Press Release

European Science Foundation kicks off a new career tracking survey of doctorate holders

Nine European research performing and funding organisations on board


Tuesday 28th March, 2017 – The European Science Foundation (ESF) and its new science services division Science Connect, have launched a new career tracking survey of doctorate holders. The survey has already started, collecting over 1800 responses to date, and it follows a successful pilot survey undertaken in 2015. Its outcomes will be released in June 2017. 

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This is a retrospective cross-sectional survey of doctorate graduates from 2010-2016, affiliated to the participating organisations (below), which can be repeated at regular intervals or be a stand-alone project.

The following nine organisations are involved - University of Maastricht, The Netherlands; Technical University of Munich, Germany; Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany; University of Bucharest, Romania; University of Split, Croatia; University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg; Institute of Science and Technology, Austria, and the AXA Research Fund, France.

Universities and non-university-based research performing organisations, as well as research funding organisations all want to understand and document the career trajectories of doctorate holders. This helps them to assess the impact of investment in research career development and to analyse practices aimed at the development of research careers.

Hans Ouwersloot, Project Leader at Maastricht University said,

“Participating in this PhD survey will give Maastricht University an excellent insight in the careers of our PhDs. The outcome of this survey will give us guidance on the things we might need to change to support our PhDs even more in becoming knowledgeable, confident and responsible global citizens, and successful participants in the labour market. This is also an excellent opportunity to compare outcomes among participating institutions.”

While some European universities do track their graduates, much more can be done in a co-ordinated manner. The ESF’s career tracking survey is a step in that direction, building on its long-standing work in supporting research careers.

Some of the participating organisations have already took part in the pilot survey carried out in 2015, and will be able to compare findings with the previous data collection. The questionnaire has a core part common to all organisations, as well as additional organisation-specific modules developed with the participating organisations.

Professor Hans-Joachim Bungartz, Graduate Dean of Technical University of Munich said,

“The Technical University of Munich has reshaped its doctoral education by introducing university-wide programs for transferable and scientific skills training, complementing the individual research of our doctoral candidates in their labs. For more than ten years now we have been enforcing interdisciplinary collaboration and the creation of international networks already on the PhD level. So from the ESF survey we plan to get further insights on how our alumni have benefited from these measures. The experience of the ESF and the joint approach of the survey with its international orientation will help us improve our programs and make our graduates fit for their future careers.”

More concretely, the survey will help understanding of where doctorate holders from the participating organisations moved in their careers: e.g. whether they went for research or non-research careers, whether they are employed or unemployed, or are in permanent or temporary positions.

The survey will also explore their views on whether doctoral training has enabled them to develop towards their desired career goals, within or outside academia, and will help to understand the challanges of the various career paths followed by the doctorate holders. 

Julia Boman, Science Officer responsible for Career Tracking activities at the ESF said,

“In Europe, we need to know whether our research systems and job markets offer sufficient possibilities to realise the full potential of these highly trained individuals. This is all the more so in a general context where numbers of doctorate holders are increasing, in contrast to available jobs within academia. We want to provide reliable figures to our partner organisations about the various career paths of their doctorate graduates, in academia as well as in industry, education, health or public administration”.

The survey builds on the results of the ESF Member Organisation Forum ‘European Alliance on Research Career Development’ (EARCD), and specifically its report ‘Research Careers In and Beyond Europe’  and for the Working Group report ‘How to Track Researchers’ Careers’. It also builds on recommendations by the European Commission’s Expert Group on the Research Profession on ‘Excellence, Equality and Entrepreneurialism’.

In 2015, the ESF ran a pilot study , in which the following organisations took part: the AXA Research Fund, France; the Fonds National de la Recherche, Luxembourg; Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany; the Paul Scherrer Institute, Switzerland, and TDR, the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, a co-sponsored programme of UNICEF, UNDP, the World Bank and WHO. 

ESF Chief Executive, Jean-Claude Worms said,

“We wanted to follow up on the initiatives of the ESF Member Organisation Forum and our first pilot survey, and to further develop this valuable career-tracking instrument together with ESF experts and participating organisations. Europe currently lacks a joint career tracking platform, and this survey offers an attractive bottom-up approach for universities and funding organisations, which is good in terms of economy of scale, flexibility of survey design and data comparability among the participating organisations”.

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