Supporting the Professional and Career Development of Doctoral Students: History
Please note this is an old version of this entry, which may differ significantly from the current revision.

A doctoral student is someone studying for a doctoral degree, which is generally considered to be the highest academic qualification a university can award. The student develops research experience, while making an in-depth and original contribution to knowledge. They are supervised by university staff members (usually there are two, or a small panel) who train, mentor, and support the doctoral student. Professional and career development refers to support that helps students to not only grow as individuals and independent researchers, but to also have the option to successfully pursue either academic or non-academic roles after graduation. While this entry considers some international contexts, it is particularly oriented to the United Kingdom (UK) model, and to the most common doctoral degree, the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

  • doctoral student
  • supervision
  • professional development
  • employability
  • career
  • networking
  • publishing
  • internships
  • industry collaborations
  • teaching
Historically, doctoral degrees were undertaken by students wishing to develop a career in academia, following the so-called apprenticeship model [1]. They still often remain a requirement for those who wish to rise up the university promotions ladder. However, since the 2000s, there has been a change in the way doctorates are perceived. Countries globally, realising the importance of research innovation to their development goals, began promoting doctorates through education, research, or labour market policies [2]. A few countries, such as Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil, offered no-fee or reduced-fee doctorates regardless of nationality [3]. Diverse new fellowships, living cost stipends, and other funding opportunities were created in most countries, and this is the main model followed in the United Kingdom (UK). For some, this model has provided both a possible route into academia, and a way of deferring career decisions whilst having a small income. Many fellowships became institutionalized and, together with the rest of academia, commodified (that is, dominated by economic criteria [4]). Doctorates began to be seen as a pathway to greater earnings outside as well as inside academia, a way of entering the job market at a senior level. This caused a rise in their popularity globally, for example they trebled between 2004 and 2019 in China and almost doubled over this period in the UK [5]. Demand far exceeded the fellowship offerings and increasingly students self-financed.
The subsequent glut in doctorates and simultaneous changes in academia mean doctoral employment advantages are no longer guaranteed. Changes in university governance and funding, rising higher education costs, an expanding emphasis on liaison with industry or government, the increasing ‘internationalisation’ of universities [6], technological advances, the COVID-19 pandemic, and remote conferencing have forced changes in the academic skillset. Formal doctoral training and development programmes evolved to reflect some of these changes [7]. New degree formats such as the ‘professional’, also known as the ‘practice-based’ or ‘practice-led’, doctorate led to the development of taught modules for doctoral students who needed to engage with research methods while concurrently employed in professional occupations.
Whilst doctorates remain a popular route to hoped-for career advancement [8], Human Capital Theory predicts this will only be sustained if the expected benefits exceed the expected costs [9]. According to this theory, doctoral students typically go through a process of weighing up expected benefits, such as a sense of achievement and higher future earnings, against the expected direct costs of living, education, and the income they have potentially foregone while they undertake the degree. Hand in hand with these considerations, there has been a change in doctoral students’ expectations of the training and development they should receive. This needs to encapsulate continuing changes within academia and also consistently give students a competitive edge for careers outside academia. Supervisors, meanwhile, in the commodified academy, are most invested in ensuring the student obtains their doctorate, and their support is shaped by the expectations of university benchmarking and challenging workloads, as encapsulated in the Theory of Job Demands and Available Job Resources [10]. This has the potential to create tension between what the student expects and requires and what the supervisor provides. However, with careful thought, the needs of both can be suitably met. This entry explores the different possibilities.

This entry is adapted from the peer-reviewed paper 10.3390/encyclopedia4010024


  1. Park, C. Redefining the Doctorate; Higher Education Academy: York, UK, 2007.
  2. OECD. OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook 2010; OECD: Washington, DC, USA, 2010.
  3. Bennett, M. PhD Study, for Free?—14 Countries That Charge Very Little (or Nothing!) for Doctoral Degrees. FindaPhD, UK. Available online: (accessed on 30 October 2023).
  4. Radder, H. Introduction. In The Commodification of Academic Research: Science and the Modern University; Radder, H., Ed.; University of Pittsburgh Press: Pittsburgh, PA, USA, 2010; p. 350. ISBN 9780822943969.
  5. Grant, B.; Nerad, M.; Balaban, C.; Deem, R.; Grund, M.; Herman, C.; Mrčela, A.K.; Porter, S.; Rutledge, J.; Strugnell, R. The doctoral-education context in the twenty-first century: Change at every level. In Towards a Global Core Value System in Doctoral Education; Nerad, M., Bogle, D., Kohl, U., O’Carroll, C., Peters, C., Scholz, B., Eds.; UCL Press: London, UK, 2022.
  6. Magyar, A.; Robinson-Pant, A. Special issue on university internationalisation—Towards transformative change in higher education. Internationalising doctoral research: Developing theoretical perspectives on practice. Teach. Teach. 2011, 17, 663–676.
  7. McAlpine, L.; Amundsen, C. Challenging the taken-for-granted: How research analysis might inform pedagogical practices and institutional policies related to doctoral education. Stud. High. Educ. 2012, 37, 667–681.
  8. Hnatkova, E.; Degtyarova, I.; Kersschot, M.; Boman, J. Labour market perspectives for PhD graduates in Europe. Eur. J. Educ. 2022, 57, 395–409.
  9. Ehrenberg, R.G.; Smith, R.S. Investments in Human Capital: Education and Training. Chapter 9. In Modern Labor Economics, 13th ed.; Routledge: London, UK, 2017.
  10. Scheuer, M.L. Linking Abusive Supervision to Engagement and Burnout: An Application of the Differentiated Job Demands-Resource Model (Order No. 3567781). Thesis, 2013. Available from ProQuest Central; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1418272159). Available online: (accessed on 2 November 2023).
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