Book Review: The Literature Review (2012)

As part of Sage’s extensive Study Skills Series, the second edition of Diana Ridley’s text aims to provide a comprehensive guide to the literature review process for university students of all levels. Books of this nature face a significant threat from the proliferation of blogs (and accompanying twitter communities) designed to aid all stages of the research process, particularly at doctoral level. For a long time I have resisted the temptation to read step by step guides, doubtful that they could contain any value above that which can be gleaned from reading good published research in my own field. However having been recently drawn into reading numerous academic blogs, now seems an appropriate time to find out how the published alternative compares.

There can be little doubt that Ridley is well placed to provide advice as her own PhD concerned the the role of the literature review process in postgraduate research. The book contains eleven well delineated chapters that are extensively summarised in the contents page, allowing for easy reference to specific topics. Mapping out your literature review is usually one of the first tasks in any research project and as Ridley attests, it is rarely finished until the project itself is completed. The first steps of a literature review are unquestionably a daunting prospect for any student and of central concern to many is developing a critical voice. Chapter 8 furnishes students with a slew of techniques to develop a critical mindset, in a straightforward and logical manner. ‘Foregrounding your voice’ is an essential skill for fledgling academics and Ridley demonstrates how this can be achieved via manipulation of citation patterns, strategic organisation of the text and employing personal pronouns – a stylistic choice which undergoes a considered discussion. Ridley argues that despite the use of the first person historically being considered sacrilege, the practice is becoming increasingly fashionable within the social sciences. Continue reading

PhD Supervision – Getting it right?

As someone who has had experience of supervising and being supervised through the PhD process in the past decade I can understand the importance of ‘good’ PhD supervision from the perspective of the supervised and the supervisor. Having heard some horror stories about students’ experience of supervision and also from staff about the difficulties in supervising certain students it is important for staff and students alike to develop strategies to make the experience as positive as possible. In this article I am going to focus on the student experience of supervision and give you some tips on managing the PhD supervision process. While many of them may be rather obvious and you may already be doing them (if so, then great), others may not be so you may be able to think about them in relation to enhancing your own supervision experience. Continue reading

‘I’m a graduate student, get me out of here!’ Taking a break from research

I originally wrote this piece after taking a leave of absence in October, 2011. I had been suffering with anxiety for 3 years, and in the summer of 2011 I was diagnosed with depression by my GP. Taking a leave of absence allowed me to get perspective on my work, and my academic career. I hope it will prove useful to any other graduate students in a similar position.

November, 2011
Graduate life most definitely requires a health warning, especially if you’ve never been out of education (for me, its 5 years and 3 degrees of an unceasing University education and I’m still going – just!) It will come as no surprise that embarking on a research degree has been the greatest challenge to date of my academic career; the pressure to finish such a piece of work in 3 years will undoubtedly surpass any previous test of my abilities. For those feeling similar pressures from a life of perpetual scrutiny, I hope here to offer some counsel and a perspective from academic exile. Continue reading