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Training the generation of researchers

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Anne Sofield, associate Director of Programmes at AHRC

Equipping the next generation of academics with skills that go beyond the academy is critical, whether they go on to become university researchers, or take their post-doctoral-level thinking to other organisations, according to Anne Sofield, Associate Director of Programmes at the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as the organisation begins its Doctoral Week (20 – 24 May).

“It is vitally important we continue to train the next generation of Arts and Humanities scholars, teachers, thinkers, employees and leaders,” Anne says.

The AHRC’s commitment to training the next generation of researchers is demonstrated in the investment of around a third of its budget on doctoral training.

“Because of this, we structure the doctoral training we offer in order to promote the kind of high level skills that we at the AHRC think are essential for future leaders.

“It's no longer just about gaining a PhD. For today's researchers it's about developing a broad, collaborative, skillset – and we provide a funding framework which enables our students to achieve this.”

We support our students to work in high quality academic environments and develop the thinking that makes for better researchers, whilst also providing support to enable students to put their ideas into different contexts and enhance their output as a result.

The doctoral training offered by the AHRC comes in three forms.

  • Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP). Student support is provided through DTPs, most of which are consortia of universities working with partners beyond acad
    emia. They recruit a cohort of students on an annual basis.
    “The DTPs support reasonably traditional Arts and Humanities studentships, where the student drives the idea and the PhD itself, based on the training and learning they have gained as an undergraduate and on an MA,” says Anne Sofield. “The PhD is a continuation of the trajectory that they were already on.”
  • Then we have Centres for Doctoral Training (CDT). This support is more strategic in nature with CDTs focussed on modern languages, heritage and design. These awards are based on specific subject areas but delivered through consortia in a similar way to DTPs.
  • The third opportunity the AHRC offers is Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships (CDP). First introduced in 2012, the CDP scheme gives non-higher education institutions (non-HEI) with a proven track record in postgraduate research, usually museums, galleries or libraries the opportunity to support PhD students to work on a collaborative project with the university partner.

    “This allows those institutions to do some medium term planning about what kind of research projects they want to do and how best to support the students doing them,” says Anne Sofield. “It allows them to think three, five, seven years ahead.
    “With CDP the student is still in the driving seat but their application is more of a job application.

“The idea is seeded in the partner organisation – they come up with the PhD concept and project – and then the student applies. The student needs to have knowledge in the right area and the scheme often attracts more mature, mid-career researchers with previous work experience.

All three expressions of the AHRC's doctoral training programme are structured to promote development of the kind of high level skills that are essential at a post doc level for future leaders. Each offer something slightly different in recognition of the varied ways post-doctoral skills are gained and used.

“We're very proud of the fact that the universities work in a highly-collaborative way around doctoral training, and we think that we have changed the landscape in this regard,” says Anne Sofield.

“Students are now able to work at a regional, national and international level with other universities and with non-HEI organisations such as galleries, libraries and archives as a result of AHRC funding being directed through these training schemes at a collaborative level.”

Students might also work in other organisations e.g. the public sector, and engage with charities and NGOs, and take advantage of a wide range of opportunities that go way beyond the academy.

“We like to think that those institutions who are funded by us extend the benefits of doctoral training to non-AHRC students as well and so all students benefit from a more positive environment that is focused on raising their skills and equipping them for demanding careers – wherever they choose to work after finishing their PhD.”  

For more on AHRC Doctoral Week follow #DoctoralWeek on Twitter

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