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ESRC review of the PhD in the Social Sciences

Posted on 20 October 2021

The Economic and Social Research Council has released a report on the PhD in the social sciences which was written by York academics Professor Paul Wakeling and Dr Sally Hancock in partnership with CFE Research.

The focus of the review was on the skills and capabilities needed by social science graduates and the optimum ways to develop them in order to enable them to contribute fully to the global research environment.

Professor Wakeling and Dr Hancock worked with CFE Research to interview over 1,300 individuals from 120 organisations as part of an 18-month study examining all aspects of the social science PhD. They also analysed data about PhD entrants and the post-qualification employment destinations of PhD graduates in the social sciences, looking especially at questions of equality, diversity and inclusion.

The review highlighted the way in which ESRC's doctoral training is driving best practice but also identified some areas in which the programme needed to adapt to a changing research landscape and jobs market. Key findings include a need to keep up with changing digital research skill requirements, to better equip PhD graduates for their future careers through employability skills training, and to ensure a more diverse and inclusive student population. Another recommendation of the report, as explored by an article on the report in Times Higher Education, was that the duration of the PhD should be extended to 4-years to enable doctoral students to fully develop their research and employability skills and reduce strain on their mental health caused by the existing time constraints.