TEVS seminar group at Linköping University

Learning to be a PhD student

I had a change of pace for a couple weeks after my last post. Instead of spending all my time reading papers for courses, I got to focus on my thesis for a while. Not that it really changed too much—I still spent most of the time reading—but the articles I read then had more in common with each other, and reading them is an important part of deciding the aim of my project. But this week my latest course started again so I’m back to spending more of my time with assigned readings.

There was a mistake in my last post. While my latest course, called Science, Technology and Sustainability has just started, it’s not the only one I am working on now. I have been taking another course that goes about once every three weeks throughout the term. It escaped my mind when I wrote my last entry. It hasn’t been as much work as the other courses, but it’s interesting because it deals with some ‘big picture’ aspects of being a PhD student at my department.

The title of the course is Method Reflection in Interdisciplinary Environments. It is admittedly an awkward title, and not terribly descriptive either. The course has two main parts. In the first part, we meet three researchers who did their PhD at our unit, and we read part of their thesis and ask them questions about the choices they made during their research. For example, we talk about the practicalities of choosing study methods (for example interviews, focus groups and document analysis), which doesn’t always come across when reading the thesis. Another common discussion topic is the structure of the thesis, as it’s a choice that every PhD student has to make. One option is to write a standalone book, where your results are described in several chapters; the other option is to publish four articles in academic journals, and write a shorter book that ties the articles together. I have been leaning towards the latter option but have decided to think about it more as I write the research outline for my project.

In the second part of the course, we participate in our unit’s weekly seminars. There are four seminar groups, each with a different focus, and each week someone (whether it’s a PhD student or a professor) presents a draft article and gets comments from the others.  Normally people only participate regularly in one or two of the groups but for the purposes of this course, we attend each of the four at least once and compare them. The two I normally attend are called Technology, Everyday Life and Society and the Green Critical Forum. (The other two are called ValueS and Technology, Practice and Identity.) For the course assignment, I will compare how each of the groups starts the seminar and how they keep each other up to date about ongoing projects.

This course finishes in the beginning of December with two seminars of student presentations. The Science, Technology and Sustainability course finishes the week after, and then I’m free! Until February there are no courses—time to work on my thesis, and a couple weeks of Christmas vacation in Canada too.

(The picture at the top shows my co-workers in the Technology, Everyday Life and Society seminar group—without me because I was teaching that day last spring.)