Doctoral College

Reflecting on ‘A Day in the Life of a Doctoral Researcher’ 2020

Written by Dr Katryna Kalawsky

It’s just over a month ago since I facilitated the Doctoral College’s annual ‘A Day in the Life of a Doctoral Researcher’ and usually after any event or workshop that i’ve organised, I like to take a step back and reflect so I can feed-forward onto the next. But rather than just typing up notes and saving on my laptop for personal reference, I thought i’d try something new and take the opportunity to write a short blog to share with you why the event was run and how it went…so, here goes!

Well, it all began back in 2015 (I actually can’t believe i’m typing that – time has passed so quickly!) when I was discussing with colleagues, during a Graduate School (as it was known back then) monthly team meeting, the different challenges that doctoral researchers can face with respect to being aware of and accessing appropriate support. More specifically, it was acknowledged that the doctoral journey is not always well understood by those who support/represent doctoral researchers in terms of knowing the key differences between the structure/nature of taught and research programmes and also little was known about the different challenges that each student cohort can face. This lack of knowledge is actually completely understandable because let’s face it, unless you’ve undertaken a doctorate before, you’ll never fully know what’s involved. But that said, no two doctorates are the same so even if you have conducted a doctorate before, it’s impossible to know exactly what it’s like for someone else!

So, rather than just accepting that a knowledge-gap existed and is to be expected, we wanted to take a pro-active approach to help colleagues from across the University and within LSU to better understand the common issues that can occur during a doctorate…. and so came the idea (credit must go to Dr Kathryn North, Head of Researcher Development, for this!) for me to organise a half-day event to demystify the doctoral experience so that those supporting/representing students can consider ways in which to make their provision more inclusive and tailored (where appropriate) for doctoral researchers – that event was ‘A Day in the Life of a Doctoral Researcher’.

Fast forward a few years and on 16th November 2021 I ran ‘A Day in the Life of a Doctoral Researcher’ for the 6th time! However, unlike prior years, this year it was run entirely online and I needed to adapt content slightly to cater for this. Also during the planning phase, I liaised with colleagues within the Doctoral College, Counselling Service, and the Doctoral Researcher Presidents Team for their input (i’ve provided the programme below so you can see what was covered).

Attendance was great (we had just under 40 people sign up!) and so was engagement. Admittedly, it’s sometimes difficult to gage levels of engagement online, but it was clear that those at the event had a genuine interest and desire to know more about doctoral researchers and how they can enhance their provision to better support, which was brilliant and very encouraging.

For me, the highlight of the event, as is the case each year, were the talks from three current doctoral researchers. I am so grateful to Chloe Blackwell, Fiona Meeks and Chidinma Okorie who agreed to take time out of their busy schedules to share candid accounts of their doctoral experiences as well as share what it’s like to balance/juggle other commitments (academic and personal) alongside their research endeavours – their accounts really brought the event to life.

In terms of feedback, to try to measure how effective the event was, attendees were asked the following two questions: 1) “How will you THINK differently as a consequence of attending?” and 2) “What will you DO differently as a consequence of attending?”. Here are some of the responses:

“I will ensure I consider the whole DR experience, not just the academic element as everything is very interlinked.”

“I think this was helpful to remind me of the diversity of experience, regardless of the level of study.”

“The event has really encouraged me to draw on the knowledge and experience of as many researchers and colleagues as possible when considering the DR experience as it is so varied.”

“I think I will continue to be proactive in my engagement with the DR community, develop new relationships and connections, and advocate for them just as much as I would any other student or community.”

“Will look to better outline the range of support services available to DRs as this is particularly important as I learned from the session.”

“Be aware of the different, multiple issues going on for DRs as opposed to UG and PGT students.”

Overall, the event was received very well and appears to have achieved its aim. However, I am keen to touch base with attendees in a few months time to find out how their practice has indeed changed as a consequence of the event.

In terms of future plans, ‘A Day in the Life of a Doctoral Researcher’ will continue to run again on an annual basis. Also, there may be scope to provide an online ‘on demand’ session to allow new members of staff to access shortly after they join the University. Finally, i’m excited to tell you that during January 2021 I will be running a bespoke version of ‘A Day in the Life of a Doctoral Researcher’ to colleagues in the Marketing & Advancement Professional Service.

If any one has any questions or comments about ‘A Day in the Life of a Doctoral Researcher’ or any other activities/events that we run in the Doctoral College please get in touch with me at k.e.a.kalawsky@lboro.ac.uk.

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