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About this book

This text demystifies the doctoral research process and provides readers with a better understanding of the processes, conventions and expectations involved. It recognises the challenges faced by students and proposes practical solutions to common problems. Early chapters provide an overview of the research process and key decisions that will need to be made. Subsequent chapters give guidance on refining a research topic, developing a proposal, carrying out research and writing the thesis. Each chapter is enlivened by case studies which focus on real students’ experiences of the different stages of doctoral research.

This will be an indispensable resource for current and prospective doctoral students of all subject areas.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Getting Introduced to Doctoral Study

Abstract
This book is a guide to your doctoral study in social science. It will provide you with assistance to help you successfully complete your study in a timely fashion. If you are considering enrolling in a doctoral programme at a tertiary institution sometime in the future, the book will help you prepare for the experience by demystifying the process and providing you with a better understanding of the doctoral process and the requirements for success. If you are already enrolled in a doctoral programme, you will also benefit from the advice offered in this book by developing a deeper understanding of the process that will allow you to enrich your doctoral experience.
Margaret Walshaw

1. Getting Started

Abstract
Beginning a doctorate is both an exciting and a daunting undertaking. It’s exciting because it represents a period of intense personal growth and professional development. As well, it carries the potential for new career opportunities and the possibilities for entry into academia. However, beginning a doctorate is also daunting because this degree is a programme of high-level study and research and represents a major academic commitment. What you need to be aware of is that the anticipated hard work ahead is guaranteed to be compensated for by the sense of intense personal satisfaction in achieving the highest formal university qualification. Any personal doubts can be cast aside knowing that once you have completed you will have made your entrance within the social science community as a competent researcher.
Margaret Walshaw

2. Getting a Handle on the Topic, Questions and the Literature

Abstract
Doctoral study topic areas take some time to firm up. Don’t be concerned that you haven’t yet figured out exactly what it is that you want to study. No one expects you to have a complete project mapped out at this stage of your journey. Doctoral study is a training ground and defining your research area is a point of entrance into the research process. There are some guiding prin ciples which, if applied to your work, will allow you to appreciate fairly quickly whether or not the topic you hope to research is manageable. Some topics appear on the surface to be reasonably manageable but on closer inspection it becomes clear that finding an answer to the problem would not be possible at all. Be clear that it takes some time to decide on a research topic and make it researchable and manageable. Of course, this can be a problem because, more than likely, this is when you really want to go full steam ahead with your study. As one doctoral student explained:
“My first year, I have to say, was the most frustrating, partly because in that first year you don’t necessarily have a really good idea of where you’re headed. That was the major issue: trying to find out what it is that you are going to focus on, what your research questions are going to be. But from that point forward everything seemed to slot into place. I mean, I had ongoing challenges and difficulties and things to figure out but I never felt they were insurmountable.
Margaret Walshaw

3. Getting Close to Theory

Abstract
Theories are a fundamental aspect of the fabric of our lives. They allow us to understand the world more acutely. They guess at the way things are and offer ideas about how things in the world might be interconnected. Without them we would be unable to make sense of things and determine which aspects of reality are critical to us and which are unimportant. The same is true in doctoral work. The theories we use provide a lens for developing understanding. Although they are likely to be more abstract, nevertheless the theories we use in doctoral work will offer descriptions and explanations by putting into focus the phenomenon in which we are interested. Getting close to theory in doctoral study is exciting because it helps explain the phenomenon being studied. In a similar way that an optical lens improves our eyesight, the theoretical lens we use in doctoral work helps us improve our insight.
Margaret Walshaw

4. Getting Designs on Methods

Abstract
Doing research is an exciting activity. For a start, you have already got to know a lot, simply from your engagement with the literature. You have already made a number of impor tant and exciting decisions: you know what you want to research and you know what research questions will guide the direction of your work. You also know the world view that will frame your work. Now it is time to talk about research designs.
Margaret Walshaw

5. Getting Underway with the Research Proposal

Abstract
A research proposal is a central feature of the research world and an important step researchers take before they conduct their research. It is a plan for the research that the researcher is hoping to undertake. All researchers write a proposal to clarify what topic is going to be investigated and why it is important, and what processes and procedures will be used; they also address a number of other aspects in relation to the proposed research. Whether the proposed research is to be carried out to meet the requirements for a doctorate, or whether the proposal is written as a bid to secure research funding, the proposal is crucial in that it will both signal the intentions of the researcher to undertake research and outline the way in which the research will be undertaken. It will demonstrate that the researcher is clear about what will be investigated and what it will take to successfully complete the investigation.
Margaret Walshaw

6. Getting Alongside Support

Abstract
Your doctoral study is a shared responsibility. The university, at the overarching level, provides frame works, policies, regulations and codes of conduct that set you up for success in your doctoral programme. Within those management structures lie a range of units, such as graduate research schools, and departments, as well as a number of individuals, such as deans and supervisors, all of whom will be responsible for establishing processes and creating arrangements that contribute to your success. You, of course, are the central player in this arrangement. Getting alongside the armoury of support at your disposal requires certain responsibilities from you, just as it provides you with certain rights.
Margaret Walshaw

7. Getting on with Writing

Abstract
Writing is a major component of doctoral work. Considering that your doctoral thesis is likely to be substantially bigger than anything you have previ ously written, you can be excused for feeling daunted by the prospect of stretching your writing skills to reach the word count. But put things in perspective. To reach this stage in your student life you have already demonstrated your competence at writing. Take a moment to reflect on the vast number of assignments and essays you have written as a student in which you communicated ideas in an academic way. As a doctoral candidate, you will have already moved through the first writing hoops with your research proposal and have a clear sense of the various parts of your thesis. In the course of preparing your proposal, you will have written a short first draft of your introduction, a short first draft of your literature review and a description of your methodology. Let’s face it: you are well underway with your thesis writing.
Margaret Walshaw

8. Getting Examined

Abstract
At last the end is in sight! You have submitted your thesis and, in doing that, you and your supervisors defence are signalling that you are satisfied that the work is ready for examination. Following submission, the thesis will be on its way to and in the hands of the examiners. After years of perseverance, ups and downs, and, above all, genuine hard work on your part, you are finally on the home stretch to becoming a fully professional researcher in your chosen field.
Margaret Walshaw

9. Getting Your Research ‘Out There’

Abstract
Congratulations on getting to this stage! You have completed your emendations and earned the title of doctor. There is no denying, being awarded the degree feels very personally satisfying. Reaching the destination after a long and sometimes arduous journey, you deserve all the accolades you receive. After all, it has taken a consistent effort and sheer determination on your part to get to this point. Now, at the end of the doctoral journey, you know so much more about your chosen topic, and your understanding of intellectual argument and rigour has grown. You know so much more about yourself, too. You have grown both personally and intellectually and probably find it difficult to identify with the person you were when you first began the journey. A new and exciting future is on offer as your life as a doctor stretches before you.
Margaret Walshaw
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