Finding Meaning in the PGR Process Itself

A large study of PGR students, carried out by Finnish researchers, has shown that the way you think about the PGR process itself can have an impact on your wellbeing  [1].

The researchers identified that the students in their study had a varied range of perceptions. Some saw the purpose of their project as being to produce a product – that the entire point of the PGR process was to produce the thesis at the end. These students reported that what was important to them was completion of the degree, career qualification and proving excellence of performance to oneself or to others.

Others viewed the project as being part of a process of developing expertise. In this way, the production of the thesis was simply a way marker in a larger journey. These students saw the PGR process as an opportunity to develop, skills, insights and knowledge that would benefit their future learning and work. These students also emphasised that becoming a part of their own scholarly community and influencing one's own discipline and more broadly, society, was important for them.

What was clear from the research, was that those students who viewed the PGR as being part of a larger process had better wellbeing than those who viewed it as a product. Doctoral students who reported process related meanings experienced less stress, exhaustion, and anxiety than others [1].

This is unsurprising. As we have seen in previous sections, being intrinsically motivated is better for your wellbeing and the students who viewed the PGR as a learning process were clearly intrinsically motivated  [2].

But is also possible to see how taking a particular psychological view of the PGR can influence your thinking and behaviour.

If you view the PGR as a process, then set backs and experiments going wrong or producing unexpected results can simply be seen as part of your long term learning.

If, however, your focus is on producing a product, then an unexpected result might appear to be a disastrous set back, because you now feel further away from your only goal. This can be draining, anxiety inducing and frustrating [3].

It can help, therefore, to try to fit your research into a larger context – to see your thesis as just one part of a potential lifetime's work and learning. If you see it as a stepping stone this is a lot less scary than if you focus on it being an endpoint in itself.


Spend some time identifying what you want to learn from completing your research. What skills would you like to acquire? What understanding do you want to develop? What insights do you want to take beyond your degree?

Then think about the impact you would like your research to have. What impact do you want to have in your field? How would you like to affect society? Remember not to think just about the research you’ll do for your PGR – think about all of the research you would like to complete.



Stubb, J., Pyhältö, K., & Lonka, K. (2012). The Experienced Meaning of Working with a PhD Thesis. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 56(4), 439–456.


Ryan, R & Stiller, J. (1991). The social contexts of internalization: Parent and teacher influences on autonomy, motivation and learning. Advances in motivation and achievement.


Sheldon, K, Ryan, R, Deci, E & Kasser, T. (2004). The Independent Effects of Goal Contents and Motives on Well-Being: It’s Both What You Pursue and Why You Pursue It. PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN. 30 (4), 475-486

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