Last week I attended some training designed to highlight the importance of the Researcher Development Framework and how PhD students can use the resources on the Vitae website to support their own development throughout the PhD. This is why it’s more than just a PhD.
Now I was quite skeptical about this training as I was concerned that I has heard it before as I have attended some similar training events in the not so distant past. However, the training got me thinking a little about my own PhD and what I am (and hoping to) get out of the whole process.
We do take it for granted that we will get a PhD as some of us actually don’t. Some of us leave, some of us fail and some of us struggle through. However, going into a PhD does have one ultimate goal – carrying out a research project and writing it up successfully so that we can graduate with smiles on our faces and be proud of our achievements, right? Sometimes not! For me, getting the PhD is a goal, but I have other ones too. I want to make sure I am confident enough to move on after my PhD, don’t dwell on things that have brought me down over the past few PhD years and most importantly, I want to make the outcome of my PhD worth it. To me, this means I want to use it in the career and make sure I do something worthwhile so that I know the last three years have been worth it. I know they will have been worth it anyway, but I want to know I’m putting my studies to use when I’m done and know I am doing that too.
What about the considerations to what we do after the PhD? Where do we go? Do we stay in academia, or not? Do we go into practice or do we forget about our research completely, decide we have had enough and take a whole new direction. for you, this is not up to me!
Now the careers adviser in me is the thing that keeps me going in this when I think I have not done enough. The career adviser tells me that I still have two years to go and that I can work towards me end goal without having a final destination in mind (ie, a job). However, the career adviser in me also tells me that it’s not the end goal that matters as much (although it still does), it’s more about what you do during your PhD years that will help. So this is there the Researcher Development Framework comes in – it can help you see how you are developing as a researcher rather than how you are not. It can help you point out skills and qualities that you want to work on as well as ones you are think you are good at. It can also help you plan ahead, and schedule in activities to help you work on those things you want to and most importantly, it can help you track progress so that you can actually see you are doing something more than ‘just a PhD’. It can help you work towards being a confident academic researcher with all the skills you need to survive, skills which employers want to see.
The afternoon of that training was a little weird and I started thinking about all the stuff I wanted to get out of my PhD that had nothing to do with the research itself. I then actually took a while to look at the Research Degrees Framework and have a 10 minute reality check that I’m doing okay and there is still stuff I’d like to work on – and that’s okay too!
We got talking in the training about how to ‘evidence’ out achievements in the RDF and this is something I am in two minds about. I wholeheartedly agree that things should be ‘evidenced’ to demonstrate capability in certain domains of the framework, however, I often don’t agree with this being recorded in one online place. For example, on day one of my PhD, I was given a Post Graduate Development Record by my supervisor and for me, this is my evidence. I am a very practical person so when there is the opportunity for me to ‘evidence’ my achievements physically I would normally choose that option anyway. My PDR file is full of bits and bobs that I have done – conference presentations, reviews, feedback and so on. For me, that is more important than nothing at all. For me, having all of my PhD stuff in one place is quite handy, not only to see feedback on something I did, but also to refer back to when I need to see what I have done.
I know this option is not for everyone and I do blame my careers and education background for my preference, but there are other options in how to record progress, and the RDF planner is one of them. Now this gadget keeps all your stuff in one place you can comment on evidence and upload evidence pretty much how you feel, but it does come at a price. Your educational institution should have a subscription to the service and as far as we know, the subscription ends as soon as you leave, but you can still pay as an individual, I think. You can always download your portfolio to keep and some people may prefer this way of doing things.
When I had my last review, I used my PDR file to see what I had done as I was feeling like I had not progressed much since. I actually proved myself very wrong in this case and realised that I had done more than just a PhD but that these things were helping my PhD too.
I found I had attended a lot of training events which was helping to develop my knowledge all of the way through, and also help me learn new things I did not know. I had helped to organise a 2016 doctoral colloquium earlier in the year and also a student conference in the School of Computing. I had also presented my work at Departmental level, Edinburgh Napier University level, Cross-University level and also internationally so I really now don’t see why I had a reason to complain. I’ve also published two articles with colleagues (one journal and one in conference proceedings) and worked with some wonderful people along the way. For my efforts I managed to win a few awards: best paper, second best poster and also best student presentation which rounded off my first academic year nicely in one. Then this year, I took on the role of School of Computing PhD student rep, and then I was chosen to be a SGSSS student rep too. I also started teaching which I found I love and have also been interviewed for a Scottish company on my graduate experiences so the second PhD year is quite fruitful too.
So for me, reflecting on my progress was a success. Using the RDF as a means for improvement (or development!), I then started to measure my own progress on a on the points scale of each domain. It worked for me knowing from my initial RD4 review to my RD5 review I had improved in some areas and there were some areas I felt I wanted to improve more. It means I have things I would like to work on and things I can say I’m okay with and other things I’m really really bad at!