I work a lot with stuck and panicking PhD researchers near the end of their time here, and from them I have some intel to share. Bear in mind then that what follows doesn’t represent an ever so typical experience, but it does represent an important and keenly felt negative experience. One we can all learn from as colleagues in researcher development: be your role full time academic superhero and supervisor, or like mine, a specialist learning and development role, I think this will be relevant to you. Read the rest of this entry »
Dear doctoral supervisor,
“I was blissfully unaware how long it would take me to write up. To be honest I would have preferred a more clear marker from my supervisor, or from the department, saying stop doing experiments now and write! I was expecting someone to say when I had enough data, because I never felt I did, so instead I kept going much longer than I needed in the lab because I didn’t know how much was enough. I feel pretty annoyed about that.”
It’s 246 days until the 31st of October. I mention this date as we have around 1100 third year doctoral students whose theses are due on that date*. With 8 months to go, now is a perfect time to make sure that your thesis writers know it’s time to spend some time each week — an hour a day, every day? — writing. Read the rest of this entry »
Guest post on the University of Edinburgh IAD4RESEARCHERS blog
This is our first guest post on iad4researchers and I’m delighted that Dr Kay Guccione (@kayguccione) at the University of Sheffield took the time to share her perspectives on the valuable role postdocs play in supervision. Unless there are factual errors I won’t be making any edits to our guest posts, so their views are their own.
Postdocs view experience in supervision, teaching and learning as core to scoring that academic career (Akerlind 2005). And post-doctoral research staff are actually very active in teaching and learning*. I believe that post-docs are a really important but often under-recognised group of teachers in research intensive universities. Development of an academic sense of self is in part a result of having the right formal institutional responsibilities and resources (McAlpine et al., 2013) yet, post-docs aren’t often included directly in university Learning & Teaching strategies, or seen as key assets with specific skills, position, and the right experience…
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In May 2016 I posted about the launch of a research project I am collaborating on with Billy Bryan (@BillyB100) looking into perceptions of value in the PhD.
The study has progressed really well over the last 9 months, we have now completed two phases: our survey for current PhD students got 200+ responses, and we also did 22 in depth interviews with PhD graduates across a range of career types.
Analysing all this, we are beginning to characterise and understand some concepts of value that apply to doctoral study, and the factors which affect how value is judged. We wrote about it here in an article for Research Fortnight, which in summary says:
Post-Phd, graduates looking back on their time studying tend to value the professional competencies they gained (e.g. critical decision-making, resilience and negotiation), the friendship and professional networks they built, and their personal capacity to understand the world, far more highly than they value the technical research specialisms they gained. Graduates who had pursued a range of experiences and extracurricular activities perceived they got more value than those who hadn’t, and people keep using their PhD networks to their advantage even after leaving the academy.
Based on these early exciting findings we are adding an additional data collection phase — an online survey for doctoral graduates in all career paths, who are up to 10 years post-PhD — and we would like help circulating the call to participate. Please invite your friends and colleagues.
This new survey asks about value of the doctorate over time since graduation and focuses in on personal accounts of value at work, social value, personal value e.g. how we interact with the big questions, the problems, and challenges we face. The survey link is here and the participant information sheet (showing we have ethical approval) is here.
The survey will take around 10-15 minutes to complete (depending on how much you want to tell us!) and responses will be anonymous so participants cannot be identified.
Ultimately, we hope that the findings of this work will raise awareness of the emerging issues affecting satisfaction with the doctoral learning experience even beyond the PhD. We aim to provide meaningful new guidance and support for students, supervisors, and universities.
Please spread the word and share this post!
About every other day I see a piece on Twitter or a blog, or a similar about attitudes to leaving academia. It’s part of my job to consider these attitudes, especially when they may prevent people from freely accessing events, internships and mentoring designed to broaden researcher career horizons. I wrote about it in this post on silence and stigma in leaving the academy, where I make the point that supervisors and PIs have a responsibility to make sure they don’t prevent people engaging. Read the rest of this entry »
Via twitter (@kayguccione) I came across this anonymous article yesterday. It adds to a growing recent batch of articles in various places about the value of a PhD for life outside the academy. It describes very well the stats on the likelihood of working in academia permanently, and makes a clear call to reposition the doctoral degree as preparation for whatever should come next (like your UG or Masters is), rather than an academic gauntlet to be run where only the fittest (most stubborn, and most burned out) survive. I am all for this, in fact it’s part of the work I do, getting researchers to broaden their awareness of careers beyond academia — see v i s t a, and v i s t a mentoring (alternatives are available in other institutions). However, yesterday’s article offers the opinion that people aren’t talking about this issue, describing a “universal silence on non-academic career options.” Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been working as an insider in research and academic staff mentoring programmes for a good fair bit now, and I’ve tried to anchor my work in the idea that mentoring is for any and all people who see a benefit to being part of the programme. There are also people for whom mentoring is not the right approach right now: perhaps it’s not the right time, maybe they haven’t got enough time to dedicate to such an involved form of development, or maybe they need a more specialist conversation (e.g. specific funding expertise, english language support, software training, careers service consultation, disability services, counselling services, HR specialists, occupational health etc). It’s my job to facilitate this understanding, and to signpost to alternative/complementary services.
Not signing up to the mentoring programme is therefore ok with me. Similarly I count it as a positive outcome if a potential mentee changes their mind after attending the induction session and decides that mentoring is just not what they thought, or not for them. Properly engaging people in their development is not about coercing them. No-one needs to be guilted into 3-6h critical career evaluation over a 6 month period. Read the rest of this entry »
Through my thesis mentoring work, PhD supervisors write to me most weeks and ask — with varying tones of enthusiasm and frustration —
“how can I support/encourage/motivate/force my student to get their thesis written?”
I tailor my reply to the cues I pick up from the emails, the context, timing, relational aspects. I ask for more detail about what’s been happening. Sometimes I coach the supervisor, sometimes I coach the student. Read the rest of this entry »
My usual thesis banter is all about how to start writing. But in order to get it submitted at some point you have to stop.
Lots of you will have hard deadlines to meet and be beavering away towards them. I hear sometimes though a variation on “…but I want to be finished way before that.” There can be flexibility in any self-imposed deadline that allows you to slide it back if you want to. Beware this tendency to drag the process on longer and longer and if you can, force an end by planning a ‘full stop’ point. Maybe plan a holiday, or agree a job start date that requires you to have finished your thesis. It’s hard to write and fully commit to your work in a new role, as many people who are juggling a full time job and thesis writing will echo.
As you come towards the end, keep your mind on being done, and remind yourself: Read the rest of this entry »
Below, and here, are two stories of PhD study from researchers who combined work and a PhD. While both are positive accounts, there are some differences, for example, working as a practitioner in the same field as you study, or working on multiple research projects including the PhD. What both have spoken of though is:
- Perspective: the PT PhD as one aspect, albeit important, of who they are and their career portfolio. This helps to maintain momentum, and enthusiasm, and avoids becoming entrenched in the idea of the perfect PhD.
- Complementary: Working and studying within the same topic areas, or having insight into the research culture and university workings, all useful things in navigating PhD progression.
- Process not product: seeing the PhD as a learning and growth opportunity, and slowly building skills and experiences towards the next step.
I hope you enjoy them both, there are some good ideas here for full time PhD students too.
This piece is from Samuel Dent (@SRDent89), a researcher in Higher Education, at Sheffield Hallam University.
My PhD topic area is based in my experiences of working on the front line of University Student Support. Each March I’d brace for impact as swathes of 20/21-year-olds about to graduate would come to see me; exhausted/tempted to withdraw, and questioning the purpose of their entire education. At this point in the year most graduate recruitment schemes had announced their new recruits, and inevitably some students didn’t make the cut. For many of these students this was the first time they had realized that beginning their career would not be straightforward, and that being successful had not come easy this time.