Identifying Unmet Training Needs for Postgraduate Research Students in the Biomedical Sciences through Audit of Examiners’ Reports

Amanda J Tonks, Anwen S Williams
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 13  •  2018  •  pp. 169-191

Understanding the educational needs of postgraduate research candidates (PGRs) is essential to facilitate development, support attainment, and maintain graduate quality.

The production and effective defence of the research thesis are the summative assessment tools used in postgraduate research education. Examiners’ reports provide a rich source of feedback and indicate the gap between the candidate’s level of performance and that expected for the award. This provides a lens through which to view the unmet training needs of PGR cohorts.

Following a review of all examiner reports for PGR assessments held over a 12 month period, we explored the quantitative and qualitative dimension data in context in order to identify common training needs for our PGR students. Utilising this theoretical framework and standard thematic analysis, we identified recurring themes and were able to determine key areas for future focus.

This study utilises independent comment from postgraduate research candidate thesis and oral examination assessment to identify unmet core research training needs.

We recognised seven key areas identified by the examiners for improvement: i) quality of scientific writing, ii) general presentation of thesis, iii) statistics /data analysis, iv) understanding / critical appraisal, v) experimental design, vi) English language and vii) supervision. Academic literacy and numeracy stood out as key areas for future training focus. The results highlight areas for future focus in educational provision and targeted training for PGRs undertaking biomedical and life sciences research within our faculty.

Evaluation of postgraduate research programmes should include feedback from a variety of sources and not rely solely on employability and completion rates as measures of success. The examination committees are an important source of feedback on the individual and the programme with regard to attainment of core research skills.

Regular and wide reaching evaluation of postgraduate research programmes and support available is required to ensure the sector can meet the changing needs of our PGR cohorts.

Doctoral graduates are entering increasingly diverse employment fields. Ensuring the quality of graduates and supporting their journey through candidature ensures the greatest value for society once in the work place.

This study highlights unmet training needs of PGRs as identified by an inde-pendent expert. The impact of engagement with training and the importance of prior experience are not explored in this study, nor is the student perspective on the process. These will reveal additional dimensions to the evaluation process.

doctoral training, education, feedback, learning needs assessment, quality out-come, quality graduates
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