QR:  Supervising PhDs: Creating a sense of belonging

Supervising PhDs: Creating a sense of belonging

This is an extract from a guest post on the Supervising PhDs Community Blog, which I co-authored with Dr Jo Collins from University of Kent. In the post, we explore what research supervisors can do to help develop a sense of belonging amongst their doctoral students.

Creating a sense of belonging

Lego model with connecting threads

Source: NBrown and JCollins

In her recent blog post about ‘Dealing with atypical students’, Nicole highlighted the importance of a sense of belonging amongst doctoral students. In this post, we present some of the outcomes of our joint work around building a sense of belonging amongst doctoral students.

Nicole and Jo decided to collaborate on a research project to specifically explore the doctoral journey, and to develop and foster a sense of belonging amongst doctoral researchers. Our research has now been published as ‘Using LEGO® to understand emotion work in doctoral education’ and ‘Where’s the validation? Role of emotion work and validation for doctoral students’.

To summarise our work: Nicole brought her LEGO® and we played. Initially, every doctoral researcher built their own model of their PhD journey. We then talked about the models and as similar elements were identified we tied strings from one model to the next. The end result was one messy room, but also a deeply important realisation: despite the very individual experiences of highly specialised PhD researchers, there were many similarities and connections.

We understand that not every supervisory team will have LEGO®, nor will they have the time or confidence to play. What then can be done by the supervisory team, or department, to support that development of a sense of belonging?

Develop taught elements

Encourage attendance in skills development courses

Opportunities for reflection and collaborative learning

Emphasise the difference between ‘being alone’ and ‘being lonely’

Develop peer mentoring schemes


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