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Disciplinary differences in doctoral student engagement in generic skills learning

Yusuke Sakurai (Ochanomizu University, Tokyo, Japan)
Kirsi Pyhältö (The Centre for University Teaching and Learning, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 17 May 2021

Issue publication date: 2 August 2021




This study aims to explore the disciplinary characteristics of doctoral students’ generic skills learning experience at a Finnish university.


An online survey measuring doctoral students’ generic skills learning experience was administered to all doctoral students of the university and 1,184 responses were obtained. The study conducted exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, principal component analysis and heatmap analyses.


The results suggested three major trends. First, students’ scores for research integrity skills were consistently lower in the hard sciences, such as biological and environmental sciences, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, science and medicine. Second, students of the law showed a unique trend; their scores for research integrity, leadership and entrepreneurship skills learning were remarkably higher than those in other faculties, but they had the lowest scores for communication skills.

Research limitations/implications

The data represented students at one Finnish university, so institutional and geographical differences fell beyond the scope of this paper. Furthermore, the results could reflect either the authentic levels of students’ acquired skillsets or self-interpretation of experiences governed by their disciplinary values. Accordingly, the immediate generalisability of the findings to individuals and different contexts should carefully be considered.


The findings can contribute to improve doctoral training practices. In addition, the survey results are useful for the further development of inventories, as doctoral students’ engagement in generic skills development has been attracting attention in higher education.



The authors have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this article.


Sakurai, Y. and Pyhältö, K. (2021), "Disciplinary differences in doctoral student engagement in generic skills learning", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 230-246.



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