Male postgraduate student studying in the Pope Building, University Park

September 30, 2009, by Teaching at Nottingham

Perceptions of PhD students and supervisors of the academic and transferable skills training at the University of Nottingham

Sara Goodacre, Matthew Jones and Rumiana Ray: “The last decade has seen the initialisation and development of specific and generic skills training for PhD students at universities. Whilst the purpose of subject-specific skills training is to increase and validate the practical and professional competency of students in order to successfully complete their PhD programme, generic skills training is aimed at preparing students for their future professional life after their PhD.

“The views of students on the training provided by the University of Nottingham have been assessed frequently in the past, however, the views of academic staff have been “notoriously” difficult to gauge and are largely anecdotal in nature. An understanding of supervisor perspectives on student training and the local responses of students, which are not shown in current national surveys, will provide useful feedback on the current state of experiences and identify future training needs.

“The aim of this project was to engage both students and supervisors in order to determine their perspectives on the level of training provided at Nottingham University. Online questionnaires were sent to PhD students and supervisors in 3 Schools (Biology, Geography and Biosciences) to assess two main questions:

  • Are PhD students at the University of Nottingham satisfied with the training they receive in terms of both academic and transferable (generic) skills?
  • How much importance do students and PhD supervisors place on teaching/training in transferable skills?

“48 PhD students and 33 academics rated the appropriate source of training for the skill sets identified by the UK Grad Joint Skills Statement. The majority of PhD students indicated that training in 6 of the 7 skills specified, came from self directed learning, rather than any training provision from their supervisor, the Graduate School or their own School. Students identified “Learning specific research skills and techniques” as the main area where training was provided from another source i.e. the supervisor. In contrast, the majority of supervisors thought that in 6 of the 7 skill sets PhD students derive most of their training from their supervisor, the exception was “How to work as a team” which supervisors felt was developed through self directed learning.

“Overall the students felt that they are given ample time to carry out both specific and transferable skill training during their studies, and were satisfied with the current provision of courses by the Graduate school. The majority of supervisors suggested that PhD students should be spending around 40 days per year on academic and transferrable skill training, as an integral part of their PhD programme. Both academics and PhD students identified a need for more subject specific training. Around one third of supervisors indicated that participation in conferences and publications is the most important factor in securing the future employment of their students.

“As well as a wider participation rate in the survey and a comparison across a wider range of subject areas, to identify any further needs for training provision additional survey of past PhD students will be useful to determine which of the training provided at the University of Nottingham was most advantageous in securing their employment.”

Paper presented at the University’s Fifteenth Learning & Teaching conference (September, 2009).

Dr Sara Goodacre
School of Biology

Dr Matthew Jones
School of Geography

Dr Rumiana Ray
Lecturer in Crop Science
School of Biosciences

This article was originally published as part of PESL’s Teaching at Nottingham collection.

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