Professor Chris Kyriacou is a Professor in Educational Psychology with a particular interest in researching aspects of effective teaching, teacher experience, pupil learning and pupil motivation. He is also currently the PhD Programme Leader in the Department of Education at the University of York (UK).
In this guest blog he offers his personal advice to new students undertaking the first year of the PhD journey.
The format for the PhD is fairly straight-forward. Year one involves background reading, tightening up and refining the research design, drawing up a schedule for the three years, designing the research instruments (questionnaires, interview schedules, observation schedules), completing the ethics form, and if appropriate conducting a pilot study, or in some cases possibly even starting the data collection. Your supervisor will offer you advice on facilities, resources, research training and career planning.
It’s important not to start data collection too early, nor to let year one slip by without being ready to start data collection during in year two. The big question here is whether the research design is viable as a basis for a PhD. The first Thesis Advisory Panel (TAP) meeting in term two offers an opportunity to check things look okay. For this first TAP meeting a one page summary of the research design is helpful – draft title, main aim of the study, research questions, samples, data collection methods, and the time scale for carrying out the data collection (when, where, how).
The first six months is also important for you to start writing. A draft review of the literature (c. 5000) words setting out the research literature (both theoretical and empirical) and the policy and practice context for the educational setting, should be drafted out before the first TAP meeting.
You should work at your own pace, but key target dates for your expectations should be made clear. At the first meeting, it’s a good idea to map out the three years: year one preparing for data collection, year two for data collection, year three for analysis and writing up (with some flexibility as appropriate to take account of the nature of the study).
Year one also offers the opportunity for research training : attendance at the term one and term two full time MA research methods modules), regular attendance at the Education Research Group (ERG), and completion of the Researcher Development Team’s (RDT) two compulsory (three-hour) workshops for new PhD students. You must also complete the online Academic Integrity Tutorial in their first term.
By the end of term one, you should have done some detailed reading on the theoretical frameworks and research evidence. Ensure you are using the APA system for references. Look at the international literature that is relevant (and not over-focus on UK writings and/or writings in the country where your study will be located). Remember that the audience for your thesis is the international research community with an interest in the general area of your study. The thesis needs to make an original contribution to the knowledge and understanding regarding this general area; the thesis needs to be of interest to international researchers, and equate to providing a suitable basis for one or more publications in peer-reviewed journals.
Make use of opportunities that exist – these include training workshops offered in your department, elsewhere in the university, or outside the university). Remember, it’s your thesis and you need to accept responsibility for your own development as a researcher.
You need to keep checking that your research questions are sound through having an ongoing and regular recursive discussion with your supervisor–. Can these research questions be answered by the data to be collected? Are these questions worth asking? How does answering these questions form a suitable basis for making an original and substantial contribution to knowledge and understanding regarding this research area?
Setting the main targets during year one are straight-forward. However, more specific short-term targets can a matter for your own working style. There is no hard and fast rule here, but you need to keep in mind the main targets, of which finalising the research design is the key one. A second TAP towards the end of year one should act as an important check that your progress is on track.