Doctoral Training Changes - Frequently Asked Questions Doctoral Training Changes - Frequently Asked Questions

Changes to Doctoral Training Requirements

The University’s Postgraduate Research Executive has agreed to a phased replacement of the PPD credit requirement with compliance with doctoral training pathway requirements.

What is a doctoral training pathway?

A training pathway is a description of the range of developmental activities that can be undertaken by a research degree candidate to support and enhance their programme of study. The goal of the pathway is to develop a range of research, discipline-specific and transferable skills and attributes that will support the development of the research project, the timely completion of the thesis and equip the researcher for future careers. Further details about Training Pathways can be found on our Doctoral Training Pathways page.

The change affects current postgraduate research students as follows:

Research degree candidates due to submit their thesis before 30 September 2018

This change will not affect any current postgraduate research students (i.e. those registered before 30 September 2017) and due to submit their thesis before 30 September 2018, who will still be required to demonstrate compliance with the University’s requirement to undertake 10 Personal and Professional Development (PPD) training credits per year (pro rata for part-time candidates) as specified by their Graduate School.

Research degree candidates due to submit their thesis after 1 October 2018

Current postgraduate research students who are due to submit their thesis after 1 October 2018 will be given the option of either demonstrating compliance with the existing credit requirement as above, or demonstrating compliance with a training pathway as specified by their Graduate School. No research student needs to make a formal decision on their situation immediately, since the first point at which the University will formally ask students to declare their intended choice will be at their first Annual Progress Review following 1 April 2018. Students and supervisors should read the information within our Doctoral Training web pages, and discuss their plans with their supervisory team. Some students may also wish to consult their Graduate School Training Coordinator. Further information sessions for students and supervisors will be scheduled during 2017/18.

Where can I find the date by which I am expected to submit my thesis?

From a research student’s record on eVision, the Course Information Box shows two end dates: a period of research end date, and an “end date: expected”. The thesis submission deadline is the later of these two dates, the “end date: expected”. For full-time PhD students this is normally four years after the initial date of registration; it varies for other courses and for part-time modes of study.

Why has the University agreed this change?

The University’s Doctoral Training Working Group met multiple times between January and June 2016, and took the view in its report that the current system of credits:

  • assesses the quantity rather than quality of training and does not acknowledge prior learning or training;
  • encourages compliance rather than engagement, with some attending courses simply to acquire credit;
  • does not promote a sense of research community or progression as a cohort.

In recommending the changes to the Postgraduate Research Executive, the Doctoral Training Working Group also considered the following factors:

  • Student feedback including Postgraduate Research Experience Survey, UEA SU Postgraduate Experience Survey and Annual Progress Review comments;
  • Research Councils (UK government funders) are increasingly either specifying training or asking for evidence of training pathways with agreed sets of learning outcomes that requires a commitment of more than 6 weeks over 4 years;
  • The future employability of graduates with research degrees seeking careers within and beyond academia;
  • The view that responsibility for continuing professional development should lie with the student, as an early career researcher, in line with standard expectations on academic and professional staff.

How have students and academic colleagues been consulted on this change?

The changes have been widely discussed with students, both through Graduate Schools and through two consultation events run by the University and Student Union on 7 October 2016 (about the changes in general) and 27 March 2017 (specifically about the transition arrangements). The PGR Directors' Conference on 29 November 2016 discussed the proposed changes to doctoral training and heard presentations from students, PGR and Careers Service staff, and academic staff with responsibility for doctoral training. The UEA Student Union Postgraduate Education Officer sits on the University’s Postgraduate Research Executive and was supportive of the changes. Student feedback at all these events was supportive of the changes, provided there was a phased transition for current students as is being implemented.

Why are training pathways being introduced?

The University’s Research Degree Education Strategy sets out its commitment to the provision of high quality training to support candidates' research and prepare them for a variety of different career paths. To support this goal the PGR Executive set up a Doctoral Training Working Group (DTWG) 2015/16 chaired by the Academic Director of Research Degree Programmes to review the University’s current provision.  One of the recommendations of the DTWG was that Graduate Schools should develop a portfolio a discipline specific training pathways to complement those already developed by DTPs and that each research degree candidate should know which training pathway they are joining at the point of offer.

Which elements of a training pathway must a postgraduate researcher engage with?

Some aspects of the training pathway will be non-negotiable.  The University has specified some mandatory elements for every training pathway that should be introduced as part of the induction of new researchers into the research environment and completed as a condition of passing probation. These include all those areas set out in Domain C1 (Professional Conduct):

  • Ethics principles and sustainability
  • Legal requirements
  • IPR and copyright
  • Respect and confidentiality
  • Attribution and co-authorship
  • Appropriate practices

PGR Executive has also accepted the recommendation of the DTWG that a session on self-care, mental wellbeing and resilience must be included as part of the induction process.

The DTWG recommended that separate arrangements for Health and Safety requirements for postgraduate researchers are agreed between the School of Registration and University Safety Services based on generic role descriptors for staff and need not be included in the training pathway.

For postgraduate researchers sponsored by awards made through the Doctoral Training Partnerships some mandatory cohort training may be a condition of the award that supports their research.

Graduate Schools are at liberty to specify some additional mandatory training beyond that required by the University.

How does a postgraduate researcher know which other elements of the training pathway to engage with?

Activities that have the potential to address specific gaps in researchers’ skill sets should be identified through a Training Needs Analysis (TNA) at the outset of the period of study. This exercise will inform the writing of a draft personal development plan which will be agreed after consultation with the supervisory team and Graduate School Training Coordinator.  The personal development plan should record the outcome of the TNA and a range of development activities selected to help the researcher progress towards meeting the learning objectives of their designated pathway.  The personal development plan is not intended to be set in stone in year one but to evolve through regular review in years two and three.

Why does a training pathway need to have learning objectives?

Although the training pathways do not lead to an academic award they do require researchers to engage with activities that involve a commitment to study and/or reflection on what they have done. Through establishing learning objectives, we wish to encourage researchers to engage with a programme of professional development that addresses gaps in their skills and attributes and to reflect on how acquiring these will benefit their programme of research and future career progression. Training pathways are meant to support the research degree candidate’s research and academic progress. The learning outcomes of the award for which they are registered will still be assessed via the examination of their thesis and, in the case of Professional Doctorates, the assessment of any other academic requirements of the programme of study.

What about new researchers with significant prior experience?

Some research degree candidates will embark on their period of study with the benefit of having completed a significant amount of professional development in a previous career that allows them to meet some of the learning objectives of their pathway.  If this can be evidenced through the Training Needs Analysis they may be exempted from some non-mandatory elements of the pathway because they have already achieved the specified learning objectives.

How do the learning objectives associated with training pathways relate to the doctoral attributes described in the Research Degree Education Strategy?

The doctoral attributes are those of a PhD graduate which are normally gained through completion of the programme of study which is supported by the training pathway.  Meeting the learning objectives of a training pathway is intended to help a candidate succeed in their programme of study and as a result gain most or all of those doctoral attributes.

Which training pathway is relevant to me?

Please consult the Doctoral Training Pathways page for details.

Do I have to follow a training pathway or can I comply instead with the credit requirement?

If you registered as a research degree candidate before 30 September 2017, you can choose whether to comply with the requirements of a relevant training pathway, or to complete ten credits per year if you are a full time student, or five per year if you are a part time student.