure 18: Training received: data from three surveys 55
  • Figure 19: Content of most recent training by year of study 56
  • Figure 20: Use of research support services and facilities 58
  • Figure 21: Generation Y and older students: principal place of work 61
  • Figure 22: Use and non-use of support services by home and institution-based students 63
  • Figure 23: Importance of institutional services and facilities and satisfaction 65

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Education for Change
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