PhD Reflections

How to be a good researcher

I just got back from a two day course by Vitae on “How to be an effective researcher for postgraduate researchers”. It was fun. And a few activities really left me intrigued. One such activity was a role play with one person behaving as a supervisor and the other as a PhD student at the cusp of his/her upgrade. Each was briefed slightly differently, and had to deal with the issue at hand. 


The ensuing dialogue, which was monitored and commented on by a group (who also took turns in the dialogue), is an insight into the sometimes contesting, potentially unstable, and highly complex interaction that can occur for some people in a supervisor meeting. My advice? Treat every supervision meeting like a mini-viva, try to take charge of your research, and explore answers to questions before you pose them to the supervisors.


Another activity involved describing one’s research project in around 100 words, and then being interrogated by a group of other students. Being quizzed by a group of educated people in another field, in this way, is one of the best ways a PhD student can conceptualise his/her research, and explain its practicalities and utility.


Another useful aspect of the course was an activity which involved participants drawing the ‘ideal researcher’. In our picture, the researcher is holding a globe. It was my contention that researchers should be:

  1. altruistic, in that their research should serve the world and its inhabitants primarily;
  2. constantly enquiring and hungry for knowledge;
  3. more focussed on the effective articulation of a problem than a solution, as the reverse can leave one chasing a futile goal.

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