The Thoroughly Modern Doctorate

David Bogle

Professor David Bogle is Pro-Provost of University College London’s (UCL) Doctoral School, overseeing UCL’s 4,500 research students. He is Chair of the League of European Research Universities Doctoral Studies Community and was a member of the European Research Area Human Resources and Mobility Working Group on Doctoral Education. He is a chemical engineer with research interests in systems engineering of manufacturing and physiological systems.

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David Bogle highlights some of the key changes that have occurred in PhDs (and more that are to come) and their particular resonances to management and business education.

Do we need more PhDs? What are they for? How can we make them more valuable to the knowledge economy?

These are some of the questions that have been raised in recent years. And the answers have created considerable change in doctoral education in all fields and more is to come.

The number of PhDs that Europe produces has grown quite significantly in recent years. We tend to look for very strong motivation in applicants because it is a tough assignment over three to four years full time but there are many who seek to pursue this track.

It allows concentrated exploration of a topic that someone feels passionate about – and about making an original contribution with the potential for significant impact.

For much of the last century candidates pursued a PhD because they saw it as a route into an academic career. But with our knowledge society and the value placed on new ideas and approaches that fuel economic growth, society and the labour market have signalled a need for more researchers trained with a research qualification. The highest level qualification to demonstrate this is the PhD.

Reform has been going on for some time and one key statement was the 10 Salzburg Principles of Doctoral Education articulated by the European Universities Association (EUA) and its members (EUA2007). A League of European Research Universities (LERU) report states that researchers are trained to be “creative, critical, autonomous intellectual risk takers pushing at the boundaries of frontier research” (LERU2010).

The modern doctorate is an interplay between original research and developing sophisticated skills useful in the workplace. It is no longer an academic apprenticeship. Some will enter academic careers but most will enter a wide range of careers (in the UK, France and Germany more than half of doctoral graduates immediately leave academia for careers outside). The Royal Society tells us that in the UK only 3.5% of PhD graduates end up in permanent academic positions (RoySoc2010).

For the full article, you can view the PDF or listen to the podcast.

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