Working in a group

“No researcher is an island” to paraphrase John Donne.

Working on your PhD will involve a significant amount of discussion, learning and analysis. Generally, you will be in a research group associated with one or more academics or in a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT). The other members of the group will be working in the same or similar area and may be well advanced as researchers. This makes interaction with and learning from them a valuable resource.

Groups generally hold a number of events to increase interaction and networking, these can include (a) weekly meetings of all group members to discuss any advances, issues related to equipment and future activities (b) Seminars and Colloquia, where members of the group or outside speakers give talks within the field of group research (c) Journal Clubs, where relevant journal articles are discussed and analysed. Other activities will occur on a departmental level such as Research Symposia or Review meetings.

In all of these activities there is a chance to network and ask questions of relevance to your project. It is advisable to use these sessions to test your ideas with others or to check if your understanding of a matter or presentation is correct or falls within the general views of the area.

Testing ideas

During your study you may also make what initially seems to be a new or important idea. At such times it is useful to check with your supervisor and team colleagues if this is the case. Their feedback can help you develop the idea further or prevent you from wasting time on an already known idea, a blind alley, or a previously discarded view.

Testing ideas and presenting in front of your supervisor and research group is important training to allow you to approach conferences and report writing. If you have worked through your material, had feedback and been questioned regarding it, you will be able to write and present with greater confidence and have a more developed sense of context.

Do not pass up or avoid opportunities to collaborate with your group. Ask your supervisor if there are others in college or elsewhere who it would be good to interact with. At some point you will have to present your research, your PhD, so during your studies expect to have periods of working mainly on your personal research and also have periods of working closely with others on joint research.

For projects which are cross- or multi- disciplinary, the skills sets required for success need to be diverse and so interaction with subject matter experts and students from other academic backgrounds is key. This will help you keep your research moving and in agreement with understanding from another area, where your initial levels of knowledge may be quite limited.

Similarly, having a good working relationship with others will allow interchange of ideas to support your research and also allow to you to support the work of others. Having an open, honest and analytical approach will make your studies a more positive and fulfilling time. This is a key factor in success.