Next-gen PhDs fail to find Web 2.0's 'on-switch'

November 5, 2009

It is counter-intuitive in the extreme, but young researchers are failing to make use of so-called "emergent technology", such as Web 2.0 tools, to support their work.

A three-year study by the British Library, Researchers of Tomorrow, is tracking the research behaviour of doctoral students born between 1982 and 1994 - dubbed "Generation Y".

The results are being compared with a wider analysis of the behaviour of 6,500 doctoral students of all ages.

Interim results, released to Times Higher Education, show that only a small proportion of those surveyed are using technology such as virtual-research environments, social bookmarking, data and text mining, wikis, blogs and RSS-feed alerts in their work. This contrasts with the fact that many respondents professed to finding technological tools valuable.

Just under half of those polled used RSS feeds and only about 10 per cent used social bookmarking, with Generation Y students exhibiting the same behaviour as other age groups.

Joanna Newman, the British Library's head of higher education, said: "It's perhaps surprising that so few researchers in the 21- age group really use the wide range of Web 2.0 applications for research or collaborative working."

The study also shows that when it comes to getting help with the tools, Generation Y students are likely to turn to their peers or supervisors rather than library staff. Dr Newman said this could suggest that library professionals need to rethink their work in this area.

The study found that Google and Google Scholar are the main sources used by doctoral students to locate information; that only about half have been trained to find journal articles; and that far fewer have received any training in using more advanced technological research tools, such as e-research.

The project is based on a longitudinal study of 70 full-time Generation Y doctoral students, plus two annual research surveys of PhD students across all age groups. The interim findings are taken from the first of these surveys.

Editor's Note

We are happy to clarify that the report, Researchers of Tomorrow, was jointly funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee.

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