Research skills and the researchers of tomorrow

by Paul Maharg on 09/03/2014

More on research skills, this time on the wider context from Jisc.  Their report, out in 2012, revealed the serious problems and the huge potential of the digital shift.  Over a project span of three years Researchers of Tomorrow analysed the working practices of  around 17,000 doctoral students born between 1982 & 1994, the so-called Gen Y students (but you don’t have to sign up to the froth surrounding this notion to accept the report findings).  Over 70 HE institutions were involved.  Funded jointly by the British Library and Jisc, it’s a fine study, full of remarkable detail about the opportunities, difficulties, pleasures, frustrations and exhilarations of the digital domain, and should be required reading for research supervisors as well as research students.  Summary of findings:

  • Doctoral students are increasingly reliant on secondary research resources (eg journal articles, books), moving away from primary materials (eg primary archival material and large datasets).

  • Access to relevant resources is a major constraint for doctoral students’ progress. Authentication access and licence limitations to subscription-based resources, such as e-journals, are particularly problematic.

  • Open access and copyright appear to be a source of confusion for Generation Y doctoral students, rather than encouraging innovation and collaborative research.

  • This generation of doctoral students operate in an environment where their research behaviour does not use the full potential of innovative technology.

  • Doctoral students are insufficiently trained or informed to be able to fully embrace the latest opportunities in the digital information environment.

The detail of the report is actually more positive in many ways; but this summary of the findings is a good précis of the whole.  None of the findings are a cause for optimism.  To focus on legal study in particular — is part of the problem that we don’t embed good digital research practices in undergraduate study?  Not just at honours dissertation level, but from day one that students enter their HE institutions?  Could it be that our curriculum practices actually inhibit good research practices?  TBH, the last question should really be a statement.  The real question is how we move on from that.

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