Young researchers are the future key players who will have to tackle the major research and societal challenges. Their crucial education starts with the training they receive during their PhD. While the work leading to a PhD is mainly performed at a university, people who obtain a PhD have often a wide array of career perspectives open to them, both in academia and industry.
The core of doctoral education is research training by an individual research experience. It cannot be seen as yet another study level. In order to receive a doctoral degree, candidates have to prove their ability to perform original and independent research, on an international quality level within one or several related scientific disciplines. The term doctoral education, therefore, signifies a period of individual research experience leading to a university degree that testifies the development of a “research mindset” of the candidate. Doctoral candidates have to prove an entrepreneurial, creative spirit coupled with considerable persistence in following their objectives and must be able to prove and defend their research hypothesis to an expert panel beyond reasonable doubt.
The duration of doctoral education varies across Europe according to the national university structures and disciplinary traditions but requires, as a rule, a full-time endeavor of three to four years.
The PhD education systems may vary in details from country to country, but most of the European countries use as a core of their systems, the so-called „Seven Principles of Innovative Doctoral Training” (endorsed by the EU on 28-29 November 2011), which provide a coordinated framework to achieve excellent doctoral training.
The seven principles of Innovative Doctoral Training are:
Striving for excellent research is fundamental to all doctoral education and from this, all other elements flow. Academic standards set via peer review procedures and research environments representing a critical mass are required. The new academic generation should be trained to become creative, critical and autonomous intellectual risk-takers, pushing the boundaries of frontier research.
Doctoral candidates should find good working conditions to empower them to become independent researchers taking responsibility at an early stage for the scope, direction, and progress of their project. These should include career development opportunities, in line with the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers.
Doctoral training must be embedded in an open research environment and culture to ensure that any appropriate opportunities for cross-fertilization between disciplines can foster the necessary breadth and interdisciplinary approach.
The term 'industry' is used in the widest sense, including all fields of future workplaces and public engagement, from industry to business, government, NGO’s, charities and cultural institutions (e.g. musea). This can include placements during research training; shared funding; involvement of non-academics from relevant industry in informing/delivering teaching and supervision; promoting financial contribution of the relevant industry to doctoral programmes; fostering alumni networks that can support the candidate (for example mentoring schemes) and the programme, and a wide array of people/technology/knowledge transfer activities.
Doctoral training should provide opportunities for international networking, i.e. through collaborative research, co-tutelle, dual and joint degrees. Mobility should be encouraged, be it through conferences, short research visits, and secondments or longer stays abroad.
Transferable skills are skills learned in one context (for example research) that are useful in another (for example future employment whether that is in research, business, etc.). They enable subject- and research-related skills to be applied and developed effectively. Transferable skills may be acquired through training or through work experience. It is essential to ensure that enough researchers have the skills demanded by the knowledge-based economy. Examples include communication, teamwork, entrepreneurship, project management, IPR, ethics, standardization etc. Business should also be more involved in curricula development and doctoral training so that skills better match industry needs, building on the work of the University-Business Forum and the outcomes of the EUA DOC-CAREERS project. There are good examples of interdisciplinary approaches in universities bringing together skills ranging from research to financial and business skills and from creativity and design to intercultural skills.
The accountability procedures must be established on the research base of doctoral education and for that reason, they should be developed separately from the quality assurance in the first and second cycle. The goal of quality assurance in doctoral education should be to enhance the quality of the research environment as well as promoting transparent and accountable procedures for topics such as admission, supervision, awarding the doctorate degree and career development. It is important to stress that this is not about the quality assurance of the PhD itself rather the process or life cycle, from recruitment to graduation.