The idea for this blog started to materialise midway through our PhDs. In 2007-08 a very active group of students in the Department of Politics at the University of York was trying to create a support network. The support group that emerged was named the “Politics Research Forum,” although actual research was never discussed in detail. Instead, we wanted to create an outlet where PhD students at different stages of their research could share their worries, successes, questions and doubts in a supportive environment. For most of those who participated in those Friday evening sessions, the Forum became not just a supportive tool but a real learning experience. After June 2008, however, the group dispersed.
But two of us continued to talk about these issues, particularly the soft skills needed to complete a PhD (or any research project of considerable length for that matter). How do you define your research in a single sentence? What should be included in the literature review? When should you start attending conferences and which conferences should they be? What on earth do you do if your supervisory relationship is a dysfunctional one?
You can’t conduct a literature review to answer these questions. Nor in most cases will your supervisor have the time or inclination to spell everything out for you. The skills required for answering these questions are often overlooked as unimportant or brushed aside as obvious but you must have them – and master them – to survive.