The 24th of January is the International Day of Education (A/RES/73/25), and as from Eurodoc, we, of course, think this is a good opportunity to focus on doctoral education and specifically why quality assurance of doctoral education is important.
In the Bologna system, doctoral education is also called the third cycle of education. This is the highest level of formal education available. Those who embark on it are called doctoral candidates. Doctoral candidates are in a remarkably different position with respect to students of the first and second circles, as their learning process is heavily focused on doing research work. This, along with their already high qualifications, makes them professionals.
People holding a doctoral degree can follow a variety of different career paths, and one of them is the academic one. Some of the doctoral candidates of today will be university professors tomorrow. They will hold the responsibility of training and educating students. For this, the conversation about doctoral education is a broad one. It extends to the quality of the education infrastructure of the higher education sector of the future. But to assess the quality of doctoral education, we have to be able to define what it is and what skills and competencies.
If we move outside of the academic circles and ask what a doctoral degree (PhD or equivalent) is, then the chances are that we will get an answer along the lines of “someone with a doctoral degree can do research.” This is, of course, correct, but it is only part of the answer. During your time as a doctoral candidate, you do research, but this entails more than the mere act of doing it. Sometimes, instead, you get a reply along the lines of “a field expert.” This is also only partly true. In doctoral training, you acquire skills far beyond your narrow field, including a deeper understanding of what constitutes scientific knowledge, how it is formed, and how it can be applied.
Much of the research that is carried out today is carried out by doctoral candidates and other early career researchers, whether it is in the lab, in the field, or in the archives. Yet, academia is not always good at acknowledging this, and the contributions of early career researchers can even sometimes be downplayed or outright dismissed in public. There is no doubt that this is wrong, academic theft is never okay, and it can severely affect an individual's career even if they graduate. But, it also highlights how academia misses a golden opportunity of strengthening the role of research in society. Research, as a whole, is hopefully stronger and more trustworthy the more who contribute to it. Acknowledging the contributions of doctoral candidates does not take anything away from other researchers; if it does anything, it strengthens the role that research plays in society both as a knowledge-producing activity and as societal competence enhancement.
In general, acknowledging and specifying the contributions of doctoral candidates throughout their training is needed. Being a doctoral candidate is in itself a precarious situation, but by highlighting the skills and contributions of doctoral candidates, we can make it less so. But to do so, we have to be better at answering the questions of what a doctorate is and what those with a doctoral degree can do.
This is why this year, in the doctoral training working group, we are focusing on defining what a doctorate is. This includes questions of quality assurance in doctoral education, pinning down what makes it so different from a master's education, and looking at what skills doctoral candidates acquire. This, of course, also entails the role of the doctoral candidate as a professional and their independence and autonomy in their learning process.
If you think these questions sound interesting or think we forgot something important, we highly recommend that you join us at our next meeting on the
You can find more information about the working group and how to sign up for it on the Eurodoc website.
This piece was written by