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Postgraduate Study

Research matters: 'How can we help young talents develop?'

RCUK wants to know how you've used your PhD, says Rick Rylance

Gaining a PhD, you will be relieved to hear, is a good thing. According to studies carried out by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) and others, over 90 per cent of doctoral graduates feel that their PhD experience helps them make a difference in their workplace, and around 80 per cent are using the skills gained through their research, even if that role is not technically classified as "research".

Depending on the stage you have reached with your PhD, the idea of getting a job may be either far from your mind or all you think about. Each year, around half of the 4,500 doctoral graduates funded by Research Councils UK (RCUK) will move out of higher education and take their skills into the wider world of business, industry or public service. Doctoral graduates are highly employable: data from the Hesa Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Longitudinal Survey 2006/7 showed that more than 80 per cent of doctoral graduates were in continuous paid employment three years after graduation, mostly at senior level. Over 70 per cent of respondents said they were in "professional" or senior management roles.

RCUK wants to understand more about the broader impact on the economy of the people we fund. This information will help us to develop our policies on research training and careers so that we can help researchers make the most of their talents.

Current surveys follow doctoral graduates for up to four years after gaining their doctorate. Such information is valuable, but it doesn't provide the whole picture. A new RCUK study will look at the careers of doctoral graduates around seven years after they complete their PhDs. Early work with those who completed their doctorates in 2004/5 begins this month and, depending on the response we receive, we will then undertake further qualitative research over the summer, seeking interviews with the graduates themselves and their employers. When the study is published this year, we expect it to give a fuller picture of the many career pathways taken by doctoral graduates. It will also indicate the extent of their impact on their workplaces and the UK's competitiveness.

We hope that the study will provide further information on how, as well as where, doctoral researchers progress. What are the best ways to develop skills? What do young talents need as they develop their careers? Previously, universities and other research organisations received payments for career development and skills training. These payments were known as "Roberts" funding, after the late Gareth Roberts, a pioneer in this area. This funding is now included in the fees for postgrads and the indirect costs of research grants. Over the coming months we will review these arrangements to make sure postgraduate researchers and research staff continue to have access to the best possible training and career development. Our study will allow research organisations to compare their training and development policies with those of others.

The people we fund, at every stage of their careers, are vitally important. Our world-class research base depends on the continued development of the people within it. By understanding the broader picture of doctoral graduate careers and researcher development, we can help to support you and others in the UK's research sector. That's how we will stay pre-eminent, and why our doctoral students will continue to have the best and be the best.

To take part (if you gained your doctorate in 2004/5) in the Doctoral Impact Study, visit:  cfe.org.uk/doctoralimpactstudy

For more info on RCUK, including the review of researcher development, visit: rcuk.ac.uk