The Effective Researcher: the middle years

Wood for the trees

Yesterday we ran our “The effective researcher – the middle years” workshop. This is aimed at PGRs who, having expended considerable time and energy passing Progression, are now experiencing the dreaded “second year slump” – when progress seems elusive, perspective fails, and you lie awake at 3am wondering why the h*ll are you doing this, will someone remind me please.

After introductions, we dug back into our memories of how it was in the beginning – the heady mixture of euphoria, excitement, fear of the unknown, new responsibilities but also new freedoms. Building reading stamina and developing one’s academic voice also came up. We spent quite a lot of time doing this, but I think it was worthwhile: judging from the smiles and nods, some of us at least were already beginning to recollect “why” we had ever embarked on this doctoral journey.

We then thought ahead to the final stages of the research degree, and this was a good opportunity to talk about the academic, procedural and also the emotional experience of submission, viva and post-viva.

Btw here are the slides, with due acknowledgement to Vitae for some of the materials:

Then we used some metaphors as a way of talking about “middle years” of a doctorate: juggling balls and spinning plates proved especially popular, and the mountaineering analogy also spoke to a lot of us. PGRs are a hugely diverse bunch, but it’s amazing how much common ground there actually is, and the relief of finding out that “it’s normal” and “you’re not alone” was palpable.

In the afternoon we discussed practical ‘strategies for success’ – defining the project scope and standards (with reference to the doctoral descriptor), having a system for organising your material, avoiding procrastination, finding and protecting writing time, and acknowledging the changing relationship with supervisors. Above all, being kind to yourself and finding a working routine that suits you. We finished off with some personal action planning.

As always with these events, there was huge value in just taking some time out to reflect on achievements so far, meet others in a similar position and identify some practical ways of keeping the momentum going. Very best of luck to all the participants with the next stages, and hope to see you again soon!

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