Getting Out There

When I finished my PhD here at BU in 2006, all I had to show for it was…a PhD. There is nothing wrong with that, but my research career only really began when I had completed my doctoral studies; I presented my first international conference paper the following year, and my first journal article finally appeared a year after that.

Now I’m a supervisor of PhD students, and most are already submitting their work to conferences and writing journal articles. This provides a corollary to my own advice and support, and in many ways it also holds me to account. In June, the Times Higher Education reported that:

 “For those hoping to progress to a more stable academic career, the figures make for depressing reading. The NSF estimates that only 26 per cent of recent PhD recipients in the US will secure a tenure-track position. UK postdocs appear to have even more reason for pessimism” (Jump, 2011).

This is rather a bleak assessment, but even so, it is clear that a PhD is no longer the ‘entry level’ route into a research career it once was. At BU, we want our PGRs to be competitive, so it is imperative that our PGRs have a clutch of conference papers, a publication-or-two and a bit of teaching experience behind them on exiting their doctoral research.

This workload must of course be carefully managed, but there is nothing to stop full-time BU PGRs undertaking our P/G Cert in Education Practice. As for publications, there are now hundreds of open access journals online, and even some of the most prestigious ones have themed issues and room for smaller ‘research reports’ on work in progress. All supervisors need to be aware of these places and not leave it for their students to find them.

BU has a postgraduate conference each year, which is an excellent nursery for presenting at national and international conferences later. Most subject areas now have established conferences; the Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association has both a national conference and a dedicated postgraduate one – which BU hosted this year. Just last week I met an eminent broadcasting history scholar who praised a BU PGR she had seen at a recent symposium in Winchester. This can only reflect well on us and validates the students’ work.

So if our PhD students finished with…just a PhD, then to an extent we have failed them. Part of being a good PhD supervisor is not just to help bring the project to completion, but to also nurture the beginnings of a research career; the dialogue with ‘outside’ scholarship needs to get going as soon as possible.


Richard Berger – Associate Prof & Head of Postgraduate Research, The Media School.