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Developing early stage researchers: Employability perceptions of social science doctoral candidates

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Purpose ‐ Employability has been the focus of much activity at both research and policy levels within higher education. Initially focused primarily on undergraduate students, in the past few years this area has broadened to include the employability of doctoral candidates discussed within a larger debate on development of researchers. Despite a strong focus on this aspect of researcher development, discourse in this area still lacks evidence of the views of postgraduate researchers themselves on the issues of employability. In an attempt to address this gap, this paper seeks to explore the perceptions of social science doctoral candidates on a range of employability-related issues. Design/methodology/approach ‐ Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 full-time doctoral candidates in different social science disciplines at a single UK university. Findings ‐ The paper presents the views of social science doctoral candidates on three aspects of employability: the concept of employability and its meaning for doctoral candidates; the way they perceive their own employability skills, knowledge and attitudes; and their awareness of labour market requirements. The study highlights the importance of original motivations, goals and expectations of doctoral candidates related to doing a PhD degree with their perceptions of employability and the skills, knowledge and attitudes they expect to develop. Originality/value ‐ The current paper helps to shed light on the ways doctoral candidates perceive employability and identify the gaps in their awareness of the skills, knowledge and attributes required by the labour market. Addressing an important aspect of doctoral education related to development of employability, the paper argues that in order for the researcher development initiatives to be successful there is a need to account for the role of "personal", namely motivations, intentions and views of the participants of the learning process.
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Keywords: Doctoral candidates; Employability; Higher education; Labour market; Research work; Researcher development; Social sciences; United Kingdom

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 18, 2012

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