5 More Tips for Completing your PhD during COVID 19

5 More Tips for Completing your PhD during COVID 19

Following the positive response we received after publishing Emily’s Top 5 Tips on coping with the COVID 19 pandemic while writing your PhD, we asked if she had any more advice to share. She dug deep and came up with five more ideas for you to keep your head while the world spins around you!

Break down your thesis into smaller, more manageable chunks

Break down your thesis into smaller, more manageable chunks that you can test out through conference, seminars, and blog posts. Engaging with others will help re-connect you with your community and will support the development of your ideas through feedback and conversation.

Your thesis is an opportunity to build your own community and collaborate with other students, early career researchers as well as your supervisors.

Ale Okada, an educational researcher at the Open University, suggests attending and participating in a variety of events.

If conferences and IRL talks are suspended, then look out for webinars and online conferences. As an example, the Johns Hopkins SNF Agora Institute has offered weekly webcasts on a wide variety of timely topics.

And of course, EERA offers a range of opportunities to gather feedback on your work, such as the Emerging Researchers’ Group and their LinkedIn community. The pandemic may have forced the cancellation of the European Conference for Educational Research in 2020, but the Reconnecting EERA online conference was a resounding success.

Be Patient with Yourself

Remind yourself learning is not linear and that all your emotions are expressions of your investment in your thesis.

“Set daily goals that are reasonable and keep you moving forward,” recommends Nadine Janes, Director of Undergraduate Nursing and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, “and find someone to hold you accountable to those goals”.

Shuxuan Zheng similarly underlines that “little things are what make big things happen, and keeping this in mind is necessary to collectively overcome the viral pandemic”.

Look After Your Body and Mind

Eat something healthy before midday every day. Drink water. And take yourself for a walk in the evening. The extensive social distancing adaptations mean fewer opportunities to be physically active. Studying from home can entrench the sedentary lifestyle fostered by long hours of writing, reading or editing.

This article from researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh, Sydney and Western Australia details some ways you can stay fit and active.

Developing an achievable routine that you can feel good about for your wellbeing is vital. Find out if there is a walking group at your university. Exchange healthy recipes with your peers.  

If you aren’t managing your goal, then aim smaller. Being good to yourself includes setting yourself up to win.

 

Things Will go Wrong Again and Again

But the sun, too, will rise again, and that disaster might be the making of your PhD, or you, or a total disaster with no redeeming features and that’s ok too.

Reflecting on her experience, final year student Carolyn Cooke explains:

“The second year was the year where things changed the most – change of literature base, change of methodology too. These changes meant I had written much which I then felt wasn’t useful anymore but rather surprisingly (to me!) I have come back to a huge amount of it in the last couple of months when writing up as there were things I could develop. So, nothing (no writing, no exploring, no “tangents”) is wasted effort – it’s all part of the process!”.

For a wide range of ideas for how to adapt your project during the pandemic, this crowdsourced document initiated by Deborah Lupton is a great place to brainstorm.

Practice Identifying Yourself in Different Ways

Deborah Lupton recommends taking the time to listen to good quality radio programmes and podcasts, to read the newspaper and engage with others socially.

Finding your academic identity is part of the research journey so read broadly when you can and cultivate connections to your interests including those that cross your departmental or disciplinary boundaries.

“I recommend thinking ahead to say 5 to 10 years down the road and answering the following questions: what do I want my ‘academic identity’ to be? Which academic community do I belong to long term and what do I want to be known for within that community?”, shares Jaideep Prabhu, Jawaharlal Nehru professor of business and enterprise at the Judge Business School, Cambridge, “Once you have some clarity about that, then work backwards and ask yourself: what do I need to do now to get there?”. 

Emily Dowdeswell

Emily Dowdeswell

2nd Year PhD Student

Emily Dowdeswell is approaching the end of her first year of doctoral research at the Open University’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS).

Her area of study includes the intersections between anthropology, the arts, creativity and education.

You can find out more about Emily’s research at http://wels.open.ac.uk/rumpus or on Twitter https://twitter.com/intracommons 

Katherine Langford

Katherine Langford

PhD student at the Open University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)

Katherine Langford, BSc (Hons), MBPsS, is a third-year

Katherine Langford

part-time PhD student at the Open University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). She is researching how secondary school students develop an understanding of especially tricky Physics topics including what intuitive theories, common problems, and misconceptions they have.
Orcid: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0080-6023

The Challenges and Opportunities of Physical Education within the Context of Health and Wellbeing

The Challenges and Opportunities of Physical Education within the Context of Health and Wellbeing

During the #ReconnectingEERA online conference, that replaced the planned 2020 ECER conference in Glasgow, the Network 18 (Research in Sport Pedagogy) symposium on 27th August 2020 was attended by around seventy delegates from across Europe. The symposium was originally planned as a ‘local context’ contribution within NW18’s programme of activities at the Glasgow conference, where it was intended to showcase just some of the excellent Physical Education (PE) research that is taking place in Scotland. The symposium was organised in collaboration with SERA and their PE network (ScotPERN) in order to build capacity, share ideas and facilitate conversations. Dr Shirley Gray and Dr Rachel Sandford provide an overview of the online symposium, reflect on the discussion generated and consider implications for future research agendas.

Curriculum for Physical Education in Scotland

Scotland offers a rich site for educational research, given that it is now ten years on from the introduction of a new curriculum, the Curriculum for Excellence (Scottish Government, 2004). During this time, there have been several curriculum reviews, recommendations and further policy developments, which have presented numerous challenges for teachers. This was particularly evident with the PE curriculum, which in 2010 was relocated from the ‘Expressive Arts’ curriculum to the ‘Health and Wellbeing’ curriculum.

Whereas initially, teachers were supported by just two pages of broad curricular guidelines (Scottish Government, 2009), today they work with twenty-two pages of specific benchmarks (Education Scotland, 2017). These benchmarks indicate what pupils should be able to know and do as they progress through school. The programme for high stakes examinations in the senior years (ages 16-18 years) has also undergone several changes over recent years, and debates remain ongoing as to how they might be further developed in the future.

Research in Physical Education in Scotland

Researchers in PE in Scottish universities have been fascinated by these developments and have spent the last ten years exploring the impact of the new curriculum on teachers’ learning, practice and the learning experiences of students. Specific areas of research have included:

  • exploring the curriculum development process;
  • understanding the nature and role of health and wellbeing within the context of PE;
  • teacher change;
  • in-service and pre-service teacher learning;
  • teaching social and emotional wellbeing;
  • the role of digital technology and social media in how young people learn;
  • gender issues in PE, and;
  • critical pedagogies of affect.

Online Symposium at #ReconnectingEERA

The online symposium consisted of five presentations that exemplified just some of the work that has been done within these areas in recent years. Some of the references for this work can be found below.

The first presentation was by Dr Andrew Horrell from the University of Edinburgh. He presented findings from a study that took place at the time teachers were planning their new curricula in line with policy demands. He highlighted the ways in which regimes of accountability exerted a powerful influence on teachers and had a significant impact on the decisions they made about curriculum design.

The next presentation was by Professor Kirk, Cara Lamb and Dr Eishen Teraoka from the University of Strathclyde. They presented the findings from two studies that explored the pedagogies of PE teachers who paid specific attention to pupils’ learning in the affective domain. The first study explored the perceptions and experiences of teachers who were committed to engaging with pedagogies of affect. In the second study, they highlighted the challenges that teachers faced when attempting to learn and enact an activist intervention specifically designed to support girls’ positive experiences in PE.

Following this, Elaine Wotherspoon from the University of the West of Scotland reported the findings from her study that explored recently graduated PETE students’ levels of preparedness for teaching PE within the Health and Wellbeing curriculum. She discussed the factors that contributed to their feelings of preparedness, but also highlight that, the more they learned ‘on the job’, the less they felt that their PETE experience sufficiently prepared them for their entry into the profession.

In the final presentation, Dr Jess and colleagues from the University of Edinburgh presented their findings from the first phase of a longitudinal study exploring the professional visions of final year PE students. Guided by complexity thinking, they analysed twenty student essays that focussed on a future vision for PE. Results highlighted a diverse range of ideas and a discussion followed about the various factors that teachers will need to negotiate if their vision is to be realised.

In summary, these four presentations provided an insight into just some of the academic work that is being carried out in Scotland within the broad field of physical education. Together, they helped to showcase how the new Scottish curriculum has provided an exciting backdrop for educational research. This research provides academics, working with/alongside teachers,  the opportunity to explore how PE practice might best ensure that young people have positive, healthy and meaningful experiences now and in the future.

In sharing this work and inviting comment, the symposium offered an opportunity for attendees to discuss key issues around health, PE and the curriculum, and make relevant connections to their own contexts. One exciting outcome here is that those delegates in attendance from Wales, a country that is currently going through very similar curriculum reform, sought to continue discussions with the panel beyond the symposium and now plan to organise a further joint symposium in the future.

The online symposium has served not only to raise the profile of educational research in Scotland but also to forge stronger connections between the ScotPERN and NW18 networks and identify opportunities for future collaborative research within Europe and beyond.

If you would like to see these presentations, then you can find them on the SERA ‘connects’ YouTube channel here: 

Dr Shirley Gray

Dr Shirley Gray

Senior Lecturer, University of Edinburgh

Dr Shirley Gray is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Education at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on issues relating to gender and equality, social and emotional learning, pupil motivation and the professional learning of teachers. 

Dr Rachel Sandford

Dr Rachel Sandford

Senior Lecturer, Loughborough University

Dr Rachel Sandford is a Senior Lecturer in Young People and Sport at Loughborough University, UK. Her research centres on young people’s attitudes towards, experiences of and development in/through sport and physical activity. She has a particular interest in issues around popular culture, embodied identity and positive youth development.

References

Scottish Government (2004) A curriculum for excellence. (Glasgow, Learning and Teaching Scotland).

Scottish Government (2009) Curriculum for excellence: health and wellbeing: experiences and outcomes. (Glasgow, Learning and Teaching Scotland).

Education Scotland (2017). Benchmarks: Physical Education.

Scottish Research References

Carse, N, Jess, M & Keay, J. (2020),Primary Physical Education in a complex world (Part 4): Advocating for the Education in Primary Physical Education‘ Physical Education Matters, pp. 21-23.

Carse, N, McMillan, P, Jess, M, McIntyre, J & Fletcher, T. (2018).Exploring the collaborative in a collective self-study. in D Garbett & A Ovens (eds), Pushing Boundaries and Crossing Borders: Self-Study as a Means for Researching Pedagogy . University of Auckland, pp. 489-496.

Craig, M, Thorburn, M, Mulholland, R, Horrell, A & Jess, M. (2016). ‘Understanding professional issues in physical education: A Scottish insight‘, Scottish Educational Review, vol. 48, no. 2, pp. 80-100.

Gray, S., Wright, P., Sievwright, R., & Robertson, S. (2019). Learning to Use Teaching for Personal and Social Responsibility Through Action Research. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education.

Horrell, A., Sproule, J. & Gray, S., (2011). Health and wellbeing: a policy context for physical education in Scotland. Sport, Education and Society. 17(2) 163-180

 

Jess, M, Keay, J & Carse, N. (2019) ‘Primary physical education in a complex world (part 1)‘ Physical Education Matters, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 23-25.

 

Kirk, D., Lamb, C. A., Oliver, K. L., Ewing-Day, R., Fleming, C., Loch, A., & Smedley, V. (2018). Balancing prescription with teacher and pupil agency: spaces for manoeuvre within a pedagogical model for working with adolescent girls. Curriculum Journal29(2), 219-237.

MacIsaac, S., Kelly, J. & Gray (2017). ‘She has like 4000 followers!’: the celebrification of self within school social networks. Journal of Youth Studies.

 

MacLean, J., Mulholland, R., Gray, S. & Horrell, A. (2015) Enabling Curriculum Change in Scotland – PE Teacher and Policy Constructors’ Perceptions compared. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy.http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17408989.2013.798406.

 

Mcmillan, P 2017, Understanding physical education teachers’ day-to-day practice: Challenging the ‘unfair’ picture. in M Thorburn (ed.), Transformative Learning and Teaching in Physical Education. Routledge Research in Education, Routledge, Abingdon; New York, pp. 159-175.

Roberts, J, Gray, S & Camacho-Miñano, MJ. (2019). ‘Exploring the PE contexts and experiences of girls who challenge gender norms in a progressive secondary school’, Curriculum Studies in Health and Physical Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/25742981.2019.1696688

 

Stewart, S., Gray, S., Kelly, J. & MacIsaac, S. (2019). Investigating the development of masculine identities in physical education. Sport Education and Society.

 

Teraoka, E., Ferreira, H. J., Kirk, D., & Bardid, F. (Accepted/In press). Affective learning in physical education: a systematic review. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education.

 

 

The Effects of COVID-19 Lockdowns on Children’s Education

The Effects of COVID-19 Lockdowns on Children’s Education

The theme of the ECER 2020 conference was Educational Research: (Re)connecting Communities. This focus was initially prompted by the concerns about the potential effects of Brexit and other fractures in communities in Europe. The conference aimed to interrogate the capacity of educational research to address the complexity of the challenges that are encountered in connecting and reconnecting communities in contemporary Europe.

The effects of Covid-19 and the consequent lockdowns that swept across Europe and the world led to further, more extensive, fractures and disconnects across Europe. Schools, universities and workplaces were closed. There were severe restrictions on travel and movement around Europe.

As the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns continued, a number of serious issues arose for children and the continuation of their education in Scotland. For many children and young people, school became an online engagement with teachers. The use of platforms and materials and the frequency of contact varied across Scotland’s 32 local authorities with learning resources provided by schools, media companies and commercial companies.

 

The Effects of Home Schooling

Recent research indicates that the move to learning at home for the majority of pupils led to mixed results for pupils, parents and teachers. Some parents and carers became anxious about adopting a greatly enhanced role in supporting the formal education of their children in the home. The formal education of children is normally assumed, almost exclusively, by highly qualified professional teachers in a school setting. There were not always sufficient resources at home to support formal home learning.

The effects of digital poverty, or digital exclusion, became apparent as awareness grew that some families did not have adequate equipment or even access to the internet to support their children in online learning. Not all members of the teaching profession had the skill set for the sudden move to online teaching and learning and, like many other professionals, had to upskill. Further, all teachers had to spend a substantial amount of time preparing and implementing online learning. There was serious disruption to the exam diet for senior pupils and a highly publicised reconfiguration of assessment practices leading to a controversial recalculation of grades for the major public examinations.

All of this unfolded in the context of serious concerns about rising levels of child poverty pre-COVID-19 and further increases as a result of job losses during lockdown. This situation contributed to a rise in food insecurity for many families and more families now seek free school meals for their children and access food from foodbanks. The effects of the rising levels of child poverty will have consequences for the physical and mental health and well-being of the children and young people.

 

The New Normal

There are other ways to view the outcomes of the lockdowns. As we came out of lockdown and schools resumed, ‘The New Normal’ was a phrase that came into current use. An important aspect of ‘new normal’ is the new knowledge, which will inform any altered concept of normality. New knowledge can emerge through any number of activities, but typically, it is the result of sustained engagement with others, materials and contexts during which we come to assimilate the nuanced experiences and perspectives of others in a new way.

 

Positive Effects of the Lockdown for Learners

Children and young people will have had a range of experiences of lockdown. As a result, they will have developed new knowledge about themselves as learners. There are likely to be pupils who will have experienced ‘schoolwork’ differently in a positive way; who have engaged with their learning at their own pace and on their own terms. Some will have enjoyed working alone, whilst others might have benefited from engagement with siblings and parents.

Anecdotally, we have probably all heard of examples of children and young people learning new things and developing skills and interests not directly connected to schoolwork. They have already blended their own ways of organising and engaging with their learning, their own interests and other people with whom they have interacted during this period.

The likelihood is that all young people will have learned new things and have a stronger sense of themselves as people and learners. It is important that this new knowledge is sought out, recognised and built on as our children, young people and schools return. We are in a unique situation and should take the opportunity to engage children’s and young people’s new skills, newly-realised abilities and personal interests. We should blend these insights into practice and pedagogy in schools as we simultaneously explore new ways to allow them to demonstrate their learning.

 

Positive Effects of the Lockdown for Teachers

Teachers will have learned new things about themselves, their colleagues and the children and young people with whom they work and the relationships among them. Teachers know that young people’s emotional experience of learning is as important as their cognitive experience. The current situation presents a unique stimulus for teachers to make sense of the relationships they have with each of their pupils.

Teachers already see their pupils as learners and not simply people who have to be taught. They will already be aware of pupils’ skills abilities and interests, and the new experiences which young people bring to school could be used to enhance and enrich the learning of all young people. Teachers’ interactions with pupils during lockdown will have enriched their own sense of themselves as teachers and their place in the lives of their charges. This new knowledge will help reinforce any new sense that pupils have of themselves as learners and teachers have of themselves as teachers.

EERA also has a role to play, and the recent online events had a significant role in reconnecting our research communities. The events provided new spaces in which education was explored, theorised and researched from the perspectives of all member associations and networks. EERA also has a role in generating the new knowledge that will increasingly and relentlessly nudge forward our understanding of education.

 

Professor Stephen J. McKinney

Professor Stephen J. McKinney

Professor, School of Education, University of Glasgow

Stephen J. McKinney is a Professor in the School of Education, University of Glasgow. He leads the research and teaching group, Pedagogy, Praxis and Faith. He is the past President of the Scottish Educational Research Association. He is on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Beliefs and Values, Improving Schools, the Scottish Educational Review. He is a visiting professor in Catholic Education at Newman University, an Associate of the Irish Institute for Catholic Studies and on the steering group for the Network for Researchers in Catholic Education. He is a member of the European Educational Research Association Council. He is the Chair of the Board of Directors of the London School of Management Education. His research interests include Catholic schools and faith schools, the impact of poverty on education and education and social justice and he has published widely on all of these topics.

Dr George Head

Dr George Head

Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the School of Education, University of Glasgow

George Head is Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the School of Education, University of Glasgow, Scotland. George is a past-president of the Scottish Educational Research Association (SERA) and has represented the association on the European Educational Research Association (EERA) Council and served as Senior Mentor to the EERA Emerging Researchers Group. He is a visiting professor at Newman University, Birmingham. His areas of academic interest include Inclusive Education and the learning and teaching of young people whose behaviour schools find difficult. George was a member of the Local Organising Committee for ECER 2020 which was scheduled to take place in Glasgow

5 Tips to Help You Plan an Online Conference

5 Tips to Help You Plan an Online Conference

In September 2020, the Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI) held its 44th annual conference. Unique on this occasion is the fact that this was the association’s first time to host this event online, necessitated of course by the current COVID-19 situation at both national and international levels. The conference ran across three days and consisted of over 120 live papers structured into nine rounds of 43 parallel sessions, with over 235 registered delegates. We asked Dr Enda Donlon of the organising committee to share his reflections on some of the decisions taken around the planning and organisation of this event. 

System

The technical considerations around what systems and platforms to use are key in the hosting of any online event. In our case, we opted to use the Zoom web-conferencing service for our virtual conference. We took this decision on the assumption that it would likely be a system with higher levels of familiarity among our delegates, either through professional use within their educational institutions or through personal use for conversing with family and friends during lockdown times.

Zoom offers two main options for online events such as ours: Zoom Meetings and Zoom Webinars. While the Webinar format has proven popular for a number of online conference events, we opted for the Zoom Meeting option for several reasons. Most prominently, our desire to make our conference as social and interactive as possible for all attendees.

The user hierarchy for Zoom Meetings (host, co-host, participant) is ‘flatter’ than that used for Zoom Webinar (host, co-host, panellist, attendee). Zoom Meetings allows all delegates to turn on/off their camera and microphone as they wish and to engage in a group chat with all present. In addition, Zoom Meetings is the ‘personal’ version of Zoom, so we assumed this would be the version that most attendees would know best.

Support

One of our highest priorities during the run-up to this event was that all delegates felt supported and prepared to participate in this first-of-its-kind event for our association and for members. We designed a number of user guides (one for delegates, one for presenters, and one for session chairs) and included links to several ‘how to’ videos and tutorials. These guides were shared with delegates in the weeks running up to the event to give them plenty of time to review them.

We also offered a short ‘Zoom consultation’ to presenters. They could book a timeslot within an allocated timeframe to join a short Zoom meeting (hosted by a member of our conference committee) to test their connection, check their camera and microphone, and share their screen to display slides. This gave them the confidence that they were ready to participate in our online event.

The final decision was around how we would offer technical support to delegates during the conference itself. Our logic was that if delegates were experiencing problems with our main system (Zoom), then the last thing they would want is to have to engage with another system for technical support. We opted for a simple email address that delegates used to contact us with any problems they were experiencing. A small team from the conference committee continuously monitored this email address and responded to all enquiries immediately. The simplicity of this approach worked well during the conference days and we were able to resolve all technical difficulties very quickly.

Security

Moving any face-to-face gathering to an online format brings with it a whole new level of consideration around issues of security. Our chosen platform for this event had its fair share of negative publicity around this since the beginning of the pandemic, with issues of ‘Zoombombing‘ having occurred for other online conference events. Conscious of the need to balance these critical security concerns with ease of movement into and within our conference online locations for all registered delegates, we put in place a number of simple but effective precautions.

First, a special version of the conference timetable (called the Delegate Timetable) was emailed directly to all delegates the day before the conference began and was not made available publicly. This Delegate Timetable contained all of the relevant links to the conference sessions. In contrast, the public version of the timetable that was available on the conference website for several weeks before the event did not.

Second, we applied a single conference password to all Zoom meetings in use for the event, and included this in the email sent to delegates the day before the conference began (again, not publicly available). Finally, we asked for delegates cooperation in not sharing the Zoom links or password any further to maintain the security and integrity of our online event. It is encouraging to note that we did not have any uninvited guests or intrusive incidents during our online conference event.

Structure

Across the three conference days, our event made use of almost 50 individual Zoom meetings. It was crucial that delegates were able to navigate the virtual venue with ease and could locate the various ‘Zoom rooms’ quickly. We solved this issue with the use of a structured timetable which showed the key details at a glance: session title and chair, the constituent papers and their authors, and the relevant Zoom link (see sample above). This timetable allowed delegates to easily move between sessions if they wished to do so and to quickly find the ‘room’ they wanted to go to next.

Simple

My final observation is one that philosophically underpinned the whole organisation of the event: keep it as simple as possible.

The majority of delegates really want to participate in these new online formats for conference events, so make it as easy as possible for them to do so in terms of registration, navigation, participation, and support. At the time of writing it is evident that the global COVID-19 pandemic will necessitate the online hosting of many conference events in the immediate future, with several high-profile and large conferences for 2021 already having committed to this format. I hope that these brief reflections from our event might prove helpful in informing discussions and decisions for those who may be organising their own virtual conference for the first time.

Dr Enda Donlon

Dr Enda Donlon

School of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies at the Institute of Education, Dublin City University

Dr Enda Donlon is a lecturer in the school of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies at the Institute of Education, Dublin City University. He is a former president (2018-2020) and vice-president (2016-2018) of the Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI), and has served on the national executive of the Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI) from 2008-2019. Enda is the APF (Area of Professional Focus) leader for Digital Learning on the Doctor of Education Programme at DCU. He tweets at @donenda.

Top 5 Tips for Completing your PhD during COVID 19

Top 5 Tips for Completing your PhD during COVID 19

The doctoral journey is well known for its highs and lows. For current students, that journey has been intensified by the uncertainty and challenges of COVID-19. As we all try to settle into the new normal, how can we best approach the upcoming academic year? PhD Student Emily Dowdeswell took a look for us – consulting both the internet and experienced academics to bring us this awesome list of tips.

Invest in Your Support System

Find a way to remind yourself you are not alone in the struggle. Support will look different for each of us. Some of us will need support with working, others will need support with relaxing. Many of us will need to be reminded of the simple joys of conversation.

Dr Donna Peach’s Online Writing Rooms bring students together to share support, knowledge and friendship for example. The twitter account @virtualnotviral offers support for doctoral students working in troubled times as well as regular Twitter chats. The EERA Emerging Researchers’ Group has a LinkedIn group to help you connect to other researchers around the globe.

Keep a Research Journal

You will be probably be doing a lot of thinking, evaluating and questioning this year. Value this confusion as a seed field for your journey. Develop an alternative space for jotting down your thinking. For some ideas on why and how to keep a research journal try Dr Anuja Cabraal’s post or Srivina Rao’s reasons for why you should always carry a notebook.

If you are collecting data this year then make time to review and think deeply about your theoretical framework, recommends Sharon Walker, an upcoming doctor at the University of Cambridge:

“Although my second year was tiring- I did an ethnography- my mind was less challenged conceptually than in the first, third and fourth year. On reflection, I would have used this ‘downtime’ to spread out the ‘work’ of thinking into the second year”.

Create!

Get in the habit of creating in multiple ways. Encourage yourself to connect and communicate with your world and chase joy in doing so – particularly when the going gets tough. 

Barbara Spicer, a first-year PhD student, gravitated towards creativity during lockdown: painting pebbles with her daughter, doing a jigsaw puzzle for the first time in years, baking beer bread and translating poetry.

“It was only when watching an episode of Grayson Perry’s Art Club that the reason became clear,” reveals Barbara, “we are all wounded, and art is very healing. The process, rather than the product, is most important. This mirrors my research project which takes a process-orientated approach to literary translation”.

Be open to inviting creative practice into your research approach. If you are interested in the conversations around scholarly creativity, have a look at this open-access article that investigates creative possibilities during your PhD.

Be Open and Responsive

Be open and responsive – to the people and environment you are researching with.

Third-year PhD student Petra Vackova explains that while it is important to be well prepared with your research design as you enter the field, it is just as important to be flexible and responsive to the people and environment you are researching with.

“I felt the pressure to start recording and capturing everything right away but managed to resist that urge in the end. I gave myself time to slow down, be attentive to relationships first and develop research deeply embedded in ethics of care,” says Petra, “there is an opportunity, during a PhD, to develop a slow, ethical, and response-able research process that has the potential to contribute to knowledge differently”.

Work and Fun are Happy Soulmates

Monitor how and when you have fun and make time to do so. For Karen Wong-Peréz, now a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment & Development, music helped sustain her mental health during the second year:

“For some reason, when I was stuck in writing or thinking, I started following YouTube tutorials on how to play music. So, I got a keyboard, then a guitar and a flute and it helped me a lot- maybe my brain needed that kind of artistic stimulus to keep balance”.

Research with adult learners suggests that having fun is motivating, enhances learning and helps build a socially connected learning environment.

“Fun is just another word for learning”, argues game designer Raph Koster. Be intentional about inviting fun into your research. If fun is about pushing at edges, approach your research as a cluster of edges that need to be tested. Invariably your own principles and foundations will be rocked too, get ready to frame that discomfort as part of the ride.

Reflecting on the shared experience between the incoming and preceding second years has been an enriching process, “in these uncertain times, we need each other more than ever”. Emily is thankful to the many friends and colleagues who shared their advice with her and to colleagues who have generously offered the resources referenced above.

Emily Dowdeswell

Emily Dowdeswell

2nd Year PhD Student

Emily Dowdeswell is approaching the end of her first year of doctoral research at the Open University’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS).

Her area of study includes the intersections between anthropology, the arts, creativity and education.

You can find out more about Emily’s research at http://wels.open.ac.uk/rumpus or on Twitter https://twitter.com/intracommons 

Katherine Langford

Katherine Langford

PhD student at the Open University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)

Katherine Langford, BSc (Hons), MBPsS, is a third-year

Katherine Langford

part-time PhD student at the Open University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). She is researching how secondary school students develop an understanding of especially tricky Physics topics including what intuitive theories, common problems, and misconceptions they have.
Orcid: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0080-6023