I always like reading about PhD students’ experiences and like to contribute to the work of the staff who work in De Montfort University’s Centre for Learning and Study Support who have really helped me find my feet after returning to academic study after 20+ years… A lot has changed in that time, from advances in technology, to support for study. This week the centre asked me to answer three questions in order to create materials to help new research students due to start at the university in September. I thought I’d blog my answers (as it’s merely a copy and paste):
I. What three research-related words would you have liked to have defined for you when you first started your PhD?
1) Paradigm – heard this a lot. I’d much rather they’d said theories, patterns or concepts!
2) Research – what actually passes for research? Does an article published in a journal by an academic count as research or is it opinion drawn from other people’s work? As my research is in the social sciences I sometimes wonder what I am actually looking for and to find it I wade through theory and counter theory, opinion built on theories. This is not like looking for a new cancer cell or change in chemical pattern. Research, sometimes, appears to be a lot of support for one good argument or conclusion and not the outcome of huge qualitative or quantitative data gathering, which I guess was my initial understanding. I guess now I accept that it is a very broad term.
3) PhD student – I think most PhD students are either too embarrassed to call themselves what they are or think it’s more appropriate to be called something else I.e candidate, scholar or the very important “Doctoral researcher” which obviously sounds far too impressive for someone who spends there days wandering around wondering what on earth their research is actually about!
II) What do you call yourself when you describe what you do to other people?
1) I call myself a PhD scholar mainly because I often reference the community of scholars from the early European universities in my arguments about Higher Education’s purpose (Teaching at Paris, in a late 14th-century Grandes Chroniques de France, pictured above), so I like it. But really I just think I’m a student. I think when I’m well into year three I’ll upgrade to something else, but right now I think anything more is over the top!
III) Could you give a brief summary of a typical day in your life as a researcher? (Time you start work, when you break, what time you finish, and the activities you are often involved in etc):
I am a part-time PhD student and my subject area is linked to my job, so often when I’m not working on my research I am thinking about research even though I’m not doing any. Because I work all kinds of hours, I have an arrangement to spend half a day on research a week to recoup time I spend working evenings or weekends. I also tend to give 2-3 evenings a week to it. On one hand this actually suits my family life (I have twins aged 6 and often need to be at home), on the other it is a challenge some days to work 9-5, get home, get the boys fed and to bed and then find energy to start reading or writing. It’s tough sometimes, but I think I’m doing ok. Supervisor feedback suggests I’m swimming not sinking. I found the recent life coach talk in DMU’s library useful. Although I cannot overhaul certain things in my life (i.e. Looking after my children) I can make small changes to maximise the time I do spend researching. Small changes can make a big difference.
Hope that’s useful to anyone starting out.