Every year, the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science hosts a Doctoral Training School, a popular event sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) which sells-out quickly and often has a hefty waiting list. The summer school offers postgraduate students in Scotland opportunities to learn about a wide variety of topics, including research methods, writing style, dissemination and post-PhD life. Last week Bobby Macaulay, a 1st year PhD student based in the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health at GCU attended this year’s event and contributed this report.
The venue for the summer school was the Chrystal Macmillan building at the University of Edinburgh, home to the university’s Politics department. I had signed up for a variety of different workshops and seminars over the 3-day course, selecting from a wide range of options delivered by a mixture of practicing academics and freelance consultants. There were perhaps a hundred students from across Scotland’s universities in attendance, studying topics across the social science spectrum. The lengthy coffee and lunch breaks throughout the day allowed an investigation of such topics, including an Irish PhD student who was studying leadership in professional rugby teams, and a German postgrad who was considering attitudes towards Chinese economic interventions in sub-Saharan Africa from the perspective of civil society actors. Whether these conversations represent ‘networking’ is pretty academic (no pun intended) as they helped to drive home the knowledge that there’s an awful lot of people doing interesting things who share the same experiences, difficulties and ambitions as I do.
The classes themselves were generally useful. My first day was entirely focused on ‘Writing for Publication’, something which is useful to build into my schedule and plans going forward. Indeed the subject of schedule and plans was the focus of the following morning’s session which focused on ‘work-flow’ and productivity. I was already aware that there were times of the day when I was more and less productive, but this session formalised that knowledge and suggested ways of harnessing and directing concentration and productivity toward certain tasks, while still utilising ‘down-time’ for more mundane or repetitive tasks. Two research technique classes followed with focus-group facilitation and one-to-one interview conducting skills covered, focusing on how to derive the most useful information from respondents while also offering them a positive experience of the interaction. Finally, a class entitled ‘Engaging with the real world’, understandably popular among academics, focused on the ways and means through which research processes and outcomes can be communicated to non-academic audiences. What became abundantly clear was that Twitter can no longer be derided or fobbed-off and that the future of academia lies not in 80,000 word theses, but in 140 character tweets!
All five sessions over the three days were thought-provoking and offered new skills and perspectives on tasks which I had dabbled in, but clearly have a lot to learn about. And that seemed to be the dominant theme about the whole week- “you may be smart, you may be good at what you do, but you can certainly be better, and here’s how…” I would highly recommend that other PhD students keep an eye out for the adverts for next year’s event.