The Effective Researcher – The middle years

The middle years of a PhD?
The middle years of a PhD?

This week we ran a workshop entitled “The effective researcher- the middle years”. This is a workshop aimed at those who are midway through their doctoral degrees and are looking for reassurance and guidance about how to keep things on track. It is well known among PhDers that there is a period of difficulty – some will call it the second year slump, others give it the nom de plume of “The Valley of Shit” – where progress is hard to come by, perspective falls by the wayside where it’s easy to question why you thought it was a good idea to sign up to undertake a research degree. Most people I know who have finished a doctorate will tell you that this is part and parcel, goes with the territory and so on. But should it be and how to break out of the funk?

I set out in this workshop to discuss some strategies to aid researchers in navigating this difficult period, to allay some fears and offer the chance for folks to connect with each other. What was surprising about this workshop (and maybe the title had something to do with it?) was that all of the attendees were part time doctoral students.

Here’s the slides I used to support the session with acknowledgement to Dave Filopovic-Carter (Dave F-C to most of us!) who compiled most of the materials used.

One of the most pressing problems for doctoral students is understanding what the standard to be achieved is. One way of articulating this is to familiarise oneself with the Doctoral Descriptors. UWE has its own (derived directly from the QAA descriptors) which I’ve embedded below:

A further issue for doctoral students in the middle years is the feeling of disconnectedness, an inability to see how the various strands of an often messy research project fit together to make a coherent argument from an individual perspective; to make your thesis clear. This is quite neatly summarised in the work that Professor Gina Wisker presented at UWE on conceptual thresholds and learning leaps in doctoral study.

Doctoral students in the middle years also feel like they are not progressing, either intellectually or research outputs (or outcomes?). This is why I believe it is important for researchers to be given the time and space to reflect on how much they have developed since starting the journey. Participants who come to the UWE residential gradschools (which we run in Buckland Hall in the Brecon Beacons) report back how useful it was to reflect on just how much one develops throughout this process.

Vitae have developed a framework for researchers to map out their development that places a focus on the knowledge, behaviours, attributes and competencies that make for successful researchers. There’s more info on that framework below.

Useful links

The UWE Graduate School website

Vitae (Researcher Development) website for postgraduate researchers

Vitae Researcher Development Framework and planner (a PDP online application)*

*if you want to sign up to this as a UWE researcher then get in touch 

General Researcher Skills

Paul Spencer View All →

I'm a former researcher into the microbiology of the mouth who now runs a skills development programme for other researchers.

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