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Doctoral training centres put too many eggs in too few baskets

A structured approach to postgraduate training works well for applied problems, but risks undermining fundamental research, says James Hutchinson.

Before 2000, UK research councils’ PhD studentships came largely in two flavours: provided directly to a researcher as part of a project grant, or to a university for distribution according to its strategic priorities. In the mid-2000s, however, the country’s primary funder of physical sciences, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, began experimenting with a new way of delivering studentships: doctoral training centres.

DTCs created a far more structured PhD studentship. Ten or more students are brought together into a year group. After a year of taught courses and training in soft skills such as networking, communication and career management, they embark on a more traditional research-based PhD for three years.

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