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LPS doctoral researchers discuss professional development

Twenty five PhD students took part in the sixth School of Law, Politics and Sociology (LPS) annual away day for postgraduate doctoral researchers, held this year at the Brighthelm Centre in Brighton on Monday 25th June. The away day, sponsored by the Sussex Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Doctoral Training Centre, focused on three themes selected by the doctoral students themselves: post-doctoral funding opportunities, getting published, and teaching diverse groups of students.

In the first session, Assistant Director of the Sussex Doctoral School Paul Roberts outlined the various funding schemes that are available to post-doctoral researchers, showing that the most generous were also extremely competitive. He stressed the importance of planning well ahead to ensure high quality proposals, especially when they involved designing new projects rather than disseminating existing doctoral research. In the discussion that followed, PhD researchers were reminded of the importance of networking to keep abreast of the fellowship opportunities linked to specific projects in addition to the large competitive post-doctoral fellowships run by the main funding bodies. The discussion also broadened out to consider how doctoral researchers need to be aware of the requirements of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) when building up a publications profile.

Building upon this, the second session was a very dynamic one and involved break-out groups on the perennial topic of ‘Getting published’. Sociology lecturer Dr Kathryn Telling led a session on publishing in academic journals. Professor of media law Chris Marsden, who is also Law postgraduate research convenor, spoke about publishing for non-academic audiences online. LPS Director of Doctoral Studies and Professor of Politics Aleks Szczerbiak hosted a session on how to get a PhD published as a monograph. Each PhD student attended two out of the three groups and the session was rounded off with a plenary discussion in which the three facilitators reported back on key themes as well as dealing with questions specific to publishing in their disciplines.

The final session was an interactive one on teaching diverse groups of students led by Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor (Equalities and Diversity) Prof Claire Annesley, who is also Head of the Politics Department and a recent winner of one of the University’s Student-led Teaching Awards. Prof Annesley examined the diverse needs of students that doctoral researchers were likely to encounter in their capacity as module tutor. She also outlined the legal framework in relation to certain groups within which Universities have to operate arising from the 2010 Equalities Act. The session rounded off with a lively discussion on how to deal with various problematic scenarios that she and other doctoral researchers had encountered in the course of their teaching, particularly relating to students who held minority or controversial opinions.’

Summing up the day, Prof Szczerbiak commented:

‘The two main themes that emerged from the day were: ‘start early’ and ‘get help’. It is important to start all of these professional development tasks - applying for post-doctoral funding, getting published, gaining teaching experience - as soon as possible in order for doctoral researchers to build up a good CV and make themselves employable on the academic jobs market when they finishing off their thesis.’

‘Here at Sussex we put a lot of effort into helping our PhDs prepare to meet these challenges and there are plenty of resources to help in all of these areas, both in terms of faculty and fellow PhD students, both current and former. An invaluable source of advice and support are supervisors, and not just on strictly academic matters but on professional development more generally. A specific recommendation to emerge from the day was for PhD researchers to hold a supervision meeting devoted mainly or solely to professional development as they enter their final year.’

By: Laura Arnold
Last updated: Friday, 6 July 2018