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Employers need highly skilled social science PhDs


In a new report published today the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) sets out the findings of a review it has commissioned that evaluates both the needs of non-academic employers for highly skilled social scientists, and the extent to which social science PhD-holders in such employment are using the skills and knowledge developed during their doctorate.

The sustained development of a highly skilled workforce is essential to underpinning the quality of social scientific research in the UK. Whilst the majority of social science PhD holders continue to pursue a career in research, many social science researchers develop careers beyond academia and make important contributions both within and beyond the UK research base in other sectors such as public administration and defence; heath and social work; manufacturing and education.

Commissioned as the companion study to the Demographic Review of UK Social Sciences this report, entitled The employment of social science PhDs in academic and non-academic jobs: research skills and postgraduate training, provides clear evidence of demand across a range of employers for the skills and attributes acquired during a social science PhD. It illustrates that PhD holders are highly employable in a number of sectors.

The review, which was conducted by Kate Purcell, Professor of Employment Studies at UWE, and Peter Elias, Professor of Employment Research at the University of Warwick, underlines the crucial importance of equipping UK social scientists with core research and related professional skills from an early stage in their career.

Professor Kate Purcell, commenting on the report, said, “We found that many PhD completers regretted not having developed broader methodological skills as part of their doctorate, and believed, with hindsight, that they would have benefited from better developed quantitative skills in particular. It was also clear that whilst employers welcome many of the research related skills developed whilst undertaking doctoral training, including critical reasoning and analytical thinking, they reported difficulties in recruiting highly-qualified social scientists with well-developed project management and team-working capabilities.”

The ESRC is responding to these findings as part of our on-going commitment both to strengthening future research capacity across all social science disciplines and also to prepare social science PhD-holders for work outside of academia:

- The ESRC Researcher Development Initiative provides training and development opportunities to enhance general skills across the social science base in areas such as quantitative research methods. This initiative forms an integral part of our strategy to develop training packages tailored to particular needs at all stages of the academic life course.

- The expansion of Masters provision in quantitative methods will support the doubling of the number of research studentships available in social statistics and more generally in quantitative methods.

- The standard postgraduate stipend has also been increased to £15K per annum for those embarking on quantitative methods PhDs.

- Opportunities for mid career re-skilling are also to be expanded by the Council especially in quantitative methods.

- Provision of transferable skills training as required by all Research Councils.

“These are initial steps. We will continue to draw upon the findings arising from this report to ensure that we are developing the skills of the next generation of Social Scientists. In doing so we are confident that the ESRC will contribute to the sustained development of a world class social science research base within the UK,” says ESRC Chief Executive, Professor Ian Diamond.

Professor Diamond comments further that “This review further highlights the importance of career development skills amongst researchers, and the importance of identifying individual training needs from an early stage. By working in partnership with other key actors in the higher education sector, and in industry, we can develop initiatives to advance the skill base of social science PhDs as well as support the broad spectrum of careers open to them.”

Alexandra Saxon | alfa
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