The ESRC is embarking on a comprehensive examination of the UK social science PhD. The focus is on the capabilities needed by social science graduates to ensure their contribution to research and their global competitiveness, and the optimum ways to develop them. The findings of this review will directly inform the ESRC’s strategy for doctoral training and for recommissioning our Doctoral Training Partnerships in 2021/22. More broadly as a constituent part of UKRI the findings will contribute to wider discussions on the development of doctoral training across Councils as part of the UKRI Talent Strategy. Findings will also be of benefit to the sector more broadly.

A key driver for the review is the changing research landscape. While there is no less need for deep expertise within fields of social science, there is also a growing amount of research grant funding that emphasises challenge-led research that requires collaboration across traditional disciplinary and professional boundaries, and that requires engagement with users in government, business and the voluntary sector.  In addition, our Delivery Plan highlights how social scientists will increasingly need to work with new forms of data, or use traditional forms of data in different ways, employing innovative methods to transform what is known about society and the economy. In all cases, it will continue to be vital that this work is underpinned by rigorous research designs. We need to ensure that we nurture skills to work with the demands of new data, develop skills for team-orientated and interdisciplinary research environments and enhance the capabilities required by the next generation of employers.

We will be building a robust evidence base for ESRC (and also ROs and other social science doctoral funders) regarding the state of the art for social science doctorates in terms of length, structure and training content, specifically in relation to:

  • The skills needed by future social scientists
  • The optimum structures and content for social science PhDs
  • Areas where our current approach is working well
  • Areas within which revisions to our current requirements would be beneficial

The review will start in January 2020 and report in summer 2021. A Steering Group has been established to provide expert advice to the ESRC during the review and oversee the work of the external consultants. The Group is chaired by Professor Kathy Rastle, Royal Holloway University, and comprises members from across the sector and from major employers. Stakeholder engagement is a critical component of the review and if you are interested in getting involved, please contact