“Generation Y” PhD students

29 Jun

The results are in: major study into the behavioural habits of the “Generation Y” PhD students released by JISC and the British Library

Research students need more face-to-face and informal support tailored to their own subject area to help them embrace open web technologies and social media fully, according to the UK’s largest study of doctoral students commissioned by the technology consortium JISC and the British Library.

The Researchers of Tomorrow project spoke to 17,000 doctoral students over the course of its three year longitudinal study to set a benchmark for the research behaviour of so-called Generation Y students born between 1983-1992. 

The final year of the study looked in detail at researchers’ use of social media applications within the research setting, and it found that, over the three-year period, there has been only a gradual increase in use of the social web and social media, which may seem surprising considering our increasingly digitalised culture..

For example, 23% of all the students have made passive use of online forums, but only 13% have taken an active part in any discussions: 23% followed blogs, but only 9% maintained a blog themselves. Active take-up of institutionally-provided open web resources is also low, with students requesting more information about technologies and applications such as Google Scholar, cloud computing, EndNote and Mendeley.

Louisa Dale, senior relations and support manager, has been overseeing the final phase of the study for JISC. She says: “We want to make sure that everyone within a university – from the blogging vice chancellor to the researcher connecting on Twitter – can and does utilise the latest technologies, to inspire and transform higher education and research.”

“Research students and their institutions can benefit from our toolkits and resources to guide them through the process of sharing their work online.” 

Maja Maricevic, Head of Higher Education from the British Library said: “This study is important for the British Library. We want our services and help for researchers to reflect on-going changes in the research environment. The findings present us with a challenge of working collaboratively across research support landscape to provide digital resources that are relevant and linked to high quality tailored support that is informed by researchers’ needs.”

Other findings from the report include a continuing lack of understanding about the nature of open access. Generation Y students felt that putting their own work out openly will bring them no positive benefits, and may even have a negative impact. Equally, doctoral students’ understanding of the intellectual property and copyright environment appears to be a source of confusion, rather than an enabler of innovation. The debate about open access continues to be prominent in the media, and JISC and the British Library will continue to engage with researchers to ascertain how attitudes might be changing. 

The study also highlighted a marked dependency on published secondary sources rather than primary sources, such as archival materials and data sets, as the basis of students’ own original research, regardless of discipline. This marks a significant change in the nature of doctoral research from only a decade ago, with potential significant implications for doctoral students’ experience of finding and using primary research sources.

The full report and data will shortly be open for others to delve into to see what they can extract from the research.

Ends

To see the full Researchers of Tomorrow report, go to http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/reports/2012/researchers-of-tomorrow

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