4. Supporting candidates’ research projects

  • Full: Required
  • Associate: Elective

New doctoral candidates may have little or no experience of research, and hence little or no idea of what they are letting themselves in for. Supervisors may then need to induct them into research, including the nature of research itself, the key concepts, what it involves, and of good practice in undertaking it.

Unless the research project itself is pre-determined, supervisors will have a role in advising candidates about their choice of topic and then assisting them to produce a research proposal and to gain ethical approval. Irrespective of the discipline, supervisors will need to make sure that candidates have, or can acquire, the subject-specific knowledge and skills necessary for them to undertake their research topics. These may include the relevant experimental and technological skills to undertake their research projects, in the latter case including information searching, retrieval, storage, and sharing,

If, in these ways, candidates can be started down the slipway, sooner or later they are almost bound to encounter academic problems of one kind or another. It is important that, if and when this happens, supervisors are aware and lend support.

Typical Examples 

  • Discussing conceptions and misconceptions of research itself with candidates.
  • Looking at key threshold’ concepts in research.
  • Considering issues of academic integrity, intellectual property rights, and co-publication.
  • Advising on a choice of topic.
  • Advising on theory, methodology and methods.
  • Advising on a research proposal and plan.
  • Advising on gaining ethical approval.
  • Advising on skills development in relation to the project.
  • advising on issues arising in the course of the research.

Supporting candidates’ research projects

As Meyer et al (2007) have shown, doctoral candidates may have odd conceptions or even misconceptions of research at the start of their studies, and there is a clear need for dialogue with supervisors to what research is ultimately about otherwise there can be a potential for conflict and/​or delays to completion (see Meyer 2007, Garcia-Perez and Ayres 2012).

There is a substantial literature (see for example Kiley 2009, Kiley and Wisker 2009, Trafford and Lesham 2009, Kiley 2015b) suggesting that many research candidates struggle to grasp key threshold’ concepts of research, including those of research paradigms, research questions, theory, theoretical frameworks, methodology, methods, analysis, argument/​thesis, and theorising findings. So candidates may become stuck’ in a state of liminality and consequently unable to progress their research.

A further necessary discussion may relate to the ethics of research in terms of integrity, intellectual property rights, and possibly authorship in relation to co-publication. 

In many cases, supervisors themselves obtain the funding for and design research projects, but in others there may be an element of discretion for the candidate. In such cases, supervisors as Taylor et al (2018) have described, have a system of outlining the key criteria – whether the project is worthwhile, doable in the time available, and viable in potentially leading to the creation of new knowledge – and encouraging candidates to apply them until a suitable project is found.

Candidates will also need advice about how to go about undertaking their research projects, including theories and theoretical frameworks, methodologies and methods.

Candidates will then have to produce a research proposal and plan, which can be problematic if they have little or no experience of research. 

In order to undertake their research projects, candidates will need a range of skills, and it is important at the start to identify which ones they already have, those that they will need to acquire, and when and how they will be able to acquire them. 

Candidates may also need support when the research is underway. They may expect that research is conducted in the same way as it is published, i.e. a linear progression. But research in the real world can be very messy and progress is often two steps forward and one backwards. Candidates may, for cultural reasons (see for example Shen 2009, Magyar and Robinson-Pant 2011) or variously through Top Gun’ (see Taylor and Beasley 2005) or imposter’ syndromes (see Kearns 2015) be unwilling to acknowledge that they are stuck’.

  • Do you take time to ask candidates to critique a recent piece of research in the subject and discuss it with them?
  • Can you give examples of having pointed to model’ papers or books in the relevant literature and discussing key concepts with candidates?
  • Are you aware of institutional policies in relation to intellectual property and research integrity? Do you take time to communicate these to candidates, for example through a checklist?
  • How have you have gone about advising candidates about their choice of projects?
  • Candidates will also need advice about how to go about undertaking their research projects, including theories and theoretical frameworks, methodologies and methods. Can you give examples of how you have advised them about these matters?
  • Have you ever asked candidates to look at the deliberately erroneous research proposals and plans set out in Delamont et al (2004) and critique them?
  • Do you conduct a development needs analysis early in the candidature? How do you review this?
  • Can you give examples of how you have re-assured candidates who are experiencing problems? How have you managed to offer a sympathetic response and encouraged them to identify ways forward?

Example Application Content

References & Bibliography

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