Training talented researchers for society: what about their information skills?

Added by Stephane Goldstein on 08 March 2010 14:34

What is the role of doctoral training in advanced knowledge-based economies? This is the fundamental question posed by a report published last week by the League of European Research Universities, on  Doctoral degrees beyond 2010: Training talented researchers for society. A worthy document, which seeks to demonstrate that doctoral qualifications are not just about training future generations of academics, but are valuable for supplying highly-skilled professionals to a spectrum of non-academic professions not related to the subject-matter covered by the PhD; law, finance, management and management consultancy are cited as examples.

It follows that much of the report focuses on how PhDs help to provided transferable skills. The document suggests that “research-intensive universities aim to produce doctoral graduates with a broad range of skills” and that “where approriate doctoral programmes focus on their transferability to other domains in which a high level of creative thinking and critical analysis are needed”. It goes on to list such broad attributes, categorised under intellectual, academic/technical and personal/professional management skills.

However, it is disconcerting that none of those skills explicitly relate to researchers’ ability to handle information. Although this is arguably implicit in some of those listed (“transfer new knowledge to scholarly communities”, “use critical judgement in an objective manner based on verifiable evidence”…), nothing is said about information literacy. Surely that is a rather fundamental requirement for a range of employers, particularly since the report recognises the “explosion of information in the public domain”? The ability to seek out and use information in a discriminating way, or the capacity to organise and manage complex research data, to name but two, are pretty crucial high-level transferable skills… but other than a passing reference, towards the end, to training modules on information and publication skills, not a thing about information-handling as integral to the attributes of a well-rounded researcher.  A careless omission perhaps?

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