The core concept of the PhD is simple: it is a process that will help people demonstrate that they have the skills to conduct research independently. The process could be seen as simple in concept: people conduct a body of research, they write it up and they have a critical discussion about it with professional researchers who decide whether they should be awarded the Ph.D. Although the concept is simple, students find it daunting, among other things, because:
- it is not specified and structured the way lower degrees are
- it relies on the student bringing new knowledge (a goal that is open-ended and not easily quantified)
- and, because so much rests on the final outputs
This mooc has been designed to help students embarking on their PhD process. It is meant to help them not to feel lost and confused with the academic culture. We agree with Gordon Rugg and Marian Petre that most of the challenges that face PhD students cut across backgrounds and personalities. As they put it: International students must understand and adjust to the local culture, yes, but similarly part-time students must adjust to the academic culture. Learning how to engage with your specific research community cut across all categories of students, just as the insights about critical thinking, project management, and managing supervisory relationships.
With this mooc we want to help PhD students to identify the key points in the journey and offer them some tips and advices for each of them. We have divided them into four modules that can fall into two main categories. One is the ‘big picture’ knowledge about how the academic system works and, the other category involves ‘research skills’.