21st Century PhDs: Why we need better methods of tracking doctoral access, experiences and outcomes

The PhD occupies a totemic position in R&D policy - and economic policy as well. But the PhD’s prominence is not consistently matched by the quality of evidence and data about PhD students and graduates. In the UK, as one example, the doctoral data landscape is a gap-filled mess. And even in countries where good survey data exists, analyses have tended to be inward-looking, missing the opportunity for learning through comparison.

This working paper makes a case for closing these knowledge gaps. Drawing on best practice internationally, we demonstrate the value of longitudinal surveys of doctoral access, experiences and outcomes, and argue for their introduction in the UK and other countries without access to such data. Such efforts should extend beyond the timescale and scope of current data sources, and must prioritise the acquisition of detailed academic, demographic and decision-making information. We also argue for an international research network on PhD career pathways, to better connect colleagues who are leading work in this field globally, and to support the sharing of methods, data and other approaches. Facilitating such a network could potentially be a role for the new Research on Research Institute (RoRI).