Below is a list of questions posed by participants at the BALEAP pre-conference event on Doctoral study in EAP. The ‘answers’ have emerged from the discussions we had around them.
1. How do people combine a full-time teaching post with doctoral research?
It’s healthy to work a too. Go to 0.6? But you have to carve out space for your research and gain momentum. We need to be within the field. Accept times when nothing will get done, accept peaks and troughs. Reading fits in with work, it’s when writing kicks in that time is the biggest enemy. Focus your reading, don’t use as a procrastination tool! Make use of your institution’s writing retreats etc. and use that time to your advantage. How can you build in thinking time? Is an EdD the answer?
2. Main issue is time – how on earth do you do it, maintain a full-time job with a heavy workload & have a life (that includes youngish children) without having a breakdown? – it is this more than anything else that is preventing me from going any further
For full time students, disciplining your time. For part-timers: should not leave spaces between your studies – do something every day. Not intensively during holidays. Must stay in touch with it – e.g. do an hour every day before work, as well as studying weekends etc. Learn when and how you work best.
“Procrastination is wonderful. I do all my housework.” Give yourself manageable goals – “today I’m not going to read, I’m going to think”, produce something, write 3 sentences. PhD students think of themselves as students, think of yourself as a writer, have an audience. Write 200 words every day, it probably won’t make it into the thesis but it’s important. Stream of consciousness. Good research questions keep you focused. Plan how you are going to get your data.
Priorities change over the course of study. You can’t plan too far in advance.
3. How can you overcome fears that your research is not going to be ‘doctoral’ enough?
Read other PhD theses.
Idea of doctorate actually not making a major contribution to the field, but showing you can.
4. Basically, I would like to discover whether my project ‘has legs’ to warrant sustained study and whether it would ultimately benefit the wider EAP community.
Talk to people. Go to conferences. Is it interesting for 3-6 years? Curiosity is the most interesting thing. Think about your topic – is it just theory driven or something the wider community will be interested in? A good supervisor should help guide you. Take your proposal out to BALEAP and get professional / peer feedback. It is rare you’ll come up with an idea no one is interested in.
5. What if my topic is no good?
Try not to lose motivation. It may just be the stage you are at. Everyone goes through doubts at some stage. Plod on something new will come along – remember the peaks and troughs. A good supervisor will egg you on, accept/ prepare for a dreary period. The negative can be good, can rejuvenate your passion – look for reasons to keep going, not to stop. One important issue here is the importance of your choice at the beginning and why you are doing a PhD. You must have a passion, not just want to be qualified.
6. Why aren’t there more EAP supervisors?
EAP academics does, or would, make life easier. EAP as ‘an amalgam’. There really is no such thing as an EAP academic. What we do tends to be made up of several fields, and therefore the expertise in at least one of these is there.
Your two supervisors can complement each other. Different strengths. But can make writing difficult if they have very different views. Your second supervisor could be a supervisor for your first supervisor depending on their experience. Do we have to settle for supervisors in Education?
7. How do supervisors deal with students at supervision sessions? Do they chat about the thesis or is the session formally structured? Do they read everything that is sent to them? Do they comment in detail on analyses?
At the Open University, there is a ten step report that is gone through. Make sure that you know what you want to get out of a supervision session. Don’t go without a purpose. Supervision styles are very different. Manage your relationship. There can be a problem with supervisors not preparing for meetings. There are formal and semi-formal ways to resolve issues.
8. What should you do if you discover your supervisor knows little about your research area?
But they may be an expert eg in research methodology.
Target the expert in the first place, when you send in your proposal. Make informal links in advance of sending in your proposal.
Go to conferences. Join discussion lists. Find the experts. Many of us are constrained by the fact that to get funding we have to find in-house supervision – how much choice do we have then? Critical friends are, umm, critical! Colleagues can be better sounding boards. In the end you will know more than your supervisor! Supervisors need to be prepared to learn from you. We should ‘interview’ prospective supervisors. Email them, see what kind of response (if any!) you get. Do they appear supportive? Willing to learn from you?
9. A decision I have to take going forward is EdD versus PhD. Are they viewed differently?
There are other types of doctorate e.g. by research, with an ‘artefact’, sandwich PhD – investigate these. The process is different. EdD starts with modules and is grounded in professional practice. EdD is possibly less academically rigorous, is perceived by some to have less kudos. EdDs are designed for full-time workers. First two years are divided into manageable modules then you focus in the 3rd year. Beginning to be recognised, but still up and coming.
10. Wondering what kind of help with writing doctoral students either receive or wish they could find? i.e. organising material; procrastination versus productive thinking; when to start writing; when to stop writing; editing techniques; how to overcome block; how to retain confidence in your own work.
We teach these ‘I know it exists because we do it’. We bring a lot of skills with us to the task. Sessions for full time students; or sometimes in summer schools. Online resources.
Writing retreats are one way to deal with procrastination. Especially when writing up e.g. Queen Mary London. 20K words in 2 days! See thinkingwriting.qmul.ac.uk. Publish – use blogs, write book reviews, gain confidence. Stay focused! Have a writing partner from a different discipline and meet regularly and talk about something new in your research. Swap and write for each other. Two people from the same area are likely to complain, with someone from outside, you’re more likely to be positive. Phd is much too lonely, passive, waiting for your supervisor. People say keep writing, but then the reading stops, which feeds writer’s block. write-read-write-read. The process of writing is necessary even if it gets discarded.
11. When is a good time to start writing journal articles with a view to building a research profile and for future job applications?
Try to combine journal writing with PhD writing. Need publications to move into academic field. Online publishing gets over long wait for print publication. Academia.edu? Writers need a portfolio. As soon as you have something to say, say it! Write out of your comfort zone. Never present an editor with a finished article, editors want ideas.
12. How best to audio / video record multiple, simultaneous group interactions in a classroom so recordings don’t interfere with each other and are good quality for transcribing?
Give each group a dictaphone, or flip cams. Record ad hoc to get students familiar with being recorded. Video is better. Invite a Hansard reporter to give a training session at your institution (others in your institution will want help with this too!).
13. Finding a focus after collecting data (even though from the beginning the focus I have chosen has been an option).
Is Grounded Theory an option? Start with the data, then see where it takes you.
14. How much research training should you expect as a part-time doctoral candidate?
Part timers should expect support in terms of research training.
15. How best do you keep up to date with methods beyond your own immediate expertise to inform critical engagement/ future use?
Through the research papers you read. But can’t expect to keep up with everything. May be the methodologies you use, and those which are enhancing. Setting up article alerts.
16. The upgrade – how much really needs to be done before it? How final is it?
Ask the supervisor. They say when you are ready. Some sort of piloting is important to have done.
17. How can collaborative partnerships/ impact-related elements of a research project be managed effectively to maintain researcher independence? – About funded research?
A scientist might be more likely to answer that well. Writing up – be explicit about what you yourself did
18. How are examiners chosen and how are panels for vivas are set up?
You choose the examiner. Go with a big name as they have nothing to prove. An ‘up and coming’ examiner may shoot you down. Your choice is approved by the university. Prepare by reading their work.
These responses are a combination of many people’s experiences and opinions. We welcome any additional/ alternative perspectives.
Pictures from the BALEAP 2015 pre-conference event which inspired these FAQs and their responses.