Postgraduate: Doctoral graduates are ‘business critical’

Creative and inventive, PhD candidates can boost profits

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For some, the stereotypical view of the PhD graduate is a “lone genius”, destined to become an academic with narrow specialised knowledge and little “real world” experience. But our latest study, commissioned through the social research specialists CFE Research, reveals that when they enter work, not only are doctoral graduates considered “business critical” by many employers, they encourage and support their colleagues to think more creatively, achieve more and innovate better. Employers especially highlighted that combining work experience and doctoral training was a powerful package.

Co–commissioned by Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Higher Education Funding Councils (HEFC) for England and Wales, the study examined the careers and impact of those who graduated with a PhD between 2003 and 2006. It found that doctoral graduates working outside of higher education use their skills to innovate, boosting the profitability and competitiveness of companies, as well as enhancing their employers’ profile and credibility. Many are central to developing a diverse and imaginative range of products and services.

Examples include sensors for use in cars, an antenatal programme, new heating systems, websites and apps, teaching aids, musical compositions, cancer treatments, visitor attractions, sports analysis: the list goes on. These new and improved products resulted in increased sales and enhanced competitiveness.

Doctoral graduates’ ability to “think outside the box” means they spot opportunities and develop solutions to problems. This enhances efficiency, generates productivity gains or reduces costs. The intellectual challenge this brings contributes to the high level of satisfaction of doctoral graduates in their current roles. In their lives outside work, the doctoral experience broadens horizons and develops the critical thinking skills, making them more discerning consumers of information, which in turn feeds back into their employment.

The PhD graduate’s ability to  innovate is one of many clear  benefits. Even in times of economic downturn, employment in this group has remained high at 89 per cent, even seven to nine years after graduation. Just 3 per cent were unemployed and seeking work. The median salary of doctoral graduates was £40,700, with 80 per cent of survey respondents earning between £30,000 and £65,000. The Office for National Statistics 2013 figures on earnings for all those with at least a degree or equivalent qualification show that the average wage stands at £31,000. 

Let’s not forget the wider societal benefits too: for example, a handful of doctoral graduates working for PassivSystems (an SME which optimises energy usage for homeowners and businesses) have developed a new, efficient product to control heat pumps. The environmental benefits of this innovation are great, leading to a reduced carbon footprint and savings of up to 40 per cent from people’s energy bills.

At the RCUK, we believe in  investing in excellent people at  all career stages. World leading  research skills and research leadership are essential to the UK’s academic and business success. The latest report proves yet again the essential contribution of PhD graduates to the wider economy and society. Our doctoral graduates are business critical and the RCUK will continue to invest in PhD training to meet the needs of the research base and businesses for the long term. If we are to maintain the UK’s leading position as the best place in the world to do research, innovate and grow business, then we must ensure there are highly skilled PhDs to play a powerful role in our economy and society in the future.