Fostering young scholars for the vocational education and training of the future

The BIBB Graduate Programme

Judith Offerhaus

With its Graduate Programme, the BIBB is setting new standards in qualifying young scholars in vocational educational and training research. There are various possibilities of conducting doctoral research at this Federal Institute. The doctoral candidates research various current topics of vocational education and training; the Graduate Programme supports them through advice and consultation as well as a curriculum. This report outlines the goals, structure and current state of the BIBB Graduate Programme.

Young scholars in vocational education and training research

Researching current topics in vocational education and training (VET) that are of practical relevance is part of the BIBB’s statutory remit. Systematically offering support and training to young scholars is one of the general challenges in research. The BIBB Graduate Programme enables young researchers to develop their potential while further building the institute’s research capacity and expertise. The BIBB benefits from the innovative research ideas and approaches of the doctoral candidates; while doctoral researchers benefit from the BIBB’s status as a departmental research institute that provides access to the field and to current data for VET research. Thus, young scholars are able to address specific VET topics in a more detailed way. Moreover, within the Graduate Programme, they become acquainted with the different disciplines that address VET questions and conduct VET research, which allows them to engage in an interdisciplinary discourse. This multidisciplinary discussion about theoretical and methodological questions expands and enriches the understanding of VET for both young researchers and BIBB staff members alike.

The concept for the BIBB Graduate Programme was prompted by the 2017/2018 evaluation by the German Council of Science and Humanities and developed within the scope of the BIBB’s strategic restructuring. The programme is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and is part of the Business Division headed by the Director of Research. Since its approval in 2019, the programme is being set into action step-by-step. The Head of the Graduate Programme took office in February 2020 to assume lead management responsibility for the structure of the programme and its ongoing implementation. She is supported in her work by various units at the BIBB, in particular by the Staff Department for Human Resources Development and the Research Data Centre.

With the Graduate Programme, the BIBB is taking an active role in delivering high-quality doctoral education to excellent researchers at different stages of their academic careers. The programme will provide permanent funding for 22 doctoral and three post-doctoral positions. Furthermore, funding is available for junior professorships, which are jointly appointed with universities (currently, the BIBB is working with the Technical University of Kaiserslautern and with the Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of Cologne).

Different opportunities for doctoral research at the BIBB

Figure: Possibilities of doctoral research at the BIBB Foto-Download (Bild, 588 KB)

Research at the BIBB aims at producing scientific evidence in the field of VET on the one hand, while providing evidence-based consulting to VET practitioners and policy-makers on the other. Research and research services are generated in different units of the BIBB, and are pooled in so-called topic clusters that span across different departments and divisions (see Info Box). Large research projects and the themes of the clusters are defined in the BIBB’s medium-term research planning, and are supplemented by an annual research programme consisting of smaller projects on current topics. Moreover, research is an integral part of the BIBB’s permanent tasks, for instance regular data collection and surveys as well as monitoring projects. This allows for various modes of doctoral research at the BIBB (see Figure).

Doctoral research within large research projects. In order to concentrate on relevant VET-related questions, the large-scale research projects in the topic clusters that are outlined in the medium-term research planning have been equipped with six doctoral positions. Thus, doctoral candidates become familiar with working in complex projects and are able to align their dissertation research closely to the project at hand.

Doctoral research within the permanent tasks. Ten doctoral positions were created within the permanent tasks to increase the overall research capacity at the BIBB. As part of the permanent tasks (such as data collection for the BIBB Establishment Panel on Qualification and Competence Development), doctoral students have the opportunity to create their own projects to investigate current issues of practical relevance.

Doctoral research within junior research groups. Young scholars that have already obtained their PhD (post-docs) are given the chance to implement their own broader research programmes that have a high degree of practical relevance. The junior research group leaders are in charge of developing the thematic focus and conducting various sub-projects, and are responsible for supervising two doctoral researchers that investigate closely related topics themselves. Junior research groups are embedded within the broad themes of the topic clusters and collaborate with the researchers therein. Also, junior research groups aim at establishing and further developing cooperations with different universities.

In addition to the doctoral positions that are funded as part of the Graduate Programme, currently twelve other staff members are pursuing a PhD alongside their usual work duties at the BIBB, for instance in the Research Data Centre or in third-party funded projects. All doctoral candidates are affiliated to universities in Germany and other European countries, which in turn enables the BIBB to strengthen its ties to universities and extend opportunities for cooperation.

Cross-cutting organisation of topic clusters at BIBB

  • Digital transformations
  • Company decisions and actions
  • Vocational learning
  • Vocational orientation and transitions
  • Occupational segmentation in training
  • Regulation-related structuring and governance of vocational education and training 

For further information, please visit: www.bibb.de/de/26871.php

The graduate training programme as a foundation for successful doctoral studies

Excellent graduate education not only needs excellent young scholars but specifically an adequate support structure and training programme. In order to prepare doctoral candidates for a career in academic research or other knowledge-intensive areas, the Graduate Programme developed a curriculum that transfers both specific and transferable skills, which is now being implemented gradually. The core curricular elements are training in advanced research methods (such as causal inference, the topic of the first course held within the Graduate Programme), courses related to the multidisciplinary perspectives on VET research, academic writing, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and good scientific practice. Equally important are courses imparting soft skills and on personality development, where the Graduate Programme can benefit from the extensive (internal) training programme offered by the BIBB. Here, doctoral candidates can attend, for example, courses on time management and planning techniques for their doctoral studies; they may also complete conflict management or resilience training. At a departmental research institute such as the BIBB, the transfer of research results to policy and practice is particularly important; therefore, doctoral researchers need to be explicitly made aware of and trained in knowledge transfer. An individual training plan is developed for each doctoral candidate that combines requirements of the BIBB curriculum with those of the respective university; it is also tailored to the specific needs and prerequisites of the candidates themselves.

The Graduate Programme also provides BIBB-internal networking opportunities by its monthly colloquium (currently virtual due to the pandemic). Here, doctoral researchers present and discuss project ideas, research results or draft journal articles. Furthermore, the Graduate Programme fosters networking within the broader scientific community: doctoral researchers participate in national and international workshops and conferences and are encouraged to present their own research findings.

Furthermore, the Graduate Programme offers extensive advice and consultation on various topics that are important during different phases of doctoral research; these include, for instance, the selection of an appropriate supervisor at a university, the feasibility of the doctoral project or publication strategies.
All BIBB staff that pursues doctoral studies can benefit from the offers and services of the Graduate Programme. The active involvement of all facilitates multiple opportunities for networking and helps to build in each an identity as a BIBB PhD researcher.

Doctoral research projects

A broad range of VET-related topics is addressed within numerous doctoral research projects at the BIBB. As the young researchers originate from different disciplines (education sciences, sociology, psychology, economics, and even computer linguistics and ethology), they bring their own disciplinary perspectives on VET and are thus able to contribute to a broader understanding and VET research. The dissertation projects address questions related to topics of, for instance, vocational orientation, training decisions, recruitment strategies, competence development and diagnostics, and work organisation in general. As for more specific examples, doctoral students are investigating the role of humour in training, the changing requirement profiles in job advertisements, the causes and consequences of work addiction and digital stress, or the use of social media in VET research. The first junior research group is focussing on (infra-)structure and segmentation processes in training.

The BIBB is already benefitting from the Graduate Programme, be it through larger research teams through the addition of young scholars or by increased intra-institutional exchange, discussions and networking. It is exciting to see how the Graduate Programme will have long-term and long-lasting effects on VET research and practice.

For more information on the BIBB Graduate Programme, please visit: 

The infographic is available for download at: www.bwp-zeitschrift.de/en/bwp.php/en/bwp/grafik/482

Head of the BIBB Graduate Programme


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2021)