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Mapping the needs of a generation

Mapping the needs of a generation


Emerging findings from a major three-year research study into the
information-seeking behaviour of doctoral students have highlighted the need
for far greater understanding of the generation born between 1982 and 1994 –
commonly dubbed Generation Y.

Researchers of Tomorrow was commissioned by the British Library and JISC to
establish a benchmark for research behaviour, against which future
generations can be measured – and also to provide guidance for librarians
and information specialists on how best to meet the research needs of
Generation Y scholars.

Earlier this year 70 full-time doctoral students at UK colleges and
universities were recruited for a longitudinal study of their research
habits during the course of the next three years. The study will investigate
their research habits in digital and physical environments, as well as their
use of resources both off- and online.

The longitudinal study will be supported by a number of surveys to establish
the wider context of the doctoral research landscape. The first of these
surveys has just been completed; it surveyed a representative sample of all
doctoral students in the UK and yielded a number of significant interim
findings.

•             Information format. Three quarters of Generation Y students –
more than those in any other age group – found the information they sought
in an e-journal article.

•             Emergent technology

Only a small proportion of respondents (10-30%) in any age group say they
use ‘emergent technology’ – such as wikis, virtual research environments,
social networking and other Web 2.0 applications – in their research, Of
those that do use them, more generally find them useful in their research
than not.

•             Help and advice

Fewer Generation Y students than other age groups say they regularly use
library staff support to find research resources (11% of Generation Y
compared to an average of 17% for other age groups), or take advice from
subject specialist librarians (4% compared to 9% average). More Generation Y
respondents (46%) than any other age group turn to their fellow students
and/or supervisors for support in using emergent technologies.

•             Location of work

Compared to other age groups, more Generation Y researchers work from a
dedicated or shared office space (or laboratory or studio) (40%), than work
from their own home (39%).

See <http://www.researchersoftomorrow.net> for more findings.

68 colleges and universities around the UK collaborated with the
distribution of the wider ‘context-setting’ survey, and a total of 6562
questionnaires were returned. This excellent response rate provides a
detailed and nation-wide snapshot of doctoral research across all types of
education providers.

Joanna Newman, the British Library’s Head of Higher Education, said, “The
interim findings of the Researchers of Tomorrow study provide a fascinating
snapshot of current research behaviour of doctoral students. It’s perhaps
surprising that so few researchers in the 21-27 range really use the wide
range of Web 2.0 applications for research or collaborative working. And
when it comes to emergent technology, they’re more likely to seek the advice
of their peers or supervisors than librarians or information specialists – a
finding that could suggest a need for professionals to rethink how best to
deliver advice and support in this area.”

Charles Hutchings, JISC’s market research manager, said, “Of those students
who have used advanced technologies in their research 27 per cent have
received no advice or guidance at all or they self-help for instance using
online guides and manuals. This could be because these technologies are
being underused and undervalued, due to a lack of understanding of the
benefit they can deliver during the research process. As the study continues
it will be interesting to see if this is true.”

The study is being conducted by Education for Change, in association with
The Research Partnership, and builds on the study by CIBER of the ‘Google
Generation’, which was published by the British Library and JISC in January
2008.

Joanna Newman concluded: “Although it’s still early days with this project,
we’re already uncovering some fascinating detail about how doctoral research
behaviours are evolving – some of which throw into question some of the key
assumptions often made about Generation Y in particular. The three-year
longitudinal study that began this September will add much concrete detail
to our understanding of researchers’ changing needs and, once complete, will
help inform and guide research support over the coming decade.”

Find out more at <http://www.researchersoftomorrow.net>

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