Getting a PhD
Building your network
Many participants in our study understood in the value of interpersonal networking. However, fewer recognized that investment in reading to strengthen their inter-textual networking was critical to successful writing. This section includes resources to help you strategically develop your interpersonal and inter-textual networks.
Thinking about your interpersonal network
Making a map of your existing network will help you to see where you might want to develop relationships further or invest in other directions. This template will help to get you started.
Interpersonal networking is a powerful resource and is worth the investment of time as you commit to enhancing professional relationships. Understandably, you may feel hesitant at first, so start with strategies that you feel comfortable with, but be prepared to move outside your comfort zone when necessary.
If you are considering an academic career: Academic networking
If you are considering working outside the academy: Professional networking
Working on your inter-textual network
Despite the centrality of reading to being an effective researcher and writer, participants in our study often spoke of how they had difficulty finding time to read, hadn’t completed their required reading or were uncertain whether they were reading enough. In fact, developing a strong inter-textual network is critical to your research thinking and writing. Strategic reading builds a robust set of connections among key ideas and thinkers, which enables you to situate your own research and be clear about the nature of your contribution to the field. Corinne describes this perspective very clearly:
In writing… I was using material that I had been reading over the last three years. I was practically writing about it every day either in doing discovery writing, maybe trying to, you know, build a concept map of what I was reading and then, of course, I was doing the writing and then I have several people that I talk with about what I’m learning. So I felt that through all those things in combination I was adding to my own expertise in the topic area.
An experienced supervisor expresses the same idea in a different way.
When you pick up a research paper, your aim is to slot this into the extraordinarily rich cognitive structure that you have built previously about the subject. And yet, when you look through this paper, it’s just a string of words. So, the goal of the student is quite straightforward: it’s to take this string of words and to build it, to deconstruct it in a way that fits into your cognitive structure, and your cognitive structure does not exist at one level of abstraction. …. What I try to tell the students is that reading is an active process of engaging [in] find[ing] out what the ideas are.
Note how he lays out the reader’s task as an active process of integrating the reading into a cognitive structure. In addition to mapping your interpersonal network, we recommend that you make a map of your intertextual network.
Some students participated in journal clubs or groups, in which they read and discussed papers with other researchers, which as 13196 describes was a powerful learning experience:
I really like participat[ing] in the reading group because it forces me to read things outside of my narrow area. We have a wide range of interests in our group…But we read things that range all over, from cryptography to pure mathematics to hardware …it’s very interesting …we have a good time with them, and we always tear these papers apart, thinking about how we would do things differently …assessing the work of the authors of the paper as if we were conference reviewers or journal reviewers. It’s a very serious endeavour. Everyone prepares for hours and hours before reading group. No one ever shows up having not read the paper. Everyone takes it seriously, and it’s just good practice for writing papers that will make it past peer review and get published.
Strategies for inter-textual networking
1. Create a structured way of documenting your writing that is easy to search; we recommend that you use specialist software such as Endnote, Mendeley, RefWorks, Zotero or Papers. A key issue is deciding what to document about each reading so that it is relatively easy to compare and contrast your notes for different items. You should consider including your assessment of the paper (see 2 below). This will help in the future after you have read hundreds of articles and may struggle to remember the details of each one.
2. Ask yourself two kinds of questions: firstly, about the substance of the paper, and secondly about the merits of the written argument.
3. Key ideas and authors
Which other authors/ideas can you connect to this reading?
What unfamiliar researchers and research have been cited?
Have key ideas been overlooked?
Who has not been cited that might have been?
4. Effectiveness of the authors’ argument
How is the argument structured? What is the structure of the paper? How are different sections used to persuade the reader of the authors’ conclusions?
If you are reading two or more related papers, assess the elegance of the ways the ideas and evidence are presented. What features did you find persuasive in each paper and why?
5. If you are writing a literature review, remember that the purpose is not simply descriptive but rather interpretive, i.e. an account of your perspective of the reading. You may find the following useful: Boote, D., & Beile, P. (2005) Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher, 34(6):3–15
Tips on scholarly reading
Explore the other themes
Researcher Identity Development (2020).
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