Using the Structure of the Research Degree to Help you
Students sometimes express frustration at the various checks and as they see it, ‘bureaucratic’ processes that they have to go through during their research. Not only do they sometimes feel that filling out forms about their research is taking time away from their actual research, they also complain that these checks restrict their freedom to pursue their ideas and interests.
This is understandable. We know from our student panels that many people undertake post-graduate research so they can have the freedom to pursue their own project. Having to justify their progress, methodology, analysis, decision making and referring constantly to other people’s work, can feel like an unnecessary restriction that gets in the way of the reason they wanted to do this in the first place.
This can lead to researchers feeling frustrated and potentially demotivated because they are having to spend time on an activity they view as meaningless.
However, the way in which you think about checks and processes can have a significant impact, not only on how you feel but also on the quality of your work.
Rather than considering these processes as restrictions, it may be more helpful and accurate to think about them as safety nets.
As we discussed in section 1, research and wellbeing benefit when the researcher engages with the process and their subject in a deep and meaningful way . However, one of the risks of taking that approach is that you can become lost inside your own subject and become less able to make objective judgements about what you are finding, what it means and how much progress you are making. Your project can be significantly off track without you noticing.
The processes and checks can help to ensure that this does not happen, allowing you to safely employ deep and meaningful approaches. If your work is approved at each of these checks, then you can feel confident about your progress. If your work is not approved, this can be a moment when the safety net catches you. This is the process telling you that it is time to step back from your work and review it with a more critical eye. Maybe you need to refine your methodology or review your decision making. The important thing to remember is that this isn’t the process holding you back, it is the process helping you to improve your work.
Of course, you may well feel frustrated initially, and it can be tempting to assign blame for the fact that your work hasn’t been approved to your supervisor or the panel reviewing your work. It can be easy to think that the problem is that they just don’t understand what you are trying to do. But remember, at the end of your project, you will need other people to understand if you are to get your degree. Good quality, groundbreaking research still needs to be understandable for others and must be capable of standing up to critical scrutiny.
Instead of fighting with the checks and processes within your degree, embrace them, make them part of your plan and use them to help you stay on course and produce good work.
Take the next form you need to complete for your research. Imagine that this is something you came up with yourself or that a friend gave you as a tool to help in your research. Try using it, not to get through a process, but to help you think about your research. See if you can either learn something useful from the exercise that can improve your work or if you can gain confidence from it that you are on the right track.