Peer Networks

A number of PhD students participating in my research have discussed how they became aware that there is a finite number of peers operating within their academic field or specialism, and even less (if any) researching within their specific research foci. This might seem fairly obvious, but this realisation appears to be a revelatory moment for some – representing a small but significant point in the doctoral learning trajectory, as they negotiate the transition from anonymous student to independent researcher becoming increasingly participative and visible within the academic community. Perceptions of peer groups can be realised through a range of activities and environments, but how reliable might these be?

The literature review partly represents the mapping of established researchers and recognised ‘experts’ in a particular research field, but few PhD students will be considered for inclusion here. Web-based academic networks can provide cues to help identify peers – both nationally and internationally – as well as developing sustainable links and trusting relationships, whilst the conference circuit and summer schools provide valuable opportunities for face-to-face interaction. But what of those PhD students who may be marginalised by any or all of these activities; who may not be able to access such opportunities, or who may be yet to publish, or have the skills or inclination to develop significant online profiles?

Furthermore, how does academic recognition through traditional means of research dissemination and informal networking compare with those increasingly enacted within digital environments? How do we reconcile narratives of professional networking and identity production with micro-celebrity cultures in social media?

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