Day 1: Being a researcher


This mini-course focuses on who we are as researchers: How do we see our role in the world? What is important to us in our work? Where do we perform this new professional self? And what helps us understand the personal transformation that occurs during a research degree? Together we will investigate some of the characteristics of ‘researchers’ in the week ahead and consider what that means for you. After identifying the spaces where you work and the things that make you feel like a researcher, we’ll move on to articulating the behaviours that demonstrate this sense of yourself as belonging to the research world. Then we’ll consider ideas of authorial voice and how thesis acknowledgements also position you as a professional researcher. Finally, we’ll explore how you might use these insights to build your profile as a researcher.

Please introduce yourself via the Comments function at the bottom of the screen. We are a small group and it would be nice to know who we are working with this week.


Our starting point is to think about where you do your work. When you think of yourself ‘doing research’, how do you picture yourself? Do you perform all of your research in one place? Or are there a range of spaces that you use? My office has in the past been the place where I conduct most of my research – interviewing participants in person or via Zoom, reading journal articles, and writing at the computer. But there are plenty of other occasions when I’ve set myself up on the kitchen bench at home, near the heater and in the centre of the house where I can concentrate easily – I only need a laptop to continue working. I’ve blogged about this here. Pat Thomson also has some interesting insights into the spaces of research writing.

Data collection is conducted in so many different ways across disciplines. Some researchers regard the most important part of their job as the experimental work undertaken in lab settings – without this, there is no ‘research’. Many projects require field work, sometimes in nearby local settings, sometimes in distant countries. Where do you generate data for your project?

Some researchers tell me they can’t write anywhere but at their desk in their own, silent, one-person office; others tell me they get their best writing done in busy cafes; still more explain how they have to fit their reading and writing into the short gaps in their life while the baby is sleeping, or when they are in the doctor’s waiting room, or in the car while children are attending sport practice. Dowling and Mantai (2017) show us how difference spaces influence how we feel about ourselves as researchers and the importance of the meanings we attribute to those spaces.

ACTIVITY: Please email me a photo or drawing of yourself doing your research, accompanied by a few sentences about why that is a good place to do your work. Could it be improved, and if so, how? Have your work spaces changed over time, or did you set up patterns at the beginning of your PhD that have remained constant?



Secondly, what objects symbolise your sense of yourself as a researcher? Lilia Mantai (2017) identifies formal research outputs, the actual doing of research, and talking about research as important moments when PhD candidates are likely to feel like they are the ‘real deal’ – that is, they feel like legitimate researchers.I’m interested to know more about the moments that have made you feel like a proper, bona fide researcher. For me, it was a crucial moment to receive an ID card that allowed me access to university buildings after hours. Immediately, I felt like a trusted member of the academy.

Years later, I noticed that the name tags and lanyards from a range of national and international conferences where I had presented my research stood in as symbols of my intellectual life as a researcher. They represented my history of slowly gaining confidence in the field as I tried out ideas with a like-minded audience; the conference names on the lanyards also represented my research community, the place where I have gradually started to belong.

ACTIVITY: Please email a photo or write a description of something that symbolises your feeling of having ‘made it’ as a researcher, so we can share these ways of representing our academic selves. Was there a moment when you suddenly felt that you could call yourself a researcher, or was it a gradually dawning realisation?

The comments function on WordPress doesn’t allow you to submit images, so please email them as an attachment to and I can add your images to the site on your behalf. However, you are welcome to add text to the Comments – I’m always interested in what you have to say about these topics!



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