The Impact of Doctoral Research in Information Science and Librarianship

Perceived Benefits of Doctoral Research for the Departments

In an attempt to discover the benefits perceived by the Departments in which students had carried out their research, a questionnaire (Appendix C) was sent out to 15 Departments and Schools of library and information studies in the UK. Thirteen responses were received. Five of the Departments responding had not received any awards. (*)

Six of the Departments had appointed a total of fifteen former Ph.D. students from their own Department or another Department to academic positions: in one case, four MPhil/PhD students had been appointed to staff positions while their research was still in progress and not completed at the time of the survey. Two Departments had appointed former (or current) students to research positions. Some double counting exists in the total because of the movement of staff from research positions to lecturing positions. Of these staff (both academic and research) nine were returned in the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise.

The questionnaire sought to determine the impact of these staff by asking: "Have any of those listed... been responsible for significant innovations in degree programmes or in the development of successful research proposals." The responses to this question showed a wide range of activity: for example,

PhD work... in European information policy led directly to a project funded by BLR&DD, led by her PhD supervisor.

... has developed [a new degree programme and]... has also been awarded research grants... (BLRDD) and [has had] European Commission funding for a project on information policy...

... has been responsible for securing several research grants and has been active in disseminating the results of her research.

... has obtained a Nuffield Research Fellowship... [which] will fund a sabbatical (one semester) to enable him to continue his [research]...

... has contributed in a significant way to the development of new courses in information management, business information and information retrieval, in addition to continuing to research and publish in a key research area for the Department.

... has been actively involved in research proposal writing and in developing a new degree programme in information systems.

... [is] providing a particular focus for management research...

... recognized research/publishing potential of the Department's data and experience in [distance and open learning]...

In other words, it appears that where former students are appointed to academic or research positions, their contribution to the development of the Department is immediate and significant. Three Departments also noted that former students were holding research positions in either industry or other sectors of academia. This suggests that it would be wrong to assume, in a diverse and generic field such as that covered by the awards, that the only impact is in the field covered by the Departments.

The questionnaire also asked for other information on perceived benefits and/or problems in relation to the scheme. Eight Departments commented as follows:

Research development in the new universities is rather a vicious circle. Funding follows research record resulting from funding... We have yet to find a way to break in - while dealing with many changes at this University.

The availability of a source of funding is an advantage in itself, of course. The peer review mechanism adds a measure of quality control which is welcome.

The drawback is the very low level of funding made available to the individual student. We had a number of worthy candidates and good projects this year, but could not persuade anyone to apply for a studentship: each person decided that (s)he could not afford to take up a studentship, if successful.

Building up sufficient breadth and depth in research degree supervision is a general problem for new university departments, but we are now in [a] better position to support students in applying for studentships and benefiting from the scheme.

I view these awards as useful even though we have never got one! They generate in April each year, activity and interest in planning proposals.

The scheme has been the primary source of funding for supporting doctoral students and essential for the department's research activities. Our research students made a significant contribution to our... rating in the RAE.

Our three former students who have completed have taken careers directly related to their doctoral work. Two have gone into industry as system developers and one has a research post in a health economics and communication department.

The rigorous preparation of proposals for the awards has enhanced the School's methodological strengths. The relatively consistent success in attracting external awards for Research Students has raised the School's profile in an institution in which such awards are rare.

The DfEE PhD awards have been absolutely crucial in the development of the Department's research strengths and have led not only to the creation of new research areas, but also have demonstrated the Department's capabilities in such a way as to enable it to attract similar funding from the Research Councils.

The major drawback of the scheme has been the very low level of support for the student: it is to be hoped that, under the new arrangements with the Humanities Research Boards, there can be an early improvement in the level of grant.

There is very little doubt that having research studentships/holders has acted and continues to act as a significant catalyst... and as a significant boost to an individual supervisor's profile. On the whole (but not always) studentship holders seem capable of developing into academics who can accommodate the other wide range of tasks - particularly teaching and administration, associated with an academic career...

With regard to the scheme, it has its limitations - studentships are scarce and there appears to be no obvious explanations why some applications are successful and others (often from stronger students) are not. Perhaps an element of general and specific feedback could be incorporated...

This brief survey of the Departments reveals that the studentships are highly regarded and that, where staff appointments have been made from the ranks of PhD students, the impact has been signficant. A number of the Departments are at an early stage in the development of their research strategies and are only now beginning to build up their research competencies. These Departments find themselves in a difficult situation - needing the awards to help them build their research, but often unable to win them because of the current low level of support they can offer to students. It may be that the results of the Research Assessment Exercise and the move of the awards to the Humanities Research Board may have a significant affect on the future of such Departments.

Note: Queen’s University, Belfast receives awards from the Department of Education, Northern Ireland, not from the DfEE

Mary Dykstra Lynch and T.D. Wilson©British Library Board 1997