Posts Tagged ‘doctoral practices’

Thesis Talking

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

I’m just back from visiting the NUI Galway at the invitation of Kelly Coate, where I participated in a workshop for PhD researchers from the College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Celtic Studies (CASSCS) interested in developing and contributing to the ThesisTalk blog. You can read more about the project here.

It was a friendly and enthusiastic group, and to be honest they had already begun to collectively process many of the key issues and ideas that I raised. Hopefully – if nothing else – I helped articulate these and contributed to formalising them into action points to develop the blog.

For me, the project as a student-led initiative is as exciting as its social media context, and the mix of enthusiasm and critical thought in evidence during the workshop should ensure the blog will evolve into a dynamic interdisciplinary and collaborative space, that will also be of interest to the wider doctoral community.

Some of the discussion focussed on particular needs within the group, such as how best to facilitate the specific cultural concerns associated with developing a bilingual blog. But I think many of the issues that emerged are characteristic of group blogs generally – particularly in balancing the needs for diversity and individual subjectivities within a coherent site-wide agenda and identity.

As part of my visit, I also had the opportunity to present my PhD research at the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). It seemed to be well received and generated some interesting and useful discussion around academic practice, social media and research methodologies. It was a nice opportunity to make some new acquaintances and see again some familiar faces.

Generation Y the lazy rhetoric?

Monday, July 9th, 2012

“very few [Generation Y students] employ collaborative technologies such as wikis, blogging and Twitter in their research, despite using such tools in their personal lives.”

Elizabeth Gibney. Few Tweet successes as Generation Y fails to use blog-standard tools. Times Higher Education, 28 June 2012.

I’m unconvinced with the argument that the new generation of researchers routinely use multiple social media recreationally. This seems to have become a rationale for academic appropriation that is rarely challenged. In my experience of running workshops at the University of Nottingham and elsewhere, many postgraduate and early career researchers are ‘on Facebook’ and use little else. Ask them, and some include using Wikipedia (as a resource only) as ‘engaging’ in social media (mostly unaware of the potential of using the underlying technology of wikis as a platform for collaborative text editing). Few blog recreationally, or even read them. Twitter use is limited and often doesn’t extend much beyond the signing up stage.

Yet this limited engagement and awareness regularly seems to be sufficient to appropriately constitute ‘significant’ recreational social media use, propagating the belief that when adopting them for academic purposes, new researchers are intimately familiar with the tools, practices and culture of multiple types of social media.

Feeding the Fish: Peripherality, Social Media and Doctoral Enterprise

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

During my workshop at the Research Practices 2.0 event on Saturday, we discussed some of the fundamental questions about sharing work online.


  • What type of research work / activities / content etc?


  • What type of social media / online spaces?


  • During what stages of PhD / study / project?
  • How might this support / compromise ‘formal’ dissemination?


  • What types of format / media etc.

Who (to/with)?

  • Audience – size, demographic?
  • Identifiability – real or ‘imagined’?

I had a great group, who were not given anywhere near the time they deserved to discuss these sufficiently. But they responded brilliantly, generally embracing the idea of research dissemination beyond text-based formats and reporting of findings.

In following up these questions – particularly the ‘What?’ and the ‘When?’ – I referred to my interpretation of Jakob Bardram’s (2007) Fish Model. This plots the student’s engagement in theoretical and empirical work (which I crudely termed the ‘Research Scope’) with the duration of the PhD.

This highly conceptual model is hardly an authentic representation of anyone’s actual PhD, but it does usefully indicate at-a-glance the broad ‘focusing out’ and ‘focussing in’ periods that commonly describe the doctoral research trajectory.

I extended this model to incorporate how, as PhD students; we might at least maintain the scope of academic engagement and learning expansion (represented by A). Indeed, there is justifiably an argument to go beyond a process of mere sustainability in favour of a continuation of the ‘focusing out’ trajectory (as represented by B). Or, crucially, do we relinquish the agency for continued expansive learning to adopt a ‘blinkered’ approach that conforms to the reductionist constraints of ‘finishing the thesis’ without compromising direct disclosure of ideas or findings before ‘formal’ publication.

Holistic models of doctoral practices provide more authentic representations of what doing a PhD actually entails, and the complex socio-educational structures that underpin it – what Cumming (2010) refers to as ‘doctoral enterprise’. Such approaches incorporate activities, forms of intellectual enquiry and social interaction beyond those parameters defining thesis-development, to those that are more attributable to exploring the general research field, and engaging in multiple practice contexts.

For the purposes of the workshop, this was a simple way of demonstrating the ‘dialogical’ relationship between what McAlpine et al. (2009) distinguish as the ‘doctoral-specific’ and the ‘academic-general,’ which describes the potential interrelatedness and influence between the core and the peripheral.

This blog post itself partly represents an example of such a dialogue. It references an event and a project, which can be seen as peripheral activities not directly linked to my PhD research. However, my activities in the project have (not surprisingly) been informed by my research into doctoral practices and social media. Additionally, I may chose not to reference Bardram’s Fish Model in my thesis, but some of the conceptual ideas it has helped describe will be explored. Articulating these ideas in this way is contributing to my process of understanding and conceptualising that will benefit my thesis.

Similar dialogical processes between thesis-development and peripheral activities (such as teaching) may not necessarily involve social media. But it’s taken me a while to realise in my own PhD research, that it is fundamentally the nature of this dialogue – which is social, contested and in a state of flux – that is key to understanding the cultural aspects of social media adoption and use.


Bardram, J. E. (2007). The Art of Doing a PhD. Doctoral Colloquium. UbiComp 2007. Innsbruck, Austria.

Cumming, J. (2010). Doctoral enterprise: A holistic conception of evolving practices and arrangements. Studies in Higher Education, 35(1), 25-39.

McAlpine, L., Jazvac-Martek, M., & Hopwood, N. (2009). Doctoral student experience: Activities and difficulties influencing identity development. International Journal for Researcher Development, 1(1). 97-109.