ESRC publishes response to review of PhD in the social sciences

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ESRC has published its vision for and changes to postgraduate training in response to an independent, comprehensive review of the PhD in the social sciences.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) commissioned CFE Research and the University of York to conduct a review of the PhD in the social sciences in February 2020.

The review focused on the capabilities needed by social science graduates to ensure their contribution to research, and their global competitiveness, as well as the optimum ways to develop these capabilities. The resulting report was published in October 2021.

In response to the review, ESRC has refreshed its vision for postgraduate training. Its vision is to develop globally competitive social science researchers who can operate in interdisciplinary, collaborative, and challenge-led environments across a range of sectors, and who are drawn from diverse backgrounds and experiences.

ESRC will also make specific changes to its provision of social sciences doctoral training when it recommissions its network of Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) in 2022 to 2023. These are outlined below.

Equality diversity and inclusion (EDI)

ESRC will require all DTPs to provide an EDI strategy as an assessed part of their bid for funding. Bids will need to set out  how  they  will   widen participation and provide an inclusive and supportive environment for all.

DTPs encouraged DTPs to consider ring-fenced funding for under-represented groups.

Duration, funding and form of PhD

ESRC will extend funding from three to three and a half years as standard to ensure students can develop their wider research and employability skills. ESRC will also target masters funding at students who do not already have a social science masters.

ESRC will also provide funding to support additional training at the PhD stage for students whose prior training meets some but not all the council’s core training requirements.

Employability skills

ESRC will introduce research in practice as a core component of the doctoral experience for all ESRC-funded students, including the opportunity for a three-month placement in:

  • academia
  • policy
  • business
  • third sector organisations.

Research skills

ESRC will embed digital methods and strengthen quantitative training while not losing sight of the importance of qualitative training and ensuring all students have a strong foundation in research design.

ESRC will also support the DTPs to innovate in the content and delivery of core training and strengthen the advanced training offer to students.

ESRC’s Interim Executive Chair, Professor Alison Park, said:

Our vision and the changes we plan to make for postgraduate training signal our commitment to enhancing the student experience, and to fostering a diverse and inclusive research environment.

We want to nurture the capabilities needed for a changing research environment while also reflecting the range of student motivations and career aspirations.

We are excited about these changes and look forward to sharing more detail over the coming months.

These changes align with the government’s commitment to a new deal for postgraduate researchers, as part of its people and culture strategy.

Top image:  Credit: jacoblund, Getty Images

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