5 More Tips for Completing your PhD

5 More Tips for Completing your PhD

Following the positive response we received after publishing Emily’s 5 helpful tips for 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. 

And of course, EERA offers a range of opportunities to gather feedback on your work, such as the Emerging Researchers’ Group and its LinkedIn community. The yearly ECER is preceded by the Emerging Researchers’ conference

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”.

Look After Your Body and Mind

Eat something healthy before midday every day. Drink water. And take yourself for a walk in the evening. Studying from home can entrench the sedentary lifestyle fostered by long hours of writing, reading or editing.

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!”.

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?”. 

NOTE:  This post was originally written in October, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the post was originally titled, ‘5 more tips for completing your PhD during COVID-19’, we realised that the advice is just as valid four years later, after the crisis had passed. For this reason, we have updated the post and the title.

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

How Social Capital Affects your Research

How Social Capital Affects your Research

While thinking about research, most researchers focus on the research questions, design, and methodology aspects. However, we may forget about the most important thing about research, as well as our life – the fact that we are human beings. When I was conducting research for my master thesis, this was the part that I had forgotten. There are qualities that we cannot hide, like our colour of skin, our biological gender, and our career (if we are being truthful). And then social capital and being an outsider or insider come into prominence.

What is Social Capital?

Social capital is a controversial concept in sociology, and there are many different definitions and perspectives on this concept. It is a broad concept, related to many aspects of the individual. Claridge presents a detailed typology of social capital. In his article, he described the three levels of the different dimensions of social capital: micro, meso, and macro. These levels of social capital are about all dimensions of social capital and include education, gender, ethnicity, religion, SES. Social capital is not just about the relationship and networks that the people have, but it is also about their visible and invisible characteristics.

The qualitative researcher’s perspective is perhaps a paradoxical one: it is to be acutely tuned-in to the experiences and meaning systems of others—to indwell—and at the same time to be aware of how one’s own biases and preconceptions may be influencing what one is trying to understand. 

As Maykut and Morehouse stated, in qualitative research, the researcher must be aware of their social capital and its effect on their research. While doing my research for my master thesis, I was not aware of the impact of my social capital on my research.

What is MY Social Capital?

My hometown is a small, religious city in Turkey. I am a PhD student and a research assistant at one of the top-ranked universities in Ankara, Turkey, where the medium of instruction is English. I am also an alumnus of another top-ranked university in İstanbul, Turkey, where the medium of instruction is also English. I lived alone in the largest city in Europe, İstanbul, where I got my bachelor’s degree. Currently, I am living alone in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, as a woman in a Middle Eastern country. I speak English, travel abroad independently, have a career, and at the time of writing my thesis, I had neither a boyfriend or a husband.

How my Social Capital Affected my Research

My research was about Turkey’s refugee issue, and I wanted to learn about school counsellors’ issues and any problems in schools. I conducted interviews with school counsellors from different cities in Turkey. Before conducting interviews, I introduced myself briefly, giving information about the universities where I had studied and my current position. In the first interview, I was asked many questions about my personal life:

  • How did you get the job at such a good university?
  • Are you living alone without EVEN a boyfriend?
  • How is this possible? And is it hard to work while keeping on top of household chores and responsibilities?
  • Were you living alone during your bachelor’s degree as well?
  • How can I, a school counsellor, get a position like yours?
  • Were the questions hard for PhD admission?
  • Where are you from and do you have a father and mother? What were their thoughts about your career?

During the first three interviews, I was eager to start the interview and I didn’t recognise this issue. After conducting the interviews and starting to transcribe them, I realized that the school counsellors mostly emphasized their schools’ accomplishments. They did not talk about any problems they encountered around refugee issues but concentrated only the achievements they have made. It was a huge challenge for my research because I couldn’t get the information I needed.

After this, I started to allocate some time for initial chitchat with the school counsellors. I gave more detailed information about myself, e.g.,  I am from a small city. I am a normal woman from Turkey. I got to know the school counsellors and put emphasized their role, acknowledging how hard it must be to work at a school with refugees in a small city. After this little chitchat, I think the school counsellors felt better understood, and they did not try to prove anything. We could then focus on the refugee issue, and they could give information more freely.

 

Before conducting the interview, I did not realize that my social capital, such as my gender, SES, and education level, might create such a barrier to my research. I believe that the social capital we have is vital for every person we encounter in society. We may not be aware of our privileges and/or specialities. However, the things that are usual and normal for us might be eligible for others. That is why it is useful to be aware of our own social capital, not just for our research but also for our daily lives. 

Dilara Özel

Dilara Özel

PhD Student and Research Assistant at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey

Dilara Özel is a PhD student and also a research assistant in Guidance and Psychological Counseling program at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey. She received her master’s degree from the same department in METU with a master thesis titled An Examination of Needs and Issues at Refugee- Receiving Schools in Turkey from the Perspectives of School Counselors. She is an alumnus of the Faculty of Education Bachelor’s Program in Guidance and Psychological Counseling department at Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. She worked as a volunteer at several projects and trained in peace education, conflict resolution, and human rights. Then, she gave short training sessions on negotiation and mediation techniques. Dilara worked as a school counsellor at a private college with preschoolers. Her research interests are peace education, multicultural education and refugee studies.

What is the Emerging Researchers’ Group?

What is the Emerging Researchers’ Group?

You may have read about the Emerging Researchers’ Group (ERG) on our blog or website and want to know more. What is the Emerging Researchers’ Group, why was it set up and what are it’s aims and achievements. We asked Convenor Saneeya Qureshi to tell us more.

A Brief History

The Emerging Researchers Group (ERG) began life as the Postgraduate Network (PGN) in 2002. The remit of the PGN was to support postgraduate students; this support focussed mainly during the ECER pre-conference. With time, the remit, identity and scale of activities of the PGN have evolved as it has grown and diversified.

In 2009, the then pre-conference hosted almost 200 participants from over 15 countries, many of whom were engaged in doctoral studies. Today, a significant number of ERG members are emerging and early career researchers, and the PGN name was changed to the ERG to reflect this fact. The annual Emerging Researchers’ Conference (ERC) now hosts almost 400 participants from over 40 countries, in addition to almost 100 participants during the annual EERA Summer School.  

Aims of the ERG

The Emerging Researchers’ Group aims to:

  • provide a European research community for Emerging Researchers (including those undertaking a Doctorate)
  • provide a forum for the dissemination of Early Career Research at the Emerging Researchers´ Conference   
  • offer support and guidance for article production via the ‘Best Paper Award’
  • offer support for researchers from low GDP countries to engage with ECER

The main strength of the ERG lies in the support it offers to ‘new’ researchers in providing a space for discussion and collaboration with peers across Europe. In addition, it creates a new space in EERA, which allows emerging researchers to be supported to create a strong, independent ‘Emerging Researchers’ forum, which improves EERA’s internal democratic accountability.

Definition of an Emerging Researcher

An Emerging Researcher in EERA is someone who, within 5 years of completing a PhD, or during doctoral or master studies or research career, is interested in:

  • the broadening of research training and professional development experiences internationally
  • exchange of experiences and ideas about research and research training
  • development of research projects in collaboration with researchers of different countries
  • active participation in a European research community for Emerging Researchers

Members of the ERG are those whose membership details are held within the EERA database, as a result of their participation in ERG activities, including the Conference and Summer School. The annual meeting is held during ECER each year. Year-round contact is maintained between members through email and via the Emerging Researchers’ Group website.

Key Achievements of the ERG

Year on year, various ERG activities challenge participants to reflect on and debate the role of educational research whilst appreciating diversity. The activities are particularly referenced in evaluations for their high-quality discussion, research and collaborative opportunities that they provide to those that attend. The Annual reports can be read here.

ERG activities recognise that emerging researchers are uniquely supported to discuss and debate topical and thought-provoking research projects in relation to the ECER themes, trends and current practices in educational research year after year. The high-quality academic presentations during the ERC are evidence of the significant participation and contributions of emerging researchers to the European educational research community.

By participating in ERG activities, emerging researchers engage with world-class educational research and learn the priorities and developments from notable regional and international researchers and academics. The annual programme of activities is purposefully organised to include special activities and workshops that provide emerging researchers varied opportunities for networking, creating global connections and knowledge exchange, sharing the latest ground-breaking insights on topics of their interest.

Voices of Emerging Researchers

We asked some of the ERG members past and present to tell us about the impact of their engagement with the activities of our group. 

“I found it very useful to talk with other researchers and learn about how higher education works in their home countries. It helped me to see a lot of the positives about the education system in my country as well as areas that may need improvement. Although I was sometimes out of my comfort zone in terms of the methodological approach researchers are using, I felt their talks helped to make abstract ideas more concrete. It was also interesting to see that other students are looking at similar topics to my thesis, yet approaching things from a different perspective.”

“[The Emerging Researchers Conference has enabled me] to meet other PhD students from all over Europe and the world and to exchange experiences related to research projects. Learning about differences related to ethics in a European and global context was very interesting. Presenting a poster in a small group was an educative experience, and I received some useful questions and reflections to my project. It was my first time presenting a poster, and I felt it was a really nice atmosphere surrounding the forms of presentations.”

“Being part of ERC and ECER felt so eye-opening, I have learned so much from the sessions and the people I`ve met, I have had access to knowledge & perspectives that it would have taken me much more time to find on my own. The communication, the agenda, the selection of workshops, some of the papers showed that you & your team put a lot of thought into this. Also, even though I am discovering that the research field is imbued with competitiveness, I could see that people were doing their best to support each other in looking for answers to each others’ questions. I liked that! It is encouraging. Now it is up to me to grow from these seeds, and I will do my best. We have a long way to develop good research departments in my country, but with more access, we get better, and I know enough people who are eager to do the work. So thank you, thank you for your part, sustaining ERC. I have been a program coordinator, maybe it is not similar, maybe it is, but I think I know what it takes, from the logistic effort to securing resources, so good job and thank you! If ever gets hard, remember that you are planting seeds in places that you may not even think of.”   

Colleagues engaging with ERG activities should prepare themselves to be challenged, excited and inspired.

Saneeya Qureshi

Saneeya Qureshi

Head of Researcher Development and Culture at the University of Liverpool, UK

Dr Saneeya Qureshi is the Link Convenor of the Emerging Researchers Group for the European Educational Research Association (EERA). She is also the Head of Researcher Development and Culture at the University of Liverpool, UK. She is responsible for the University’s provision for researchers at all stages of their careers. She manages activities related to the University's European Commission's HR Excellence in Research Award, liaising with stakeholders regarding Liverpool's commitment to the development of its Early Career Researchers.

She holds a PhD in Inclusive Education, and has over 15 years of experience in teaching and educational management in the UK and internationally.

Since 2015, Dr Qureshi has been a co-opted member of the EERA Council where she represents emerging researchers' interests. She leads an annual programme of EERA's developmental and capacity building activities for emerging researchers, including the annual Emerging Researchers Conference. She is also an Editorial Board member and a reviewer for several international educational journals. She can be found on Twitter 

4 Things I Found Useful about the Emerging Researchers’ Conference and Best Paper Award

4 Things I Found Useful about the Emerging Researchers’ Conference and Best Paper Award

Sofia Eleftheriadou received the ERG Best Paper Award 2019 for her paper titled “Conceptualisation and measurement of collaborative problem solving: a systematic review of the literature” following an extensive assessment process conducted within the Emerging Researchers’  Group. A short description of the paper can be found here.

We asked Sofia to share her experience from participating in the Emerging Researchers’ Conference and the Best Paper Award competition, reflecting on what she personally found useful as well as what she thinks other emerging researchers might want to know about the process.

Emerging Researchers’ Conference

In September 2019, I presented my paper at the Emerging Researchers’ Conference (ERC) which took place just before the European Conference for Educational Research in Hamburg. The participants and the audience in that conference were mainly early career researchers, some currently undertaking their doctorates, so I found it very encouraging to discuss preliminary findings from my research with them.

During ERC there were many workshops designed particularly for emerging researchers, such as academic writing, as well as workshops for specific fields of research, such as gender and education, offering great opportunities for professional development. Since these workshops were tailored to the needs of early career researchers, I found that they were the best place to ask questions about publishing, careers in academia, etc.

I also attended the Emerging Researchers’ Group meeting where participants were introduced to the Link Convenor and Co-Convenors. The meeting informed us about the activities offered within the group with the aim of promoting emerging researchers. One of those was the Best Paper Award competition. At the end of the meeting, there was plenty of time for discussion, where emerging researchers could offer suggestions for activities that they would like to see being developed in the future.

Best Paper Award Assessment Process

Following the Emerging Researchers’ Conference, I decided to submit my paper for consideration to the Best Paper Award competition. These are the four things that I found useful for my professional development as an emerging researcher currently undertaking doctorate research.

The timeframe

I found that the timeframe of the competition worked well in terms of giving me a structure as well as motivation to develop a full paper. Submission of the full paper was planned two months after the conference. Reviewers then provided their feedback and we were given another two months to develop the paper, addressing reviewers’ comments and re-submitting for final consideration.

Reviewers’ comments

Feedback received from reviewers was focused on three aspects: the significance of the contribution to studies in European Educational Research, the clarity of presentation, and the fulfilment of international scientific research standards. The comments I received were first, very encouraging, highlighting the positive aspects of my contribution and second, well-targeted, giving specific directions on the ways that I could work on expanding and enriching my research.

Length of submission

Manuscripts considered for the award could be up to 7,000 words in length. As an emerging researcher, only my supervisors had so far read such long pieces of writing from my research, so I considered this a great way of getting feedback in something that will eventually be included in my thesis.

Practice writing in journal article style

Finally, preparing my submission was also a good exercise in turning a thesis chapter into a journal article. To do this, I had to carefully consider what information to include for my manuscript to stand alone as a body of work. What I found helpful was having in mind the reviewer or any reader unfamiliar with my research, who should be able to read my articles and understand its contribution without requiring additional information from my thesis.  

Sofia Eleftheriadou

Sofia Eleftheriadou

Third year PhD candidate at the Manchester Institute of Education, University of Manchester, UK

Sofia Eleftheriadou is a third year PhD candidate at the Manchester Institute of Education, University of Manchester, UK. She holds a studentship from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). In her thesis, she is examining the validity of students’ responses to a collaborative problem-solving test used in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). She has recently completed an internship at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), where she worked on assessment development. She has previously worked as a research assistant in projects related to students’ mathematics anxiety and performance, and as a teaching assistant in postgraduate taught units at the University of Manchester.

Sofia’s university researcher profile can be found here. Find her on Twitter

5 really helpful tips for completing your PhD

5 really helpful tips for completing your PhD

The doctoral journey is well known for its highs and lows. 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 the COVID-19 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.

NOTE:  This post was originally written in August, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the post was originally titled, ‘Tips for completing your PhD during COVID-19’, we realised that the advice is just as valid four years later, after the crisis had passed. For this reason, we have updated the post and the title.

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