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Digital Outlook of Russian Scientists

Experts at the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge found out to what extent modern digital technologies have taken over the activities of Russian PhD holders.

Printed version (in Russian)

In 2017, a survey was conducted with more than two thousand doctorate degree holders, representing all fields of science, and employed by the academic sector (research institutes and universities), as well as by industrial organisations or services. Respondents were asked about their familiarity with the most common digital technologies1.

Being skilled in information technology includes a variety of different skills: from managing basic office programs to applying the latest digital tools, from purely theoretical knowledge to everyday practical use.

Among the surveyed PhD holders, 85% reported that they regularly use computers and the Internet, another 10% use them periodically. The cases when doctorates almost never work with a computer are isolated (they are usually senior and middle aged employees; most of them are employed by universities). 48% of respondents regularly collect and process data using information technology, and 33% — occasionally.

As for advanced digital skills, the respondents reported that they have heard about many technologies, but the range of their practical use is still very limited.

Guidance in the current digital agenda

Level of awareness of Russian PhD holders about the latest digital terminology is showed in Fig. 1 (share of respondents who indicated that they are familiar with the term). The data are presented both on average for the sample and by types of organisations.

The only term that is familiar to more than half of respondents (57%) is Big Data Analysis. Including it, the top 5 digital terms are Machine Learning, User Interface Design, Data Mining, Cloud and Distributed Computing.

The employees of research institutes are the most aware of modern IT-technologies (for most terms, the awareness in research institutes is higher than in universities and non-academic organisations). Young scientists are also more familiar with the digital terminology: the difference in the level of knowledge between the group aged under 29 and the average level across the sample for certain technologies reaches 10–15%. For example, 60% of young scientists are aware of the term Data Mining (compared with 43.7% on average).

From the point of view of research field, the most advanced digital users are those who specialized in natural sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences, and mathematics; PhD holders in agriculture are the least informed.

There are no significant differences in the digital horizon scope between professionals and managers on the terms above.

The difference between those who are actively involved in research and development, and those whose responsibilities do not include research functions is much greater: for example, the term Big Data Analysis is familiar to 59% of researchers and while only to 43% of non-researchers.

Use of advanced digital skills in practice

1 of 3 PhD holders applies Big Data Analysis at least occasionally. Data Mining and Text Mining are used only by every fourth and every fifth scientist, respectively. Only 13.9% of the respondents deal with Structured or Non Structured Query Language (SQL or NoSQL). This comparison indicates noticeable discrepancy between knowledge about digital technologies and the experience of their actual use.

About 40% of PhD holders are aware of Neural Networks, but only 14.4% of all respondents actually use them.

Fig. 2 shows data on the use of certain digital technologies (among those who know the listed terms).

The use of particular digital technologies varies according to the type of organisation: User Interface Design is more often practiced outside the academic sector, while Big Data Analysis and Machine Learning are more actively used by PhD holders employed in research institutes and universities (Fig. 3). The biggest number of employees who deal with Mobile Application Development appeared in the research Institutes.

The results of the survey showed that less than half of the PhD holders are aware of modern digital technologies, except for Big Data Analysis. The share of scientists who at least sometimes apply modern digital tools to their work is even smaller (10–30%). The youngest PhD holders, as expected, have a better awareness of digital terminology, but if the middle-aged and senior respondents are familiar with some digital tools, they are more likely to use them in practice.

1. The list of digital technologies most frequently mentioned in the publication of scientific and professional media, formed using the HSE ISSEK Intellectual Foresight Analytics (iFORA).

Sources: Data from the specialized survey carried out in 2017 by the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies 'Monitoring survey on behavior of actors of innovation: scientific organisations and highly qualified R&D personnel'.

The information was presented by Natalia ShmatkoGalina Volkova

'Science, Technology and Innovations' series