There was a time not too long ago when introductory PhD training could amount to giving a new research student a pile of academic papers and an empty office and telling them to come back in three months. Grants, meanwhile, were pitifully small and academic career prospects depressingly poor. But our survey with the National Postgraduate Committee, on the eve of the NPC's annual conference this week, suggests that supervision of PhD students is now far more sophisticated in universities.
The 200-plus responses show that research students are generally a happy lot. Most rated their supervision extremely highly: the average score was seven out of ten for their academic managers.
The students were also fairly content with levels of funding, which have drastically improved in recent years. Two thirds, meanwhile, said they planned to go into academic careers.
It is this last result that remains the fly in the ointment for research postgraduates. Despite the continuing expansion of the academic sector, there remain concerns that fewer home-grown PhD students will be taken on by university departments, which are growing increasingly dependent on foreign talent. Ironically, improved academic salaries in the UK may only further intensify the outside competition for jobs.