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Opportunities and education in networked innovation for new graduates with PhDs using open online resources

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - OPENING DOORS (Opportunities and education in networked innovation for new graduates with PhDs using open online resources)

Reporting period: 2021-02-01 to 2022-06-30

A growing discourse on doctoral education suggests that the increasing numbers of PhD graduates cannot find sustainable careers in academia and are ill-prepared for careers outside of academia. It has been said that PhD education engenders deep specialisation in narrow subject matters, rather than fostering big thinkers and creative problem-solvers - attributes that our society needs (Bosch, 2018). The globalisation and digitalisation of our world creates an apparent need to incentivise doctoral students and supervisors to engage with other knowledge creators and consumers, not only within their discipline, but also across other disciplines and sectors to have real societal and economic impact. In our “networked” world, open science and open innovation are becoming increasingly important so that knowledge can be accessible and shared, transparent, reproducible and can be challenged, not just by researchers, but by diverse stakeholders beyond academia. However, learning opportunities for PhD researchers in this regard are not widely available.

OPENING DOORS objectives were to: 1) identify the graduate skills that are valued in open innovation systems through interviews with employers, PhD graduates and educators 2) co-design an educational course for PhD and postdoctoral researchers in collaboration with academic and non-academic stakeholders, using real-world challenges as the basis of collaborative learning 3) enable students to manage interdisciplinary, intersectoral and international connectivity through an open, online learning environment.

We conclude that adopting a consultative and co-design approach where key stakeholders are identified and engaged with in several ways led to a fit-for-purpose learning opportunity for PhD researchers that provided them with a novel and highly valued learning experience. Course participants considered their graduate careers in a new light with many taking concrete steps to seek internships and networking opportunities for future employment. Working in teams on interdisciplinary solutions for “real-world” problems provided by external organisations was a particularly challenging but rewarding experience for participants, underpinned by new skills in shared cognition and effective communication.
Work Package 1 (Skills Intelligence) sought to understand the competencies that are valued by those who employ PhD graduates and PhD graduates themselves, based in both academic and non-academic knowledge networks. The perspectives of doctoral education developers on what they perceive to be valuable competencies were also included. Communication at all levels i.e. both within and between scientific disciplines, across sectors, communication of value and communication with lay audiences was considered to be a critical graduate skill. The practical application of research skills was also seen to be a valuable competence, requiring a person to apply appropriate research methods while also taking into account short timelines and the usefulness, usability and economic viability of research outputs. Open Science tools that support open innovation networks were also seen to be valuable.

Work Package 2 (Curriculum Co-design) employed an online “world-café” format where stakeholders came together for a structured workshop to seed a curriculum that would develop the skills profile identified in WP1. The course title and learning objectives, the high-level content and the technical requirements for the online learning environment were subsequently drafted by the consortium, before being reviewed by industry stakeholders to ensure that the topics covered were relevant to potential employment in non-academic sectors. The course was entitled, “Opening Your Research to Collaborative Futures” and the learning outcomes focused on building awareness and practice of open science and open innovation frameworks and tools; designing and implementing interdisciplinary, intersectoral challenge-based projects; communication and opening one’s research up to others; career planning.

Work Package 3 (Deliver and Evaluate) - ensured that a) the online learning environment was technically robust and easy to use, and that b) the content and pedagogy mapped well to the learning objectives and the teaching philosophy. Course participants who participated in the course evaluation submitted pre-post standardised questionnaires on problem solving and intercultural sensitivity, a self-assessment of open science knowledge and attitudes and written reflections on their personal learning journey, along with entry and exit interviews. The course was approved as a 10 ECTS, level 5 (doctoral) course at UCD. Thematic analysis of qualitative data identified that:
1. Diverse learner motivations and backgrounds were catered for through a multifaceted course
2. Collaborative opportunities are sought out by PhD researchers, who experience interdisciplinary, intersectoral team science as both challenging and valuable
3. Open Science and Open Innovation skills learned on the course were “transferred” to real world situations e.g. career planning and knowledge sharing.

Work Package 4 (Sustainability & Dissemination) transformed the online learning environment into an open, stand-alone educational resource for self-guided education in open science and open innovation: Some of the students self-organised into a small group to create further online PhD education in open science. They named this project “Agape” which focuses more on practical research tools and approaches in Open Science. With another EU funded project, CHAMELEONS, we hosted a 2-day conference at UCD entitled, “Innovations in Doctoral Education” which was open to the academic community and the general public.
An open, online educational resource for PhD researchers was informed by extensive stakeholder engagement and a co-design process. This ensures that the content and pedagogy is relevant for PhD researchers and graduates who will go on to secure employment in dynamic knowledge networks, which is a novel contribution to this field. A talented and innovative international group of students were brought together through the “Opening Your Research to Collaborative Futures” course and were supported in their collective efforts to design further education in Open Science for PhD students, through their project “Agape”, thus continuing to fill gaps in doctoral education, as identified by them.

We can say based on our evidence that the PhD researchers who were involved in OPENING DOORS enriched and broadened their perspectives in relation to open science and open innovation. The collaborative spaces and skills that were created for and by them through the “Opening Your Research” course, enabled them to create new networks and to connect with existing networks. This new capacity has led to the creation of a larger, more inclusive community which will shape new educational practices. This will be achieved through the creation of further formal and informal educational opportunities that are being disseminated across PhD researcher networks and PhD education developer networks. PhD graduates will be more equipped to apply their unique talents, and their critical and creative thinking skills in non-academic settings where shared cognition and innovation is key to solving the many socio-economic and political problems facing us today.

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