Participant Observation – what effect did I have?

RRebecca Turvillebecca Turvill is undertaking a PhD at the University of Brunel in the Department of Education. Her research “How are children developing number sense, post national numeracy strategy?” is supervised by Dr Gwen Ineson and Dr Heather Mendick. You can follow Rebecca via twitter @RebeccaTurvill




The “participant observer disturbs the situation he investigates” (Hargreaves, 1967, p193).

This quote both haunts and drives me as I reflect on my year of research in primary school. Having undertaken an ethnography of primary mathematics learning, I have spent many, many hours disturbing primary classrooms. I have of course spent many more analysing and reflecting on the situations I have been investigating. Now, as I step back and analyse my data I am particularly focussed on this idea – this disruption.

Disruption generally has negative connotations, travel disruption strikes fear into the heart of most commuters. But what about data disruption? How do I manage the disruption in my observations due to my participation? As I have drawn on the work of Pierre Bourdieu (e.g. Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992), a reflexive approach to data collection has been central throughout my ethnographic research. Indeed my field notes are littered with comments like “I felt anxious about..” and even the occasional “I stopped myself falling asleep by…”

These comments are helpful as I analyse my data as they continue to highlight my physical presence within the data and identify personal bias in my notes. They cause me to consider my position within the data, particularly with regard to comments the children make. But one particular aspect of disruption I cannot account is the way in which I was prepared for.

As a primary school teacher myself, I know the additional pressure having another adult in the classroom can bring. I took great lengths to avoid placing the teachers under any pressure. I focussed my research on the children, not the teaching; I supported groups if it helped or stepped out of lessons if needed; I even photocopied missing sheets.  Despite these actions, having another adult present means you are in whatever way being watched. The disruption to the situation is present before I even arrive.

In order to “help” me get the right data, I am aware that sometimes teachers have scheduled a particular lesson on a day I would be in their school. I am also aware that since this has happened on at least one occasions, there are likely to be occasions when it happened without my knowledge. I also know that largely the lessons themselves are not the point, the children are and the way they engage in them.

So how do I disrupt this learning? How does my presence interrupt this situation? When I help with a group, when I challenge a child or support them in a task, I am not just disrupting but heavily involved in the data. Yet, when I step back and watch, when I sit and listen to what they do, I cannot assume I am not disrupting. So, how do I take hold of this disruption? My field notes continue to serve me as I strive to answer these questions and my reflexivity continues to be central as I analyse my data.

The disruption is in the data, I just hope Bourdieu can help me see it.


Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L.J.D. (1992) An invitation to reflexive sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hargreaves, D.H. (1967) Social relations in a secondary school. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

I wish to acknowledge the support of Dr Gwen Ineson and Dr Heather Mendick for their supervision and guidance. I am grateful for a studentship from Brunel University to allow me to undertake this research.


From my experience so far: Advice for new PhD students

Emmanuel socphd blogEmmanuel is a member of Centre for Advances in Marketing, Business and Management Research Institute at the University of Bedfordshire Business School, Luton. England. His research investigates the framework of print advertisements for consumer banking services in the UK in terms of visual communications (images) and appeals and understanding customer’s perceptions of visual communications. His research interest lies in visual consumption and communication of corporate designs.  You can follow Emmanuel via his twitter account @e_mogaji and at

  1. Develop a professional relationship with your Supervisor

They aren’t your mother, father or Uncle, they are here to shape your research future, approach them professionally, and starting from email and what you discuss, remember they will be your referee and pave the way for you few years time, treat them with respect and seek help if you think things are not working. However, be rest assured after three years, things will change, and you will become closer, discussing personal issues and shared interest.


  1. Show your commitment

Supervisors are expecting a lot from you and you must show them that you are willing and ready for this PhD journey. Meet deadlines, plan ahead for meetings with action plans – things you will like to discuss for each meeting, create it in your calendar and copy them in. At meetings, discus your ideas and what you have found.


  1. Identify the core areas of your research

Know the boundaries of your research continually define them till you reach conclusions, discuss idea with your supervisors so they can help prune the idea if it’s getting really big and may not be manageable. It saves time and unnecessary stress and prepares you well enough for the task ahead.


  1. Be mindful of competition

The university accepts more PhD students that they graduate each year, so be mindful that you are in here to compete for attention from your supervisors, time in the office space, books at the Library and other resources. Your supervisors too have their time constraints – they have other PhD students rounding up so you need to take your initiative to make use of the limited resources. Make your meetings productive, send email if need be.


  1. Start working on your professional brand

Thinking ahead where you want to be after your PhD, start creating a professional brand and social media presence as well, separating your personal life from your professional activities. Prospective collaborators, partners and employers will search for you, what will they see? If you start now, you have a better presence three years time. Create a Linked in page, highlighting your strengths, Twitter to share idea and network. Consider ResearchGate or to share your publications and a Google Scholar profile. Be ready for that challenge. Remember it takes time.


  1. Don’t Rush to attend conferences

Develop the scope of your work in your first year, identify and mark your boundaries and don’t rush to present your work at conference as you may be embarrassed about some feedback at your work and could find it discouraging. I will suggest conference at second year onward.


  1. Be Social

It’s a boring long journey, have friends, physically and virtually, Come socialise with other researchers as it could be very lonely road. Remember you are the only one who fully understands what going on with you but you can rely on support and encouragement of other around you. Do not hesitate to ask questions, find out what they are doing and enjoy yourself. You can also identify those you have related work and your can support yourself throughout the journey.

Should I do a PhD? Top 5 reasons a PhD is a Good Idea

rishabh jainRishabh Jain is an entrepreneur and Ph.D. candidate at MIT you can connect with him on Twitter via @rishabhmjain


With my own PhD graduation upcoming, I get asked this question a lot. So I decided to share this post in case it is helpful to others. To me the most important part of that question is the ‘I’, meaning that there is really no way for anyone else to know what the right decision is. However, in my 5 years at MIT, I have seen the full gamut of success and failure during a PhD, and based on that, the following are my top 5 reasons to say yes to the PhD:

1) You have an irrational LOVE for research

A PhD is and always will be a devotion of some of your best years to research. So you better love it. I mean really love it. There will be several late nights where you are breaking your head over what to do next, or trying to get a piece of equipment to work. I have seen only one thing truly motivate grad students out of those slumps, their desire to discover.

2) You enjoy challenging assumptions

The most successful PhDs I know have always worked on projects that are fundamentally challenging an assumption in their field. Essentially, these people have such a strong desire for the truth, that unless it breaks a thermodynamic law, they believe it is possible! Needless to say, this is how great discoveries happen, and how we have technologies that can do insane things, like controlling a living mouse with just light (if you don’t know about optogenetics yet – google it!).

3) You know exactly why you want a PhD

I know this sounds circular, so I’ll elaborate. I have seen too many of my peers join a PhD because it was the thing that the smart kids do after college. That is the exact wrong reason to do a PhD. You should do a PhD ONLY if you know exactly what you want to accomplish at the end of the PhD. Remember, the PhD is a path, not an end. So if you want to be a professor or a lab head at a national lab for example, those are the obvious reasons to do a PhD. But please, do not sacrifice 5 years to do a PhD just because you are the smartest kid in your class.

4) You have a desire to invent

This is distinct from the first point, where I say it is import to love research. There I am referring to the process. Here I am pointing at the result – the invention. A PhD is one of the best ways to have intellectual freedom to invent things you are passionate about. I have been fortunate to have had this opportunity several times and trust me, it’s an awesome feeling. If you are lucky, you invent something so critical that the marketplace licenses it from you and your impact translates from lab to the ‘real world.’ While this does not always happen, having the desire to produce is instrumental in having a successful PhD.

5) You enjoy the learning-teaching process.

Being a graduate student means you are constantly either teaching someone or learning something. Unlike other jobs, where you acquire a skill and produce a lot based on that skill. Research is quite different in that you have to constantly stay updated, read papers, learn new techniques or ideas, and so on. So even if you don’t want to be a professor after the PhD, you have to enjoy the process.

While the above points may sound general or obvious, it is vital to be honest with yourself about them before making the decision. This is especially true if you are thinking about doing a PhD after having worked for a few years (this is increasingly common these days). For those of you making this decision right now, I wish you luck and success!

Can’t decide on a research topic for your post-doc? Yeah, me neither.

Ben Belek


Ben Belek is a PhD candidate in social anthropology at Cambridge University. His research focuses on the role of emotions in the lives of autistic adults in the UK. He is also the author of the blog The Autism Anthropologist  You can contact Ben via Twitter @benbelek


I’ve been spending too much of my time and energy recently trying to decide what my next research project would be about. For the past three and something years, as a master’s student and then as a PhD student, I’ve been looking into the social and cultural aspects of autism. This field is fascinating, exciting, and altogether extremely rewarding, and I have absolutely no reason to look sideways.

And yet there I am, making makeshift lists on the train, on my living room sofa and at my desk, trying to come up with a research interest. The plan is not to quit autism research altogether. No, there is still so much to read and write, discuss and analyse, and I’m far from getting bored or tired. But at the same time, I guess I just want to branch out and explore other areas. I kind of miss that feeling of reading about a topic for the first time, coming to know the different angles and issues, the relevant histories and approaches. Asking questions in my head for the very first time (only to then learn, with both joy and slight disappointment, that these have already been asked and indeed answered). Exploring new territories. You know, being a kid again.

So I’ve been making lists, as I’ve mentioned, and downloading relevant literature (reading only as much of it as I can afford without feeling unbearably guilty by the fact that I ought to be using this time to write my PhD), and emailing other researchers in the field, with the off-chance that one of them will write back saying “Yes!! We desperately need a medical anthropologist on board, what are you doing this September?” No, that hasn’t happened quite yet, surprisingly. But I’m hanging in there.

So far, my list of has included the following: Kawasaki Disease. Army combat medic training. Jerusalem syndrome. Non-medically trained rabbis in Israel offering medical advice and referring ‘patients’ to medical specialists. And most recently, medical marijuana.

The way I decide (or don’t decide, because spoiler: all of these have in the meantime been ruled out) is this: I’ve come up with a list of criteria for what my desirable research project should have. After all, whatever I choose to study, I want to be in it for that long run.

First, the topic has to be accessible. In other words, I need to have relative confidence in my ability to get access to the field, whatever that field may be, in order to do fieldwork. So that’s how the ‘medical rabbis’ thing got ruled out. I just don’t really see how any of these guys would want me there, creeping around, asking difficult questions and compromising whatever they’ve got going on (there’s a lot at stake for them, I’m sure, and I’m fairly convinced it’s not 100% kosher…). It wouldn’t be entirely impossible for me to find my way in, perhaps, but it is unlikely. And seeing as before I even give it a shot, I will first need to do a lot of reading, design a research proposal, and write grant applications, it’s not really worth the risk, as far as I’m concerned.

Second, it needs to be relevant. It’s true that the great thing about anthropology is that you can study one thing, one group or practice or phenomenon, and what you’ve learned can almost magically prove to be applicable or relevant to something else entirely. It’s all about making sense of human behaviour, and in that sense, studying people practicing sheep shearing in Sudan might actually tell us something quite profound about Wall-Street brokers. And vice-versa. But I just don’t feel I can count on these connections just somehow emerging. I want to know. I want to know that my work will matter, that people everywhere could potentially find it interesting and relevant, and hopefully even benefit from it. So this rules out my idea to study combat medic courses. These have been around for decades – centuries, probably – and while they’re definitely very interesting, in that they combine such different kinds of knowledge (medical and military), and different premises (making people well within an organisation that engages in violence); none of this feels immediately relevant. It doesn’t strike me as important enough. So I withdrew this plan.

Third, I want my project to be feasible. I want to situate myself in a position where I already have a handle on the issues and stakes, the relevant theories and literature. This sounds a bit like a contradiction, seeing as my whole purpose in doing something new is to, well, do something new (new for me, that is). But some steps are just too big. I need to keep in mind that there are always other researchers doing similar projects, and I don’t want to find myself struggling too much to keep up. In other words, if I have to spend months and months of reading just to acquaint myself with the most basic scholarship in the broad area, its vocabulary and discourse, it might very well put me in a position that is just too disadvantaged. And so while I love STS, for example, and I definitely want to gradually position myself within this discipline one day, I feel I need to make that shift gradually. So however fascinating and important (and problematic!) I find the construction of scientific knowledge about Kawasaki Disease, I feel I’m not quite ready to make that rather big leap. So that’s been ruled out.

Fourth, I want my project to be taken seriously. It’s common for social anthropologists, I think, to find themselves in a position where they have to explain what merit their projects actually have when speaking to people from outside the discipline (and often, when speaking to people from within the discipline as well). The recent increase in the prescribing and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, coupled with recent changes in legislation that make the plant far more tolerable from a legal perspective (and in some places, straight-up legal), make it a phenomenon that’s both important and relevant. Also, I think my set of skills and theoretical knowledge would allow me to enter this field without too many obstacles. So my only concern in choosing this as my next research project is that I worry people might not take it seriously, and think I was just in it for the high… (Participant observation, after all).  It might be silly of me, I know, but I don’t feel like I can just shake off this concern and take the plunge.

Finally, I want my research project to be novel, at least to an extent. Again, social anthropology is different, perhaps, than other disciplines in that the novelty of one’s research does not necessarily depend on the question of how much is already known about a specific phenomenon, group of people or what have you. You could walk into a village that’s been studied through and through and still come up with novel insights, which would stem from employing a slightly different method, having a different theoretical inclination, or looking at aspects that were hitherto mostly ignored. There are, after all, infinite stories to be told about any group of people, depending on what you focus on. Religion? Gender? Economy? Emotions? Language? Health? And yet there’s a risk there. Taking that route would mean, I think, that it would be harder to get people automatically interested in my project. It needs that initial appeal. Of course, if it’s only an initial appeal, that’s not going to take me anywhere. But alongside a good, rigorous, creative research project, I also want it to be about something that would appeal to as many people as possible. Something that would stand out. Something that, hopefully, would find its way to outside the walls of academia and interest a wider public. Jerusalem Syndrome, while a fascinating phenomenon insofar as it combines faith, travel, place, pilgrimage, and mental health, has had a book published about it just last year. Although authored by a psychiatrist, it touches on many of the issues that I, as an anthropologist, would also want to engage with. And so I just sort of feel, rightfully or otherwise, that this territory has been claimed.

So there you go. A world full of fascinating, complex, intriguing people, practices and phenomena, and an anthropologist who just can’t seem to decide. But it will come, I hope. And in the meantime, I have my eyes wide open, preparing for that moment when that light bulb lights up, and I get to say Aha! This is what I will study from now on. Until then, I’m checking my inbox every hour or so, just in case there’s an email there with the subject line “Re: by any chance do you need a medical anthropologist aboard?”


Emmanuel socphd blogEmmanuel is a member of Centre for Advances in Marketing, Business and Management Research Institute at the University of Bedfordshire Business School, Luton. England. His research investigates the framework of print advertisements for consumer banking services in the UK in terms of visual communications (images) and appeals and understanding customer’s perceptions of visual communications. His research interest lies in visual consumption and communication of corporate designs.  You can follow Emmanuel via his twitter account @e_mogaji and at



After about three years together, I observe the relationship between I and my supervisor is taking a new dimension, she was more interested in things I do outside research – my families, my interest and other extracurricular activities. It was a welcomed idea as I was able to relate better with her and discuss – a privilege I cherish and wouldn’t want to take for granted.

I shared my new experience on twitter through the PhD forum and it came to my understanding that it’s not always like that for everybody, some still have a well defined professional boundaries with their supervisor.

I remember reading Dear New PhD Student – a letter from your supervisor by Annie Bruton, giving the impression that there is a strict professional relationship between a supervisor and their students, though the author suggested that it was not a serious and useful advice about doing a PhD, some of these points could be considered valid by both parties.

But remember I am not your sister, nor your mother, nor am I your counsellor – I am not even your friend. Some supervisors regularly socialise with their students. I do not. I am really not that interested in the minutiae of your life. I understand life events will impact on your work, and I will be very sympathetic and talk through practical solutions. But I am not your emotional support – that’s what family and real friends are for.

I must confess, it was almost like that in the first two years, especially the first year, my main supervisor was strict even from the tone of her email, you can feel the laptop vibrating, I preferred to maintain that professional boundary and leave no room for unnecessary interaction. Meeting times are to discuss progress and no for anything else -all in the attempt of maintaining a strict student-supervisor relationship.

Thankfully she did not support my conference abstract/submission in the in my first year, saying, I need to concentrate and develop the theoretical and conceptual framework of my research (everyone within the research institute knows she consider that as the backbone of PhD research). She was however replaced in just after my first year so I continue to develop a closer relationship with my second supervisor who was more understanding and easy to relate with.

As I proceed within my second year, I was presenting my work at conferences, submitting manuscripts and getting valuable feedback, my supervisor has developed that interest and now considers me a matured researcher, suggesting that we can now work together.

I guess I have patiently waited with diligence to earn her trust and respect because previously, I have been doing this outreach myself, building networks and interacting with other researchers, but she has suggested a conference we can present my work, even though I have exhausted my conference grant, she is quite positive that a member of my supervisory team them can present it and my name and effort will be able duly acknowledge, we also plan towards a journal publications.

So far, am really happy with the way things are going. My supervisor team has been very supportive, we see almost every week or as needed and I acknowledged the idea that the equilibrium change as years comes by, after two years, we can now relate more as colleagues and no really as supervisor and student.

I think it’s best for PhD students to allow the student-supervisor relationship evolve, allowing the supervisor to initiate the relationship while the student keeps doing their best to portray how diligent they are – meeting deadlines, showing initiative and going on to build network. Supervisors will acknowledge this one day; they see a professional in you and will be willing to work together.

Making time count when doing your PhD

Lisa MurphyI am a first year PhD candidate in Applied Psychology at University College Cork. I did my undergraduate degree in Applied Psychology here and I honestly love the School! Its home to a lot of memories, but more importantly it has what I need in terms of progressing as an academic and as a professional. So, I’ve decided to embark upon a 4 year structured PhD programme – exciting (and terrifying) times ahead! In these early days, I sometimes need to remind myself that I’m actuallydoing a PhD – not so long ago, this was something that only grown up’s did!  You can tweet Lisa or visit her website, where this blog was originally published


Time is perhaps the most important thing in our physical and psychological world. We can neither save it nor store it, exchange it nor rewind it. We are constantly spending, and often wasting, our most precious resource. Since beginning my PhD, I have come to understand the importance of time (both my own as well as the time of others) more earnestly than ever before. Our time must be planned, utilised effectively, enjoyed, never squandered and always considered.

Yet I sometimes wonder – even if I succeeded in planning each and every minute of the next four years to a degree of astounding precision, and completed each minute exactly as scheduled, would this time be enough to accomplish all of the things that I want to accomplish, mainly, four perfectly designed and impeccably executed pieces of research? Probably/definitely not! Somewhere, somehow, a trade-off must occur between completing your doctoral research in a reasonable amount of time and conducting ‘perfect research’ of faultless quality. Although the latter, in my opinion, can never be accomplished, it is certainly achievable to waste mental energy and more importantly, precious time, trying to conduct perfect PhD research.  For example, at the moment I spend a considerable amount of time every day sitting at my computer, books and journal articles covering the surface of my desk, a new Microsoft Word document open on the screen, faced with a blinking curser, and no words. Here is why (a.k.a what not to let happen):

I have become so preoccupied with writing ‘the perfect literature review’, that I have convinced myself the only way to do so is to study every word ever written on my topic, before I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, so to speak). My topic is time perspective. Writings on the psychology of time perception go back as far as the year 1781 (to the best of my knowledge). By this outrageous logic, I must therefore study, review and recall every detail of roughly 250 years of literature before I can even begin to write my introduction section. At that rate, my supervisor should receive the first draft of this introduction section by the year 2018 (I am a relatively slow reader). She is a patient woman, however given that it is in my research plan to submit for publication in December 2015, I imagine her patience would be tested to a large extent in this instance.

As I take my seat each day, vowing to be productive and do some writing, I am consumed with writing the perfect literature review. And what happens next? I am not sure how many of you will relate, but fear is what happens next. I am afraid to write in case I haven’t discovered the most important paper ever written in my field, identified the most influential thinker, or studiedthat thing that everybody else in the area knows, but I have yet to uncover. In essence, I am terrified that I will leave something important out…so nothing goes in! Even more ironic, I sit staring into space, contemplating what little time I have to read all of this literature, when I could actually be reading the literature! What a gigantic waste of my time!

Today, following a brief meltdown, I had an important conversation with a friend. She told me that it really doesn’t take an exceptional amount of intelligence to complete a PhD, but still many do not finish. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a reflection of intelligence, but rather of character, or more importantly, a reflection of one’s responsiveness and reaction to an intense and difficult character building process. And it hit me – more than I wish to write the perfect literature review, I hope to build my character and resilience to setbacks and meltdowns, enjoy the highs but learn from the mistakes, push through procrastination and panic, and acquire the skills and expertise necessary for a successful career in academia, all the while conducting research on a topic which gets me so excited that I could cartwheel, research which will never be perfect, but will be my best. This, I have been told, is good enough, and that, in my opinion, will be time well spent!

Freelance Networking: A fun way to network and see the world.

Steven NicholsonSteven Nicholson, Lancaster University, 3rd Year PhD Student

I am a third year PhD student studying trust in online communication.  As part of the research group Security Lancaster; I research threats from criminal online groups.  My other academic interests include; epistemic vigilance, linguistic persuasion in advertising, and confidence and trust in sports teams.  I like to travel.

Email:      Twitter: @ste_nick


Attending conferences provides a great opportunity to both see the world and build great international contacts, but why wait for conference season to make the most of both traveling and networking?

For the last two years I’ve combined independent travel with networking to practice what I like to call ‘Freelance Networking’.  So what is ‘Freelance Networking’?  Well, it’s any time you take to have a break from your PhD (call it a holiday, traveling or annual leave) while simultaneously taking the opportunity to visit and network with the local University at your travel destination.  Here I’ll share with you how you can start doing this fun, and rewarding, networking practice for yourself.

Go where you want to go. I realised the irony that my decision to travel abroad whenever I had annual leave, so that there would be less temptation to do any PhD work, was somewhat compromised by practicing freelance networking.  Nevertheless, I have always travelled to places I wanted to visit first, and then reviewed the local university second. I think planning a round trip to Harvard University, with absolutely no interest in Boston, would be insanity; and ultimately make your annual leave more of a work than pleasure trip.  Your mind-set should be that this is still your time off, and you are simply taking a fraction of it to do some fun networking.

Do your research. Look up the relevant departments of the local universities. Then look up the individual researchers, I guarantee there will be someone who has similar research interests to your own. However, don’t try to find a perfect match to your research area, part of this is to broaden your research horizons.

Contact the relevant people. Sending this email can feel a little strange and audacious. The key is to be honest, don’t try to claim that you’re traveling all that way just to visit a University; no PhD student has that much spare time I would hope! Simply state how you’re visiting the area on annual leave, and given your research interests (stated clearly) and theirs (pick part of their research most relevant to yours) you’d like to take the opportunity to discuss your common interests and, if possible, meet more people in the institute.

Expect nothing. Academics are busy, they may not respond to your email.  They don’t know you, they owe you nothing; so don’t take it personally if you don’t get a response.  Having said that, in my experience, most academics are flattered and intrigued by your enthusiasm, and are happy to arrange a meeting.

Arrange a time and place to meet. Here, it helps to be flexible. As it is annual leave, I’m usually able to be very flexible; so I will state my arrival and leaving time before inviting the academic to pick a time that suits them.  However, if there are dates you know you have a day trip planned be sure to be clear in stating when you can and can’t meet. Like I said, they are busy people.

Prepare, but not too much! Yes, you want to read up on the academic’s own research interests, but I can imagine how freelance networking can become a chore if you spend the first 3 days of your break studying. For my last trip, I read one paper before traveling and listened to a one-hour pod cast by the academic on the plane, this was sufficient to have an overview of their interests.  The academic will be more interested in your research anyway!

Relax, drink your coffee, and enjoy the chat. It is just that, a chat; don’t think of it as a job interview, or a lecture whereby you need to take notes on everything they say.  Soon, these people will be our peers, not superiors; you should act like that to make the interaction comfortable and friendly. You’ll both feel awkward if you feel judged and act defensive about your work, or if you are in ore of their research accomplishments.  Take the opportunity to enjoy discussing research in an informal manner.

Make email contact after the meeting. They didn’t have to meet with you, be grateful!  A short email to say thank you and sum up of what was discussed, and why you found it interesting, is enough to show your gratitude. However, you may also wish to send any papers you discussed that they sounded interested in, send any of your own work or findings if they found it interesting, or request any material they mentioned if you’d like the references.  Finally, you might also want to reaffirm when you will be finishing your PhD and are in the job market, so that they can bare you in mind if any opportunities arise.

So, why take time out of your hard earned break to freelance network? I imagine the real benefits of this will be different for everyone. Personally, I haven’t got enough space to say how rewarding this practice has been for me; from insightful interpretations of my own work to being encouraged to apply for postdoctoral positions in exciting cities. But whatever success you have, you can be sure that this is a fun practice, to feel proactive, and to really take control of your networking opportunities.  For that reason freelance networking is something I’ll continue to do and something I would encourage all PhD students to start doing! Happy travels!

Creating a Twitter Space for Dementia Research

Julie ChristieHuge thanks to Julie Christie, a phd researcher at the University of Stirling who has kindly shared her blog about the development of social media platform#demphd, including how it was created, how it can help research and future plans. The original blog can be found here, and you can contact Julie on Twitter 



“Being a PhD candidate is a great privilege. You research areas of specific interest to you and immerse yourself in generating new data and answering unanswered questions.  Research takes place over many years, and during this period you have to isolate yourself physically and mentally, finding space and time to think and write.  Whilst universities provide formal supervision to students and offer a range of groups and services, these are structured activities, available at set times, and usually take place on the university campus. It isn’t always easy to catch up with other PhD researchers due to the diverse range of activities people are engaged in through their study. If, like myself, you are undertaking your PhD on a part time basis, or are in full time employment this becomes even harder. The answer for me was social media, and specifically twitter.

I started using twitter towards the end of 2012 but like many people considered it to be a social experience, engaged in as a leisure activity.  I then discovered that there were a small group of PhD researchers and academics exploring this new space, each testing the potential for new relationships. I began to connect with PhD candidates from around the world. I started by engaging with a new group the ‘Social Sciences Forum’  a social media platform for social scientists, hosted by Donna Peach of Salford University.  One of their early twitter chats was around the potential for intra and interdisciplinary connections. Also taking part in the discussion were several people who were researching different aspects of dementia and, in particular, Anna Tatton, a PhD candidate from Leeds University. Anna and I began to explore a space where those with a research interest in dementia could connect and the Dementia PhD identity #demphd was born.  We started to plan discussions, blogs and twitter chats and before long we had a dedicated group from around the world who were participating. The discussion topics relate to research, the PhD process and dementia.

So what is #demphd and how can it support dementia researchers and in particular PhD researchers? Anna describes it as “an international support network” (2014: 16).  I describe it as a space where anyone with an interest in dementia research can meet. A space for people who have dementia, carers, and experts by experience to meet academics, researchers and students as part of an evolving community of practice.  Peer support is both the foundation for this new community and a natural part of the process. Our twitter space is used to promote the work of PhD candidates, supporting them to present their research in weekly chats.  Our varied membership and connections facilitate the provision of advice, information and support on many aspects of the PhD journey. #demphd promotes news on dementia research opportunities and conferences from around the world. Our members live tweet from many events which mean that those unable to attend can follow speakers and topics of interest to them. We also offer an important critical friend role discussing challenging topics and, equally important, offer congratulations on the many personal and professional achievements of our community. This includes celebrating and promoting publications and conference engagements. I also believe that the transparency of twitter promotes the PhD experience, reaching new people and encouraging others to consider their own questions about dementia.

So how does this dementia twitter space work alongside formal supports and networking in person? Virtual PhD experiences can never replace face to face interaction but the friendships and support developed are real and can become opportunities to meet. I have met with many colleagues now, arranging to meet at conferences and to take forward work opportunities. The most recent development is that many of the #demphd community will be present at the Alzheimer Europe Conference in Glasgow, October 2014.  As a result we are currently planning our first in person #demphd meeting to explore our future direction.

If you are interested in shaping the future of this dementia twitter space or learning more please contact me by email at or on twitter@juliechristie1 or simply use #demphd to connect.”

Tatton, A. 2014. Introducing #demphd. Journal of Dementia Care 22, 4: 16-17

Are Researchers ALWAYS Busy?

Emmanuel socphd blogEmmanuel is a member of Centre for Advances in Marketing, Business and Management Research Institute at the University of Bedfordshire Business School, Luton. England. His research investigates the framework of print advertisements for consumer banking services in the UK in terms of visual communications (images) and appeals and understanding customer’s perceptions of visual communications. His research interest lies in visual consumption and communication of corporate designs.  You can follow Emmanuel via his twitter account @e_mogaji and at


This sounds like a research question but I guess I am not chanced at the present moment to seek answers for this question, like every other researcher, I am over committed and can’t take up any other project now..

I appreciate the need to network and share ideas, I look forward to meeting various people who I will like to work with but seems everyone has something already on ground doing. Can you take up another research project with your present workload?

Assuming financial reward is included or an opportunity which is so good to refuse because it will enhance your CV or an Early Career Researcher reaching out to you for partnership? I suppose we will have different answers.

I attended a workshop on successfully applying and securing research grant and it boils down to the fact that you need the right connections, the right people to enhance your chances. Imagine researchers from a Russell group university competing with those from a post 1992 University for a million euro research grant, most likely the Russell group university will get it.

So what’s the plan for those attending post 1992 universities? Any chance for us, the speaker suggested Networking, working with those already in the game to build your own network, but how easy is it to do that when we are all busy with huge amount of pressure.

As a PhD student who will like to collaborate and expand my research network, the supposedly busy schedule of everyone seem discouraging, supervisors are more concerned with you finishing in three years and may not want any other research activity to distract you, even though they have present work they are working upon, you timely completing is of uttermost importance but what is the value of a PhD with you added skills?

I will however suggest to individuals to keep trying, reaching out to people but most importantly, researchers of the same category/experience. You are both struggling to get your manuscripts published, working hard to climb the academic ladder and under same kind of pressure.   This is because the more experience researcher may be too busy while those behind you in terms of experience may not have the zeal you will want to work with.

I will also suggest the need to tap into Supervisors’ network. A friend of mine got his Supervisor involved in his conference presentation, they were both acknowledge as authors while his supervisor presented the paper, a senior colleague too had over five journal publications with his Supervisor before he finished his PhD which enhanced his chance of getting work immediately after graduation.

I have plan to keep building my small  network and we will grow together, people we can share ideas with and know that when they are still very busy, they can spare time to collaborate and provide the support. I have found the @PhDforum on twitter useful as the only collaborator for I project I have presently was through that network, Piirus is not the main thing for me, I also found ResearchGate inappropriate.

Am sure, I will also get to that level when I can’t work with an Early Career Researcher because I am over committed to various projects at the moment and can’t work on any new project.

Watch out for me.

A geographical inspiration

Jonathan KershawMy name is Jonathan Kershaw and I’m a PhD research student based at Coventry University, looking at the way we ‘consume’ the car – as status symbol, icon, socio-cultural artefact and experience – and how our relationship with the car might impact upon the uptake of low carbon vehicles as part of a holistic low carbon automobility. You can read more of my blogs at and connect with me on twitter via @jeckythump



A PhD is very much a marathon and, no matter how interesting or ground-breaking your research may be, maintaining momentum over three, or even four, years can be difficult.

Geographical inspiration - a Santorini sunset (Picture source: author's photograph).

I began my university ‘career’ as a mature student, only embarking upon a BSc geography degree in my early/mid thirties, going straight onto an MSc in Environmental Management and Sustainable Development and, after a slight hiatus, embarking upon my PhD.

I recall one lecturer imploring us callow 1st–year Bachelors during one of those group lectures attended by the entire year’s intake – BSc physical geographers, BA human geographers, BSc geographers, BSc environmental scientists, BSc GIS-ers – that, during the course of our degrees, ‘you’ve got to do what you’re interested in, otherwise you’re wasting everybody’s time, especially yours’. Or something along those lines, anyway.

So I did. I managed to pursue several interests during the course of my geography degree, covering everything from cultural geography to post-socialism to vulcanology to quaternary environmental change. My dissertation was about the semiotics of the car.

It was during my MSc that I became further interested in, and pursued subjects on, the environment, climate change and low carbon mobility, with my thesis concerning the environmental impacts of football supporter transport.

I am currently in the final throes of writing up my PhD on socio-cultural regard for the car and the potential impacts of this upon an uptake of low carbon vehicles. Writing about cars and the environment, washed down with a large slug of philosophy – marvellous. At least, in theory.

Actually, it is marvellous – I wouldn’t swap it at all. I’ve spent the last three-and-a-bit years thinking, reading, writing on and around subjects I’m passionate about and, looking back, it’s been brilliant; throw in all the conferences and the contacts with other academics and postgraduates – in person and via the twittersphere – and it’s been a cracking experience. It hasn’t all been plain sailing though.

All postgraduate researchers struggle at some point, hitting practical, philosophical and analytical walls. These walls can take some climbing, and no matter how capable we are, or how immersed or interested in our research we may be, doubts can rise, morale can flag and confidence can wane.

I’ve suffered bouts of that recently, feeling a bit thick at times. I’m sure I’m not the only one. When you live 120 miles away from uni, it can all feel a bit solitary too.

Anyway, a week or so back, a picture appeared in my twitter timeline. It was a retweet byBangor University’s geography department (@BUGeography) of a tweet posted by the geography department at St. Edmund’s School in Salisbury (@Stedsgeography).

And repeat... (Picture source: @BUGeography @Stedsgeography)

I retweeted it too. I don’t know where St. Edmund’s got the picture from, whether it was sourced or created, but thanks anyway guys. For some reason, @BUGeography’s retweeting of it woke me up a bit. Just in time for a run of colloquia and conferences, I’m adopting it as a mantra during my writing up – ‘this is my new jam’, as some would say.

So begone, doubt! I am a geographer. I am encouraging others to think a bit differently. I do know my stuff.

And, despite what you may feel sometimes, so do you.

I’m getting on with it – first full draft here we come!


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