Call For Guest Blogs

The ethos underpinning this Social Research Hub is to support a narrative between all of you who are interested in social research. It is hoped that SOCPHD can facilitate communication between researchers, those who apply its findings to develop and implement policies and practices, with those whose lives are affected by it  – Everyone of us.

As such this invitation for guest blogs is purposefully broad; I do not want to dictate the narrative. Clearly, no abusive or defamatory blogs will be posted, otherwise I want to help share your knowledge and experiences. Your blogs do not have to be exclusive to SOCPHD.

By SOCPHD hosting guest blogs I hope to engender a sense of community, but it is equally important to support your collaborative ventures. I am constantly inspired by your generosity and innovation and want to  let others know about it. So do tell us what you are doing.

I have established a forum at where you can post about your research interest, leave a link to your blog and help others to find you.

This feed and our sister site @phdforum are developing according to your needs. I am grateful to those of you who have expressed an interest in becoming more involved and look forward to developing these conversations  in the coming months.

Please forward any blogs you want to feature on SOCPHD or inquiries to    admin @

Currently these enterprises are facilitated by one full time phd student and your patience with my response times are very much appreciated.

I look forward to hearing from you,


Donna (@donna_peach)


Don’t mock the mock: The importance of a having a practice viva

jennacrop-213x300Jenna Condie is a Postgraduate Researcher who lectures in Psychology and Media Psychology at the University of Salford. She is an enterprising academic or ‘Enterprademic’  taking an entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial approach in teaching, learning, research, enterprise and consultancy work. Jenna’s doctoral research contributes to Environmental Psychology, as her qualitative study explores how people make sense of living in ‘disruptive’ places, specifically living alongside railways.

You can read more about Jenna here: and connect with her via:

Twitter @jennacondie   LinkedIn:

Don’t mock the mock: The importance of a having a practice viva

I submitted my PhD thesis just over a month ago.  Since handing in, I’ve been a tad unenthusiastic about looking at it again.  When I do read it, the writing seems unfamiliar, almost as if someone else wrote it.  If the viva was the day after submitting my thesis, whilst I might be delirious, at least I would still be immersed in my research.    As more time passes, I feel increasingly distanced from my work.

However, I recently had a mock viva and this has changed everything.  In preparation for the real thing, my supervisors organised a practice run with two academics that I didn’t know.  The mock ran as similar to the real thing as possible.  I waited outside whilst the examiners convened.  I was called in and we shook hands.  They started with some easy questions to get the conversation flowing, which then proceeded into a more intense ‘grilling’ of the how’s and why’s of my research. All the while, my supervisor sat quietly taking notes on my performance.  It lasted for around two hours and I left the room red faced with a pounding head.  They had a chat and I re-entered the room for feedback.  Here’s a summary of what they said:

  • Rehearse your answers – so that I convey the main points of my thesis more clearly and concisely.  Although I made some good points, I did waffle on at times and strayed from answering the question.
  • Your language impacts upon perceived confidence – avoid vagueness and saying words such as ‘stuff’ and ending sentences in ‘I think’.  I need to find ways around this and further rehearsal of arguments is crucial to giving a confident impression.
  • Champion qualitative research – I know that I have a tendency to sound unconvinced of qualitative research and often position it in relation to quantitative research…but I still did it anyway!  I need to drill it into my head that qualitative research is valuable in its own right.  So, to prepare for the viva, I plan to fully immerse myself in the social constructionist and discursive literature again.  I am thinking of preparing a journal article to scaffold this reading and give it purpose.
  • Read up around qualitative research evaluation criteria e.g. generalizability – I got a bit stuck on this and how I ensured rigour in my methodological approach. I’ll be doing some reading around this as well too.
  • It’s ok if you can’t answer a question – I tried to answer everything.  Prepare phrases that give you a get out e.g. “that was beyond the scope of the study”.  It’s also ok to ask for clarification e.g. “could you expand on what you mean”.
  • Summarise each paragraph of your thesis into a sentence – even though I had my thesis with me, there wasn’t time to read over sections in the flow of conversation. One suggestion was to summarise each paragraph into a sentence so that when examiners refer you to a section, you have a condensed version.
  • You must own it – it is my research, I have done a good job, I need to believe my research and defend what I have produced.  It makes an original contribution to knowledge, and what I did met the research aims.

On reflection, I can see that the distance between the research and I impacted upon my performance in the mock viva.  I now have a clearer idea of how to go forward in preparing more thoroughly so I enter the real thing with greater confidence.  Having a mock viva also gave me the opportunity to talk about my research with others which has reignited some of the enthusiasm that I used to have for my work oh so long ago now.

I don’t understand how someone can go into a PhD viva cold. As it’s such an unusual scenario, it requires a rehearsal.   I think the mock viva worked so well for me as it ran as close to an actual viva as possible. I wouldn’t have taken it as seriously if my supervisors or colleagues had played the role of examiners.  The experience has made me feel more positive about my work and given me a number of ways forward. Fingers crossed I get a date for my viva sooner rather than later so I can keep this momentum going.

Thank you to Karen Smith and Jackie Taylor for taking the time to read my thesis, giving me the opportunity to talk about my work, and provide invaluable feedback (and notes!).  Thank you to my supervisors Phil Brown and Anya Ahmed, especially to Anya for arranging and hosting my practice run.  It is massively appreciated!

Deserving of respect: Some thoughts on researcher well-being

Dr Mark Murphy is Reader in Education, School of Education, University of Glasgow. He previously taught at King’s College London, University of Chester and the University of Stirling. Mark has published numerous articles in journals such as the Journal of Education Policy, Journal of European Public Policy, European Journal of Education, International Journal of Lifelong Education and the British Journal of Sociology of Education. His most recent book is Social theory and education research: understanding Foucault, Habermas, Bourdieu and Derrida (Routledge, 2013). He is also the creator of, a website designed to provide a platform for discussion on the relationship between theory and education research. Mark tweets via @socialtheoryapp

Deserving of respect:

Some thoughts on researcher well-being

Taking its lead from the Concordat, one of the questions the #socchat on 30th May 2013 will ask is:   How do we develop a culture which equally nurtures researcher well-being as well as performance?

This is a significant question, quite possibly the most significant when it comes to researcher development. In the recent study on Why women leave academia and why universities should be worried, for example, several reasons cited are clearly emotional in nature: lack of adequate self-esteem, a sense of isolation, a feeling of not belonging in the academic world.

Anyone who works in academia will tell you that we expend a great deal of energy focusing on issues of status, prestige and reputation. The sector is awash with concerns over respect and recognition for one’s talents and contribution to the academic community. Although some would like to think so, these concerns are not peripheral to the academic culture – they are central to it. For me, this is not unusual (such a culture is prevalent in most, if not all, work cultures); neither is it surprising –  people have a strong desire to be recognised and praised for their work  and contribution, essential elements in building a sense of belonging and consequently self-esteem.

It’s not hard to come up with reasons why the affective content of academic life is glossed over or ignored; for a start, a rigid head/heart distinction is practically an occupational hazard. What is more of a concern is the impact of this unacknowledged affective component on the development of PGRs and ECRs. The desire for status and respect can lead academics to focus exclusively on their own career development, sometimes at the expense of their more junior colleagues. It is also the case that some academics see the emotional disaster area that is doctoral study as a kind of rite of passage, a way to earn some stripes in a profession that requires a high level of emotional robustness (if that is the right expression). Why should it be any different for a new generation of researchers?

This emotional context of academic life, however, while evidently part of the problem, is also part of the solution when it comes to developing a culture that nurtures researcher well-being. Whatever hope we have left for senior staff, there is always the opportunity to place concerns over respect, status and reputation explicitly at the core of early career development. In order to do this it is imperative that the PGRs and ECRs in faculties are placed at the centre of activity, rather than on the periphery (a sure-fire way to put people off any career).

This shift will undoubtedly place a bit more pressure on PGRs and ECRs, but the payoff is the development of a culture in which praise, encouragement, constructive criticism, recognition and reward should be actively encouraged. How better to facilitate a sense of belonging and acceptance among PGRs and ECRs? I would also emphasise that a competitive culture can exist alongside a more collaborative ethos, so long as the balance is right.

In this way then the dichotomy hinted at in the original question between well-being and performance becomes less of a rigid distinction and more like two sides of the same coin. People should be rewarded, in an emotional sense, for their academic performance – a normative state that effectively requires this performance to be visible.

Why blog?

Huw is a second year Web Science PhD student at the University of Southampton, supervised by Professor Susan Halford and Dr Nick Gibbins. Huw is investigating the implications for young people and huwcdaviestheir (lifelong) education of the democratisation of knowledge on the Web. He argues that existing research is limited by its positivist methods and reliance on age as explanation of youth’s vulnerability to misinformation.  Huw does not consider age to be self-evident and timeless but rather a moral classification – a product of over a century and half of social upheaval and productive power in society. He therefore adopts a mixture of qualitative and digital quantitative methods to demonstrate how young people’s attitudes to information on the Web are shaped by their social environment. You can read more of Huw’s blogs at and also featured on   Huw tweets via @huwcdavies

Why blog?

I’ll get to an answer in a roundabout way. Please bear with me; it’s only 377 words.

As a social scientist PhD wannabe, I worry about my employment prospects. I am not spending my days processing big data. I’m not writing APIs for open or linked data.  I’m not producing social network graphs.  I’m not an expert on corporate security vulnerabilities. I’ll never be on Newsnight dazzling Paxman with my technical knowledge of cyber-warfare.  And, I’m not exactly the Nate Silver of quantitative methods.

However, I do spend my days reading and trying to critique a rare and undervalued commodity. In the desperate quest for growth the coalition government is bankrupt of them; in their place we have dogma, pleas to cut red tape so people can build more conservatories without planning permission and HS2. Ed Miliband comes out with one for every party conference which is then parroted by his party faithful before it fades into obscurity. David Cameron, in the days he used travel husky powered, acquired one he believed could rewrite the social contract between people and the state; or what we remember as the Big Society.  I’m talking about ideas; abstract, sophisticated and transformative ideas.

I’m no visionary but I do think we’ve lost sight of the importance of ideas. We know the current Education Secretary says ‘facts’, the King James Bible and Middlemarch is the foundation of rigorous education but where does this world view leave ideas?

I see, in my field, how ideas turn the wheels of the academy.  Social Machines, Web Science and Digital Sociology are ideas and therefore open to interpretation and discussion.  However, these concepts are becoming muster points for people with similar interests and ambitions to mobilise support, and attract research funding and generate new insights into society.

Endurable, workable ideas are created and developed by people with knowledge of the history of ideas, and a well-practiced ability to critique them. If we move towards an education system that marginalises ideas we leave empty field for dogma and number-crunchers to occupy.

A robust sense of purpose is crucial to a successful PhD.  I am convinced what I do has real value (even if it’s only to make me think a bit harder about ‘stuff’) and I think blogging could help convince others too.

Forthcoming #socchat ‘Researcher career development & well-being’

Our next #socchat to be held on 30th May 2013 is scheduled at 4pm British summer time in the hope that this will facilitate a global audience. It will discuss the UK Concordat initiative and invites you to share what similar initiatives, if any, exist in your country. Please read the accompanying information about Concordat.

At the end of this blog we will structure the format for the upcoming #socchat and the ways in which you can contribute to this discussion.


In the UK there is the Concordat initiative “an agreement between the funders and employers of researchers in the UK, setting out the expectations and responsibilities of each stakeholder in researcher careers – researchers themselves, their managers, employers and funders.   Vitae-Concordat-logo-2011  It aims to increase the attractiveness and sustainability of research careers in the UK and to improve the quantity, quality and impact of research for the benefit of UK society and the economy.”  


The Concordat sets out ‘seven key principles for funders and employers of researchers in the UK.’ 

  1. Recognition of the importance of recruiting, selecting and retaining researchers with the highest potential to achieve excellence in research
  2. Researchers are recognised and valued by their employing organisation as an essential part of their organisation’s human resources and a key component of their overall strategy to develop and deliver world-class research
  3. Researchers are equipped and supported to be adaptable and flexible in an increasingly diverse, mobile, global research environment
  4. The importance of researchers’ personal and career development, and lifelong learning, is clearly recognised and promoted at all stages of their career
  5. Individual researchers share the responsibility for and need to pro-actively engage in their own personal and career development, and lifelong learning
  6. Diversity and equality must be promoted in all aspects of the recruitment and career management of researchers
  7. The sector and all stakeholders will undertake regular and collective review of their progress in strengthening the attractiveness and sustainability of research careers in the UK


The Concordat reports on ‘researchers’ attitudes to professional development’ & comments briefly on researcher leaders

CROS results show that

  • Significant numbers of research staff who responded to the survey take on wider activities and responsibilities beyond their immediate research role, such as managing a budget, teaching, involvement in institutional committees, knowledge transfer or public engagement activities
  • between 2009 and 2011 there was little increase in reports of such engagement in these ‘wider’ activities and, in some cases, this fell slightly, e.g. writing grant proposals and supervising students
  • the majority of respondents have either consulted their principal investigator or research leader in relation to training and development needs (72%) and long term career planning (64%), or would be happy to do so (2011)
  • By 2011, 53% of respondents had a career plan, slightly more than in 2009
  • Around 30% of research staff responding to the survey have consulted a careers adviser about long term career planning

The role of research leaders

  • Up to half of research leaders who responded to PIRLS feel that it is very important for research staff to have wider experiences, and very few think that they are unimportant in helping research staff to become future research leaders
  • Over half of respondents to PIRLS in 2011 say that they are confident about giving career development advice

“A key action for the sector is to continue cultural change towards widespread understanding that researchers themselves need to take responsibility for their own career and transferable skills development. To do this requires not just the engagement of research staff but the acknowledgement, by research leaders, of the importance and value of providing the time for research staff to do so. ”

Further information about Concordat can be found via this link:


The #socchat will explore the following areas:

1. What are the benefits of such initiatives and how do they translate to practice?

2. Do difficulties arise from Concordat & similar initiatives?

3. Is there a distinction between career and research development?

4. How do we develop a culture which equally nurtures researcher well being as well as performance?


In preparation for this tweet chat we invite you to contribute to this discussion by submitting a blog with your thoughts, opinions or experiences.

Bloggers identities can remain anonymous if you wish, indeed you may want to email us only a brief paragraph and we can collate and publish these. What is important, is that we continue to develop the narrative that many of us share in our universities. Blogging before and after the tweet chat enables greater participation and extends the conversation.

Please send us links to other initiatives which contribute to this discussion. You can tweet us or email via admin (@)  We look forward to hearing from you.






Contribute to social science collaboration

It’s fabulous that you have given your time to read this introductory blog. This wordpress account, our @socphd twitter feed and our Facebook page have been created to assist those of us working in the social sciences. The aim is to facilitate and support the sharing of knowledge and support. It is not intended to replace what social media you already use but to complement those portals. Many of you may have your own blog site, that’s great tell us about it and we will follow. But if you would prefer to collaborate and blog here instead or as well we would love to hear from you. These blogs are not peer reviewed nor have any defined word limit, although we feel often less is more with blogs you actually want people to read all the way through. You can blog about something you have learned today, talk about a great paper you’ve read; pose a query or suggest a discussion topic. This site is curated for you and it can and where feasible will adapt to all brilliant ideas and requests. So let’s get this collaboration started.


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