Category / Research Supervision

Reflections on examining a PhD by Publications or hybrid PhD

Writing for publication in peer-reviewed journals is increasingly recognised as important for postgraduate students’ career development.   To encourage PhD students to write and submit during their thesis research, more and more UK universities has formally started to accept PhD theses by publication, or a hybrid model of both academic papers and purposely written chapters in a PhD thesis.  For example, both the University of Bath and Bournemouth University offer a hybrid thesis [1-2], whilst Bournemouth University offers separately the opportunity to submit a PhD by Publication.   The paper included in such theses can be: (1) published; (2) accepted/published online first; (3) submitted; or (4) in final draft form for submission.  Published papers, due to the nature of journal word limits are usually much shorter and less detailed than traditional PhD chapter.  The specifically written chapters, of the Introduction, Discussion, Conclusion and Recommendations chapter, and occasionally a Methods chapter will provide the reader (read ‘the examiner’) with further insights into the background of the research and offer details the student had to omit from published papers due to word limit restrictions.  Students may also opt to offer a short explanatory text before or after individual paper.  The overall Discussion chapter should aim to fully contextualise and integrate all papers into the thesis.

It is easy to see that these new format theses may require some adjustment from UK academics examining them.  Below I have listed some of the key issue a PhD examiner may want to consider in a PhD by Publication, such as the notion of integration and repetition, how the critique published papers, especially in quality peer-reviewed journals, and the nature and content of purposely written chapters.

Integration/duplication

Individual papers are free-standing, i.e. they must give enough information about the research question and methods to make sense to the reader.  This means that four papers from the same study in a thesis may appear as both disjointed and repetitive at the same time.  Moreover, details on background and methods are often minimal in papers presenting results.  This offers the examiner an opportunity to ask questions such as:

  • How do the included papers relate to each other in terms of subject matter or theoretical underpinning?
  • Do the included papers together result in a cohesive narrative?

It is worth looking at difference between the included papers.  One of my former students included two qualitative papers, both originating from the same dataset (i.e. the same interviewees) but each paper presented the data analysed in a different way.  The reviewers of the second paper had suggested a different approach to the analysis and the candidate had decided that it was worth the considerable amount of extra work.  This was obviously a topic for debate in the viva.

Peer-reviewed journal articles

It can be daunting for a less experienced examiner to critique an included paper that has been peer-reviewed and published in a prestigious journal in one’s discipline.  Perhaps a starting point could be to ask the candidate what the peer reviewers said when the manuscript was first submitted.  Did you receive and conflicting comments from reviewers or the editor?  The examiner may want to ask for further details of published paper, e.g.  “I know you probably had word-length issues for paper X, but why didn’t you expand on the detailed analysis in the Discussion chapter you included in the thesis?”  Interestingly, the University of Bath states that “Examiners are entitled to specify corrections to any part of the thesis… including parts submitted for publication, or already published” [1].  The latter does not mean changing the published paper, but perhaps adding a comment or explanation to the Discussion chapter or to the text introducing that particular paper.

In many discipline academic papers as co-authored, hence you would expect co-authored papers in a PhD by Publication.  This offers to examiner the opportunity to ask about the candidate’s unique contribution to that paper.  Occasionally, one of the included papers may not list the candidate as first author.  If this is the case in one of the four or five included papers this is not problem per se, but worth asking the same question to the candidate: “What is your unique contribution to the paper?”

Another potential issue to look out for in a PhD by Publication is so-called salami-slicing [3], especially if the candidate has published several small parts of the thesis study in different small papers where a single paper would have been more appropriate.

Written chapters

The examiner may want to start by focusing on the candidate’s Introduction, Discussion, or Conclusion chapters.  Or the overall Methods chapter if there is one.  Typically, a PhD by Publication has an Introduction, four or more papers, an overarching Discussion perhaps a short Conclusion.  What is often missing is a Methodology and Methods chapter.  Since individual papers have only basic methods section of a few hundred words, there is little detail in each paper, let alone nuance in the methods. Often methodological issues and reflections are missed, as are more subtle aspects of research ethics.  These are key topics to raise in the viva.

 

Professor Edwin van Teijlingen

CMMPH (Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health)

 

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank my colleague Dr. Ann Luce, Associate Professor in Journalism and Communication at Bournemouth University for her encouraging me to write this blog post.

 

References:

  1. University of Bath: https://www.bath.ac.uk/publications/guidelines-for-research-examiners/attachments/Guidelines_for_Examiners_of_Doctoral_Degrees_Nov19.pdf
  2. Bournemouth University (2021-22) 8A Code of Practice for Research Degrees (Policy, Procedure and Guidelines). https://intranetsp.bournemouth.ac.uk/pandptest/8a-code-of-practice-for-research-degrees.pdf
  3. Tolsgaard, M.G., Ellaway, R., Woods, N. et al. Salami-slicing and plagiarism: How should we respond?. Adv in Health Sci Educ 24, 3–14 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-019-09876-7

Launched | Doctoral College Researcher Development Programme


I am delighted to share with you all that sessions as part of the 2021-22 Doctoral College Researcher Development Programme for Postgraduate Researchers are now available to book.

PGRs can book onto sessions via the Doctoral College Researcher Development Programme on Brightspace. All sessions between October-December are delivered online.

If you are a PGR or PGR Supervisor and unable to access the Researcher Development Programme on Brightspace, please let us know and we will get you added.

Email Natalie and Debbie at: pgrskillsdevelopment@bournemouth.ac.uk.

 

Health Research Authority UPDATE: undergraduate and master’s research projects

New eligibility criteria from 1 September 2021

The HRA and the devolved administrations, supported by the Wessex Institute at the University of Southampton, have reviewed their approach to study approval for student research.

The review aimed to ensure students have the best learning experience of health and social care research, and to reduce the time that the HRA, DAs and NHS Research Ethics Committees (RECs) spend advising on and reviewing student applications.

In March 2020 the HRA paused student research approvals to create capacity for urgent COVID-19 research. Now, from 1 September 2021, they are introducing new eligibility criteria for standalone student research.

The new criteria mean that some master’s level students will be able to apply for ethics review and HRA/HCRW Approval or devolved administration equivalent. Standalone research at undergraduate level that requires ethics review and/or HRA/HCRW Approval (or devolved administration equivalent) cannot take place. Arrangements for doctoral research remain unchanged. Full details are in table one – permitted student research table. They have also made it clear when students are able to take the role of Chief Investigator, see table two – which type of students may act as Chief Investigator.

It is possible for students to learn about health and social care research without completing standalone projects. Looking at other ways to build skills and experience better reflects modern research and emphasises team science. View the video of the HRA event ‘Exploring good practice in Student Research’ to hear from course leaders about how successful these alternative approaches have been (registration is required to view) or read the HRA website for further information and ideas https://www.hra.nhs.uk/student-research/.

The HRA are giving notice now so that course leaders and students have time to prepare for the new arrangements, including ensuring that any changes to institutional policies and procedures are made.

If you have any queries about the eligibility criteria, please contact queries@hra.nhs.uk or swignall@bournemouth.ac.uk

Doctoral College Newsletter | June 2021

The Doctoral College Newsletter provides termly information and updates to all those involved with postgraduate research at BU. The latest edition is now available to download here. Click on the web-links provided to learn more about the news, events and opportunities that may interest you.

If you would like to make a contribution to future newsletters, please contact the Doctoral College.

1 Week to Go | Event for Supervisors: UKCGE Route to Recognition for Supervisory Practice


Are you an established research degree supervisor?

Would you like your supervisory practice acknowledged at national level?


We are delighted to welcome Professor Stan Taylor of Durham University on behalf of the UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) to BU to lead a session for established supervisors on Good Supervisory Practice Framework and the Research Supervision Recognition Programme.

Acknowledging the Complexity of Your Role: The Good Supervisory Practice Framework helps you navigate the wide-ranging, highly complex and demanding set of roles that modern research supervisors must undertake to perform the role effectively. Informed by academic research and approved by the sector, the 10 criteria of the GSPF acknowledges this complexity and sets a benchmark of good practice for all supervisors.
Identify your professional development needs: Reflecting on your own practice, compared to a benchmark of good practice, often reveals new perspectives on the challenges inherent in supervision. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses enables you to build upon the former and address the latter with targeted professional development.
Recognition of your expertise by a national body: Becoming a UKCGE Recognised Research Supervisor, you can demonstrate to your university, peers and candidates that your supervisory practice has been recognised by a national body.

The workshop will guide you through the process for gaining recognition and help you to start reflecting on your practice and drafting your application in the supplied workbook, to follow nearer to the event.

Online Workshop – Zoom
Thursday 17 June 2021, 14:00-16:00
Book your place: Register for free on Eventbrite now

Event for Supervisors: UKCGE Route to Recognition for Supervisory Practice


Are you an established research degree supervisor?

Would you like your supervisory practice acknowledged at national level?


We are delighted to welcome Professor Stan Taylor of Durham University on behalf of the UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) to BU to lead a session for established supervisors on Good Supervisory Practice Framework and the Research Supervision Recognition Programme.

  • Acknowledging the Complexity of Your Role: The Good Supervisory Practice Framework helps you navigate the wide-ranging, highly complex and demanding set of roles that modern research supervisors must undertake to perform the role effectively. Informed by academic research and approved by the sector, the 10 criteria of the GSPF acknowledges this complexity and sets a benchmark of good practice for all supervisors.
  • Identify your professional development needs: Reflecting on your own practice, compared to a benchmark of good practice, often reveals new perspectives on the challenges inherent in supervision. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses enables you to build upon the former and address the latter with targeted professional development.
  • Recognition of your expertise by a national body: Becoming a UKCGE Recognised Research Supervisor, you can demonstrate to your university, peers and candidates that your supervisory practice has been recognised by a national body.

The workshop will guide you through the process for gaining recognition and help you to start reflecting on your practice and drafting your application in the supplied workbook, to follow nearer to the event.

Online Workshop – Zoom

Thursday 17 June 2021, 14:00-16:00

Book your place: Register for free on Eventbrite now

 

The UKCGE UK Research Supervision Survey – Now live!

Share your experiences of supervising postgraduate research degree students


The UK Research Supervision Survey (UKRSS) is a national survey, run by the UK Council for Graduate Education, providing those involved in research supervision an opportunity to share their experiences of supervising PGRs.

The survey is open to all those involved in supervising PGRs enrolled at a UK HEI, whether they are supervising in a formal or informal capacity, partly based in industry, or located somewhere other than the UK.

The findings will form a report to help the UKCGE and the wider postgraduate community better understand the complexity of contemporary research supervision and how it is recognised and rewarded.

How do I take part?

The survey takes approximately 15 minutes to complete with an opportunity to win £250 for taking part.

To share your experiences of supervising PGRs:

Complete the Survey >

The survey closes on 31st May 2021.

Why should I take part?

Despite its importance and complexity, research supervision is often an undervalued area of academic practice. With support from Wellcome Trust and UKRI, this survey is another important part of the UKCGE’s support for those involved in research supervision and will help to build the clearest picture of contemporary research supervision in the UK.

More information

You can find out more information about the survey on the UKCGE website.