July 15, 2012

Researchers of Tomorrow – a response to the British Library report – by Robert O'Toole

The British Library and JISC have just published their report on Researchers of Tomorrow, the research behaviour of generation Y doctoral students. The report presents findings from:

the UK’s largest study to date on the research behaviour of Generation Y doctoral students (born between 1982 and 1994). JISC and the British Library jointly commissioned the three year study in 2009, which involved 17,000 doctoral students from 70 universities at various stages in the project.

Five key issues are headlined:

  • increasing reliance on secondary sources;
  • constraints on progress caused by information access problems;
  • confusion over open access and copyright;
  • researchers not using technology to its full potential;
  • insufficient training for the digital information environment.

One of the interesting recommendations is that institutions explore peer-support approaches, in which the researchers share expertise with each other.

Warwick has a strong and lively community of "early career academics" (as we like to call them), often to be found working and supporting each other in the Wolfson Resarch Exchange (in the Library). Looking at the findings in the report, and considering what happens in the Research Exchange, we might conclude that our community is atypically confident with technology and interdisciplinarity, and ahead of the game in adopting the kind of peer support approach that is recommended. The Wolfson facilty contributes to this, along with an appropriate and well designed programme of activities from our support services (Careers and Skills, Learning and Development Centre). But there's something else important that might be missed by a focus on "Generation Y" - the broad spread of skills and experience that comes with a more mixed community (with many older students).

I took a copy of the report into the Research Exchange to see if we really are better than the norm. Dr. Charlotte Mathieson (an ECA in the English Department) was kind enough to allow me to record her initial responses to some of the issues raised. Here is a video based on that interview, with some extracts from the report. Click on the image below to play the video.

About the Author

Robert O'Toole is a Senior Academic Technologist with IT Services at the University of Warwick and a PhD student researching innovation and design in higher education.

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