The term ‘research culture’ covers a variety of themes, actions, processes, approaches, and responsibilities with the requirements for institutional support to nurture a healthy research culture developing significantly in recent years. Whether through strengthening research integrity, upskilling doctoral supervision, or aiding researchers to plan their careers strategically, at Epigeum bolstering the research culture at a university is central to the design and authoring of our programmes. With the recent publication of Becoming a Researcher, part of the Research Skills Toolkit, we explore some of the key issues facing postgraduate researchers, and how these obstacles can help to deliver an excellent research culture at your institution.
Timely completion rates
A key measurement of the success of postgraduate researchers is timely completion rates for PhD candidates. The number of successful doctoral completions in the UK contributes to the amount of quality-related research funding an institution receives, as evaluated through the Research Excellence Framework (REF). In Australia PhD completion rates have “been widely used to allocate funding”. While this can increase the stresses of negotiating a PhD for candidates and supervisors, it also offers opportunities to embed good project and time management practices in postgraduates.
The relationship between a candidate and their supervisor(s) is often cited as a key factor affecting successful completion. The perceived quality of supervision has featured highly in large-scale national student satisfaction surveys such as the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) in the UK and the Postgraduate Research Experience Questionnaire (PREQ) in Australia. The candidate-supervisor relationship can also significantly impact on the student’s professional development. With the increasingly common practice of supervisory teams, where supervisors may not be at the same institution, supporting candidates to manage these relationships to get the most out of them will stand them in good stead for negotiating relationships throughout their career.
Career planning throughout a postgraduate degree is now recognised as a key indicator of the health of an institution’s research culture. Early career research positions are often both hard to come by and precarious. Ensuring that your postgraduate researchers are fully prepared for the employment options available to them, and able to document their skills for a variety of potential employers, is crucial, with Vitae going so far as to publish The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers to highlight institutions responsibilities in this area.
Student bodies in the UK and Australia are now characterised by an unprecedented level of diversity, both in terms of their demographic makeup and the modes used to complete their studies. Part-time and online/distance doctoral study has increased, as has the uptake of professional doctorates and programmes that are co-supervised by an industry partner. Upskilling researchers in non-traditional pathways requires adaptation from institutions to ensure their support for postgraduate researchers is institution-wide.
Commensurate with the increase in large, complex, multi-university, team projects with mixed funding streams, the need for postgraduate researchers to develop an understanding of intellectual property has increased. Transparency of who gets ownership of IP is only useful with a comprehensive grasp of the issues around IP for all parties, especially with the increasing focus from universities on commercialising IP.
Multi, inter and cross-disciplinary working
In the wider research landscape there is a consensus that “there is considerable benefit in exposing doctoral candidates to approaches, methods and views espoused by those from different disciplines”. There has also been an increase in funding at all levels of research that focuses on providing opportunities to engage in disciplinary connections and collaborations within and beyond higher education. Cross-disciplinary working can achieve insight beyond current borders and thereby generate novel solutions to complex problems, bolstering the research culture at your institution.
Becoming a Researcher, the latest updated programme from the Research Skills Toolkit, offers institution-wide support for postgraduate researchers. Equipping postgraduates with the knowledge, skills, and understanding to start their research journey with confidence, the programme is made up of three streamlined courses that will strengthen the research culture at your institution.
Facilitating a blended learning approach, and supported by step-by-step guidance on suggested tutor-led and peer-to-peer activities which are mapped to the learning outcomes of the courses, the programme delivers a flexible approach to research skills training.