Blog Post

On programmatic research and PhDs by published work

In October, I attended the doctoral colloquium at the annual Association of Internet Researchers conference (IR15). The doctoral colloquium was a wonderful opportunity to meet with inspirational mentors and other PhD students, and I returned home feeling like my PhD had received a real boost.

During the day of the colloquium, we had small-group discussions (two students with one mentor) and then a whole group discussion about a range of issues related to doctoral study and going on to become a professional academic. We had all written short papers beforehand, which were circulated ahead of the conference, so we were all familiar to an extent and the day wasn’t spent doing presentations – I thought this format worked very well.

One of the discussion topics which particularly struck me was about moving from research as a PhD student to developing a research agenda for your future research as a post-doc and beyond. This may be referred to by a term I hadn’t come across before: programmatic research. While the term isn’t entirely uncontentious (for example, research that isn’t programmatic can still be useful; or may find its way into an unanticipated programme in time), it does provide a useful way of reflecting on your career trajectory.

In my discussion group, my mentor made the point that it is OK as a student or early career academic not to have a research programme planned from the start. This shouldn’t be a worry as you can then look back on your completed research and publications and try to ‘find the thread’ retrospectively. Even if they seem to be diverse at first glance, there must be an underpinning reason why you were interested in working on these areas and projects. This was definitely something to think about for me, as I’ve got a number of publications under my belt (I worked as a research assistant for several years before I started my PhD), but they are on a range of different topics.

This strikes me as being quite similar to a PhD thesis by published work. In the UK, this is not as common a route to achieving a doctorate. Typically, candidates are already employed as lecturers and write a thesis retrospectively based on existing research publications. Not all universities offer this qualification, and it is even harder to find ones which will enrol students who are not internal staff members. I found three examples of theses by published work in my institutions’ repository – Earle, 2014; Clark, 2012; and Hurd, 2008 - I’d been interested if anyone could point me in the direction of any others available online.

Anyway, this seems to me like it would be a really useful process to think about my own research programme and reflect on my career trajectory. At some point when I’m a bit less busy (I’ve recently started data collection for my PhD), I’m hoping to spend a little time thinking about this and possibly sketching out how my publications would be grouped and what the essence of the narrative would be. (If my supervisors are reading this, don’t worry, I’m not going to start another thesis!). I’ll share the results of the thought exercise in another post in the future.


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