The League of European Research Universities, or LERU, has published an ‘advice paper’ on Good Practice Elements in Doctoral Training. The most important messages highlighted in the paper are these:

  • PhDs are increasingly drivers for your own professional development
  • PhDs are training models in which your dependence on one supervisor is no longer robust
  • PhDs  are  opportunities where you can engage to acquire transferable skills

The keyword for the new PhD programmes is:  transferable skills, which are now being built into training programmes for doctoral candidates and, most frequently it seems, as elective course options and often in collaboration with other organisations. Competencies like ‘working in teams’, ‘persisting in achieving long-term goals’ and ‘understanding the working of a specific high-level research-intensive environment’.

They are found in different courses such as master-classes in promoting creativity and risk-taking in novel research, toolkits to help doctoral researchers with information management in research, monitoring work progress to support students to finish their PhD successfully and on time – such as University College London’s Student log – and many more.

Where are the best places for a PhD?

An examples of innovative courses are the PhD employer forum at University College London, where a panel of speakers who themselves are PhD holders are invited to talk about their sector, career progression and the best routes into their position.

The university has also developed Leadership in Action, an ‘open’ programme helping researchers to initiate collaborative and interdisciplinary projects and to develop the “mental toughness and resilience that is needed to sail through the PhD”.

The University of Zurich has a total of 280 courses a year on the acquisition of funding, teaching, writing-publishing, job application training and other topics, and Pierre-and-Marie-Curie University has since 2006 had a Doc’Up association of PhD students who organise events such as breakfasts, aperitifs, dinners or discussion forums.

At the University of Edinburgh, new PhD students in many schools are assigned a thesis committee. The committees have three to five members, including both of the student’s supervisors and at least one independent person who has not been involved to any significant extent, either academically or administratively, with the student.

Students have reported that they particularly value having an external member of the thesis committee.

The Royal Society (2010) is quoted in the report as having found that more than 50% of doctoral candidates in the UK take up employment outside academia after a PhD and that only 3.5% end up in permanent academic positions.

There is no Danish member of LERU. Therefore there is no inclusion of experience with the industrial doctorate that has been operating in Denmark since the 1980s and has now been incorporated in the Marie-Sklodowska Curie programme under Horizon 2020.