What’s a “remoty” to do?

When I started my PhD in Information Studies in 2004, there wasn’t any prescribed doctoral training as such, if I remember correctly. The White Rose Doctoral Training Centre in Social Sciences was only established in 2011, the year I was conferred. There had been courses I would have been eligible to attend, but as a part-time, remote location student that wasn’t really an option. I lived and worked in Dublin. My precious visits to Sheffield were filled with meetings with my supervisor and other students, and with many trips to the University’s wonderful libraries.

So, what’s a “remoty” to do? Well, being part of a network of practitioners and academics in my subject area really offered lots of opportunities for informal learning. As an active member of two professional associations I volunteered as a committee member, helping to organise CPD events, and became a mentor to other information professionals applying for professional accreditation. My research was about continuing professional development of librarians, so the connections I made in the profession helped me find individuals willing to be interviewed. The librarians I visited gave me new ideas for my own one-person library. Day job and PhD cross-fertilised.

The interdisciplinary nature of my PhD topic, which combined Information Studies with Adult Education, meant that I had to keep an eye on conferences in both fields. Presenting at these internationally makes you aware of how your own little contribution fits into a wider debate. You also get exposed to rigorous questioning, debating and arguing your case. Good preparation for the viva voce. The University of Sheffield offers conference grants for students, and I would encourage everybody to apply for them. One academic I had met a congress asked me to review books for an international journal – this has morphed into becoming an assessor of manuscripts for two periodicals, a complete new venture!

The advanced research skills I gained through the PhD are very valuable in my day job. We have researchers coming into the library, who are at different stages of their own doctorates. Not only can I relate to their experiences of elation and despair (often expressed in the same sentence!), but I am able to point them to resources they might find useful and help them tease out in more detail the type of information they are looking for. The PhD has made me a researcher, but also a better librarian.

The one “official” training session I did attend, however, was one on “how to prepare for your viva”. This was an excellent opportunity to get a sense of how this exam would be conducted, what kind of areas to prepare, to learn about common misconceptions, and to ask lots of questions. I would strongly recommend signing up for one of these courses.

Another piece of advice is to follow people on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks to keep abreast with new developments. Whatever you do, think of it as “learning” – don’t be afraid to try out new things!

Writted by Dr. Eva Hornung, PhD Information Studies, Information School

Nov 2015