The Messy PhD training

Introduction – a ‘messy’ approach to research

Research can be a messy business, often involving multiple complex and complicated processes. Every researcher brings a unique set of work and personal experiences to their research, handles a diverse research protocols, practices and timelines, and juggles multiple other issues in their personal lives.

Universities already offer plenty of excellent trainings for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) on how to conduct research. My workshops complement university-led training by helping PGRs to feel more comfortable and prepared to deal with the messier, emotional and personal aspects of doing research.

What my trainings address

My workshops cover components of the doctoral experience that are less commonly discussed and for which there aren’t always clear ‘how-to’ guides. These include, among others:

  • maintaining wellness, balance and joy throughout the research journey
  • fostering greater academic confidence and joy in research
  • learning to trust individual research intuition and work rhythms
  • developing and claiming personal identity in/during research
  • dealing with unexpected problems and surprises in research
  • responding to work guilt, shame, demotivation, imposter syndrome
  • reframing negative experiences or feelings during the research journey

All my training stems from a belief that peer-led sharings and insight provide some of the most effective and helpful advice for PGRs. So my workshops encourage plenty of discussions between participants, generating dynamic and interactive exchanges, collaborative peer-generated advice, and valuable opportunities to connect with and learn from other researchers.

The benefits of a messy approach

By providing a wider, range of practices with which to navigate the diverse challenges ofthe doctoral journey, PGRs will be better equipped to:

  • increase confidence and awareness of their own skills and abilities to successfully complete their PhD
  • meet challenges or problems in their research with greater resilience and versatility
  • create better balance between doctoral work and other extracurricular activity, such as teaching, public engagement, part-time work etc.
  • find and implement strategies for experiencing more joy and pleasure into their doctoral journey
  • develop the necessary skills, leadership qualities, experience and confidence to facilitate efficient transition into postdoctoral roles or alternative career paths
  • find better balance between their academic responsibilities and their other personal and social commitments

The workshops

This workshop is best suited for first-year postgraduate researchers who have just started their programme.

This session aims to address the importance of wellbeing and wellness early on in the research journey, and offers insights into the more personal and emotional aspects of doing doctoral research.

By creating a safe, supported space for discussing these early concerns, and by answering common and frequently asked questions among new starters, this workshop offers realistic, ‘insider’ perspectives about the challenges and pleasures that PGRs can expect. The session will simultaneously furnish participants with positive practices to begin their research programme with greater joy, clarity and ease.

This workshop will cover four main subjects:

  • Creating and sustaining a support system and academic community
  • Finding the right work groove and peaceful, practical time management
  • Academic identity, passion, interests and confidence
  • What to do if things go wrong and dealing with challenges in the PhD

Although this session includes a larger ‘teaching’ component, many small group/pair discussions will be incorporated across the four segments, encouraging participants to network, voice their concerns with peers, and begin to exchange and learn about diverse approaches to conducting research.

Workshop details

  • 2-hour workshop
  • Maximum attendance: 30
  • This workshop can be conducted in person or online
  • If conducted online: the session will include interactive digital elements such as Google Jamboards, Padlets and/or polls.
  • All participants will additionally be provided with access to a Padlet of Wellbeing Resources

Based on the successful How to Thrive and Survive in Your PhD project, which I helped to set up in 2018 and coordinated throughout 2020 at the University of York, this workshop is shaped primarily around small-group peer discussions.

I work on the premise that in many instances, the best, most practical advice for navigating the diverse challenges of doctoral research comes from others within the PGR community who are on the same journey as each other. So, instead of being ‘taught’ in the way of conventional training sessions, the advice and guidance shared in these sessions are almost entirely generated from and shared among participants themselves.

By these peer-led discussions, participants are encouraged to:

  • recognise that others experience many of the same concerns as themselves
  • recognise that while others feel the same anxieties, the PhD journey can be and look very different for each individual; there is no one way to conduct doctoral research.
  • learn the diverse strategies and methods that other PGRs employ to address the challenges of the PhD.
  • share with each other methods and tips that have worked for them, and thus to help each other ‘solve’ any issues they may be struggling within in their PhD journey.

As the trainer, I facilitate structured, small-group discussions and offer guided questions for participants to discuss among themselves on common issues/concerns faced by PGRs at various stages of their research programme, including:

  • finding the right working habits/schedule
  • time and project management
  • academic confidence
  • what to do when things go wrong (challenges and surprises in research)
  • extracurricular activity (conferences, teaching etc)
  • personal and professional development
  • work-life balance, health and social life

Workshop details

  • 2 hour 30 minute workshop
  • Maximum attendance: 50
  • This workshop can be conducted in person or online
  • All participants will be provided with a workbook to be used during the workshop and can be downloaded and kept for future reference
  • If conducted online: the session will include interactive digital elements such as Google Jamboards, Padlets and/or polls.
  • All participants will additionally be provided with access to a Padlet of Wellbeing Resources

This workshop seeks to confront, debunk and work beyond common myths about doctoral research.

Participants will be encouraged to raise and discuss common limiting beliefs that they frequently encounter in their PhD journey, or which they have come to internalise and absorb as true and inevitable.

Some of these myths could include, for example,

  • ‘A PhD must be a miserable struggle’
  • ‘I must be writing and publishing constantly, from day one’
  • ‘I must be a genius to do a PhD’
  • ‘A PhD must lead to an academic career or I will have ‘failed”
  • ‘I cannot enjoy a social life or rest if I am doing a PhD’

Through interactive small and large group discussions, participants will be led to deconstruct these myths, identify how and why they are inaccurate and untrue, and formulate new perspectives and practices to help them move forward in their research.

The session will begin with participants writing down a list of 10-12 anxieties, concerns or challenges they are currently facing.

Following in-depth discussions about how to reframe common anxieties and myths in the PhD journey, each participant will then exchange their list of anxieties with another. Participants will rewrite each other’s ‘negative’ statements into a more positive/neutral, practical or productive affirmation – this forms a bespoke research manifesto for each individual.

This practice is about helping PGRs learn how to reframe the way they can realistically approach their research to draw upon more affirmative, joyful and productive motivations. By rewriting someone else’s statements, participants offer each other a different perspective, while also learning how they can reframe their own ‘negative’ stories and limiting beliefs.

Workshop details

  • 90-minute workshop
  • Maximum 20 participants
  • This workshop can be conducted in person or online
  • For in-person workshops: Participants will be provided with printed worksheets on which to write their manifestos
  • For online workshops: Participants will be invited to work with a collaborative online tool, such as Google Jamboards or Google Docs.

This workshop aims to help PGRs create and set more joyful, positive motivations for conducting research.

This session is about tapping into underlying motivations and passions for their research, and finding ways to bring these to the forefront of their daily routines, particularly during more challenging moments in their programme.

To start, participants will share with each other in small group discussions how they came to do the research they are doing, why they love their research topic or why they believe it is valuable/important.

They will then return to discuss, as a group:

  • Different possible reasons and motivations behind doing research (for example: the wish to find solutions to a problem, personal interest, address an issue that’s personally important to them/their lives, professional and career development, love of research etc.)
  • Suggested practices to incorporate these motivations and passions into their everyday work/routines. For example:
  • How to create joy and be of service to others through their research
    • How to incorporate joy into their goals, plans and to-do lists
    • How to actively build rest and rewards into their daily and weekly schedules

Workshop details

  • 90-minute workshop
  • Maximum attendance: 20 participants
  • This workshop can be conducted in person or online
  • Participants will be provided with a workbook that can be used during the session and kept for future reference

Instead of trying to ‘fix’ problems and/or ignore difficulties, participants will be guided to find ways of accepting and embracing the more uncomfortable moments of research, such as when things go wrong, personal problems, anxiety etc. and to engage them as helpful resources throughout the research journey.

This session will feature a mix of whole group discussions, small group (peer-led) discussions and a substantial teaching component. The workshop will explore the following subjects:

  • Clarifying the aims and often messy processes of doctoral research
  • How messiness in the PhD can be a good thing
  • The Next Moment Method, for addressing difficult situations with greater ease and uplift – this comprises a simple practice that recentres attention on personal agency and the ability to make a new, more helpful decision or select a ‘better-feeling’ thought in each new moment.
  • Journaling / meditation prompts for working through blocks

Participants will also be encouraged to discuss problems they are currently facing or which they anticipate at later stages of their PhD; and to brainstorm possible solutions and alternative approaches with each other. This peer-led practice draws on participants’ collective experiences and wisdom, and offers them reassurance that they are not alone in dealing with challenges in their research.

Workshop details

  • 90-minute workshop
  • Maximum attendance: 20 participants
  • This workshop can be conducted in person or online
  • Participants will be provided with a workbook that can be used during the session and kept for future reference

This training will encourage participants to set aside common ‘productivity’ guidelines, to find their own optimal working practices, and be accepting and comfortable of them.

In the workshop, participants will share and discuss their current working routines, and to embrace their best work rhythms, even (or especially) if they look very different from others’. Participants will also be taught alternative practices for setting and fulfilling goals and to-do lists, and to manage their expectations with more flexibility and self-kindness.

‘Make no plans’ is not about absconding responsibilities or commitments. Rather, this workshop will explore methods for allowing greater versatility in everyday routines, working with flow, and managing changing moods and motivation with more ease.

Through a mixture of whole group discussions, small group (peer-led) discussions and a substantial teaching component, participants will learn:

  • how to find the best work groove for themselves
  • how to make procrastination work for them
  • how to incorporate active rest into their working life
  • the efficacy of and inspired action that arises from not making plans

Workshop details

  • 90-minute workshop
  • Maximum attendance: 20 participants
  • This workshop can be conducted in person or online
  • Participants will be provided with a workbook that can be used during the session and kept for future reference

For more information or to discuss my rates please contact me here or email hello@jamiekhoo.com