Preparing for a doctoral consortium

There are many opportunities for doctoral students to participate in a doctoral consortium in the ed-tech research community, amongst others. A Doctoral consortium is usually organized by conferences where graduate students come together to present their work to experts in the field and peers, and get feedback from them. The expert panel might also offer advice on career and other skills. Some conferences also offer Young Researcher’s workshops/ Early Career Workshops which are useful for graduating students and young researchers in the field.

Having attended two doctoral consortium in different conferences, I would recommend PhD students to do it at some point of time.  I found it useful for a number of reasons, so in this post I’m going to list why I think so and how to prepare for a Doctoral consortium – some tips on making the best use of it.

Why participate?

  • Enhancing research skills: It’s a wonderful opportunity to put your thoughts together and think about the big picture of your research. It helps you identify the core ideas of your research and present them succinctly in a limited time. Explaining a potential 60,000 word thesis of your PhD in less than 30 minutes is a great skill to acquire. In some conferences, you might be asked to present a poster explaining your research as well. Also, it is a place where you can actually discuss more about your methodology and design, and not just the results.
  • Expert feedback: It is a great place to get some early feedback (and criticism) on your PhD work and thesis statement. It’s nice to have some extra eyes other than your phd supervisors. You become clear on what your claims can be and what your limitations are. You will be prepared to answer any question and know what to expect as possible questions next time when you present your work to different audiences. Even if you don’t get great advice at all times, you will most likely walk away with a better understanding of what you want to do. And if there’s a certain problem you’re grappling with in your research, you can ask for specific advice.
  • Networking: You meet other PhD Students from closely related fields. Not always do we get a chance to meet students from other universities around the world and know about their research. They are also sailing on the same boat, so it is always good to connect with your peers to get some support, and their feedback on your work. It is also a good opportunity to network with experts in the field and introduce your name in the research community. Who knows, the academic expert you impressed might be the person who gives you a job when you graduate 🙂
  • Financial Support: Most conferences provide some level of financial support for grad students who get accepted to the doctoral consortium. This is especially useful for self-financing students, as it covers registration fees or travel depending on the conference.

Based on my experience and the advice I’ve heard, here are some tips to make the best use of your time at the Doctoral Consortium:

  • Pick the right time to go – Best to go when you have conceptualized your research and done some work, so that you don’t go as an empty slate. The experts want to see what you have thought through so they can give you advice. Also don’t go too late (for example when you are almost submitting your thesis) by which time you can’t make any more changes to your research and thesis.
  • Make a proper submission – Most doctoral consortium require students to make formal submissions which include a short paper describing the research, supporting documents like a letter of support from the supervisor, and sometimes your own statement and CV. They usually look for sharp minds who can benefit from the discussion and contribute to the research community, so make sure you follow the mentioned format while submitting your application with well-written documents.
  • Practise and be ready to explain your research – You are usually provided a limited time to present (15-20 mins), and given that you are attempting to present your whole thesis in this time slot, practise well in advance to highlight the key aspects. Even better if you can present to your local peers and get their advice earlier. Sometimes, we tend to run through some ideas quickly without noticing that they need more emphasis or highlight less important aspects more, which your peers can notice for you.
  • Go prepared with your questions & answers: It is always nice to be prepared with questions to ask advice from experts. If there’s a particular problem you’re grappling with in your research, make sure you point that out and ask for suggestions. This helps you get focused attention on that problem rather than spend a lot of time on other minor things you are  not very interested in. If you want feedback from a specific expert, you can try mentioning that too. Be prepared to face tough questions and criticism on your research work (a good rehearsal before your phd defence). Also, if your peer’s work is previously made available, take some time to read about their research so you can contribute to the discussion and add value with your feedback.

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