digital academic – new research project

Last week Inger Mewburn – @Thesiswhisperer – and I were at the Digital Academics seminar in Canberra. We presented some ideas for a research project we have been talking about.

This was our handout to participants. We’d be interested in anything you have to say about our questions as we go about forming and firming up the project.

The aim of this research is to explore doctoral student engagement with freely available sources of advice on writing and research practice on the web which we are calling (for lack of a better name) ‘academic development content’. Is there an emerging set of practices we could label the ‘DIY doctorate’?

Academic development advice is packaged on blogs and other web based forums and is shared and circulated via social media. We have a series of questions about these practices, specifically the identities and experiences of the content creators/users. If we know more about who is making the material, and who is accessing it and sharing it, we can better understand its role in research training and create strategic interventions for doctoral researchers and their supervisors.

The questions we have in mind at the moment are:

*  How widespread is the use and sharing of this ‘academic development’ content?

*  Who is making the content? Are there bio-demographic or disciplinary patterns?

*  Who is accessing it? Who isn’t? Why?

*  How do users find material?

*   How do users decide if the material is good (or not)?

*  What material is consumed most? least?

*  What are the sharing practices and patterns of sharing in academic networks?

*  How does use compare to more traditional sources of support and information, ie: supervisors

*  Do supervisors use online material in their teaching practices and how?

*  What opportunities does this space open up? Is participation a a content creator an advantage or a disadvantage? How?

*  What vulnerabilities are being created? Is anyone preying on researcher data traces? (is: predatory publishers, dodgy conferences, POD publishers.)

So, in summary:

Does this idea of the ‘DIY Doctorate’ make any sense?

Does this make for better doctoral education, or doctoral experience? Or are we seeing the emergence of another kind of digital divide?

Are there any missing questions?

Is there similar work out there already?

What methods might we use to explore these questions?



About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in advice, DIY PhD, Inger Mewburn and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to digital academic – new research project

  1. Dear Pat and Inger, This is indeed a fascinating area for study. As an off campus, off shore, long distance half-the-way-around the world-from my uni post graduate, I am an addicted, heavy user of these materials. As an English speaking PhD student living in Israel, I can say that there are issues connected to the predominance of English in this field. It appears to me that non-English speaking students and early career researchers are greatly disadvantaged here.


  2. Gnip says:

    This is a great research that I honestly looking forward to read when it is completed. As a off-campus International PhD candidate, I rely a lot on online academic advice as I am pretty lonely in completing my doctorate.
    In regards to Nikki’s comment, I am not sure what do you mean by “non-English speaking students’ disadvantage” as there are many English-as-a-second-language speakers who pursue postgraduate studies in overseas institutions. I do recognise there are certain level of challenge for people with varied English language capabilities, but I believe mostly can benefit from the materials as long as they fulfil the minimum requirement of international postgraduate admission and successfully to be enrolled in these international higher learning institutions.


  3. Linda Baines says:

    This is an excellent research project. As a part-time PhD student who lives away on campus, I look to these kinds of resources such as blogs and twitter (e.g.#phdchat) offer advice on the kinds of issues and challenges that I encounter, and help me to overcome some of the isolation of working on my own.


  4. Ivy says:

    Hi Pat! I love your posts and thank you for helping me to get through my PhD! I hope that you will receive official recognition for your blogging. I think one avenue for researching your questions above would be looking at how often blogs are mentioned in the Acknowledgement section of PhD theses 🙂
    I also have a completely off-topic question/request for you. I know there are a few posts on here on the transition from PhD to post-PhD life, but I was wondering if you could perhaps write a bit about the supervisor-student relationship after the viva. What is the etiquette? Do you still stay in touch? Do you publish together? I’m so grateful to my supervisor for helping me to pass my viva and for helping to make it a pleasant and rewarding experience and I would like to be helpful to him somehow – I don’t just want to leave – it feels wrong somehow. Thank you!


  5. Pat and Inger, I am intrigued by the idea of the DIY doctorate.

    While I am well-supported by fabulous supervisors, I began my doctorate two years ago while juggling a baby, a toddler and soon after returning to work, so have been unable to luxuriate in long days at the library or face to face immersion in study groups or collaborative writing spaces (more on managing my doctorate, and life, here I am hoping to submit around the three year mark.

    The online world has allowed me to poke around for GIY (get it yourself) just-in-time advice; I can think of a couple of instances in which this had an immediate impact on my thesis. Social media and blogging allow me to feel connected with like-minded PhDers going through similar experiences, helping me to feel less isolated and more part of community and conversation.

    Please pursue your idea!



  6. Valerie says:

    As an off-campus, part time, self-funded doctoral mature student who graduated this year, I used both Pat and Inger’s blogs extensively, most particularly in the write up and viva preparation period. They helped me keep on track and I’m sure reduced the number of times I needed to ask my hard-pressed supervisor for help. As others have commented, the isolation felt by off campus students, was alleviated to a certain extent by the blogs.
    As an aside from the DIY Doctorate I tried to do a paperless doctorate and with the use of OneNote and Endnote I very nearly managed it. I ended up with less than a dozen bits of actual paper. Of course my institution still demanded the usual three copies of the finished writing which rather negated this.
    Best of luck with this research.


  7. HSH says:

    Great project, especially meaningful for those who are off-campus and separated from the physical experience of doing a PhD. I too am doing my PhD off-campus and have found such resources immensely useful.

    I wonder if there are parallels between self-diagnosis of illness (through WebMD for example) and consequently, self-treatment, without seeking the expert opinion of a doctor in person? There are benefits, but there are also risks, namely accountability. You can hold a supervisor accountable for poor advice/guidance if a project goes awry, but you can’t do the same with a blog or website.

    Perhaps the issue then is how can universities embrace these resources to enhance the traditional PhD experience?


  8. HSH says:

    Another thing that comes to mind is how open are PhD students to sharing that they’ve consulted DIY resources in the course of their studies? Personally, I’m a little embarrassed to have “how to do a PhD/lit review etc.” books lying around my desk or on my bookshelf. At one level, I know there’s nothing wrong with that because I know I need the help and many of these books are credible and well-researched. But at another level, I’m self-conscious because I wonder what impression that gives to others. After all, I got into the PhD programme, shouldn’t I know how to do research? Of course, the truth suggests many students are clueless, but few want to admit that publicly. In a way, it’s like being depressed – you know what and how you feel, but you feel like you have to mask it. Ironic that many PhD students become depressed because they have to act this way.

    So maybe another question is this – is there a stigma to using these resources?


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