PhD on track – a new website for PhD support launched (part 1)

I attended a conference last week where the website “PhD on track” was launched. It is a new resource to help PhD students with things like systematic search, referencing, publishing, co-authorship, marketing and sharing the research, open access issues and the weighted funding system in Norway, to  mention some. The conference was divided into three main parts, where the launch was part two. Check out the website, (and look at the conference program) and I`ll write up my notes here (I tweeted too, and the hashtag that was used was #phdontrack).

Berit Hyllseth from The Norwegian assosiation of higher education institutions did a presentation on generic skills (or rather professional skills as she corrected herself to) that we expect PhD students to have or gain. Which skills should they possess? Interpersonal skills, organisational skills, research competensies, cognitive abilities, communication skills and enterprise skills were mentioned. Hyllseth also showed us the Vitae Researcher Developers Framework (RDF), a new framework that describes necessary skills and competensies that a PhD students should have. PhD students can use it as a personal development tool, to see where they need to learn more  and put in more effort.

Norway is committed to the European Qualifications Framework, where the focus (for PhD students) is on the student`s knowledge and processes, not the research that they produce. Globalisation causes (among many other things) a higher demand for knowledge, and there is an emphasis on innovation and development, Hyllseth said. 74 percent of all persons with a PhD work in the public sector in Norway. This is a Norwegian phenomenon. In OECD countries most people with a PhD work in the private sector. We must focus more on the globalisation effect, Hyllseth said. It is not enough to educate researchers who have basic research skills and knows how to publish. An increasing number of people are enrolled in PhD programmes, and many are now studying part-time. We have to standardise programmes to facilitate researcher mobility. The research must also respond to the market`s needs. There is a paradigm shift in PhD education. The student can no longer expect to have a close relationship with his or her mentor because the mentor have more students to take care of than before. Are the PhD programmes bold enough to give us researchers that the society needs and wants?, Hyllseth asked rhetorically.

Hyllseth`s own data showed that while most PhD students (at the University of Oslo) were contented with their mentor and the guidance, they were less impressed with the courses and seminars. Many saw these courses as not very relevant and of low quality. The students expressed a wish for a broader choice of courses, and said that they wanted to learn more about academic writing, publishing and project management.

There is a need for better quality and a stronger collaboration between the different elements in the PhD training. There is also an expressed need for more interdisciplinary collaboration, but the faculties (at the University of Oslo) are autonomous and they decide how to build these training programmes and courses. There is no central management here.

We have to clarify the mentor`s role as someone who is jointly responsible for the student`s academic progress, we need better and more systematic use of external tutors and resources, a handbook for mentors as well as training measures to mentors. Hyllseth also recommended more partnerships with external institutions and a focus on marketing the value of PhD students and their knowledge.

More in part 2 (to come)