Nigel Eady Director of Research Talent

Nigel Eady, Director of Research Talent.

Who are the people who are helping you to be successful? Are you making the most of that support? Is there more support you could draw on?



I’ve been watching a lot of the Athletics recently. My father loved running and whilst he wasn’t ever close to being national standard, he had friends who were pretty close to it. When I was young, the TV would always be on if there was a big event happening, especially the Olympics or European Championships.

I think athletics is a pretty good analogy for the journey of the PhD.

We tend to think of athletics as an individual sport, but it struck me how many of the athletes talked about all the other people who had enabled them to be successful – family, friends, coaches, other current athletes, former athletes, the list went on.

When it comes down to it, like the athlete in the championship on the race track, there’s only one person who writes the thesis and goes through the oral exam.

Yet also like the athlete, to be really successful, you need a whole host of people supporting you and cheering you on.

Thirty or more years ago, a PhD was a solitary pursuit. You did everything on your own, with just the guidance of your solitary supervisor. However those days should be long gone. It’s well recognised that effective training of inexperienced researchers requires much more than one person! So who is on your team? Every athlete draws on a slightly different group of people, or perhaps draws on some people more than others.

Here is a Top 10 of people whom you might draw on. There’s no ‘one size fits all’. However, I’d dare to suggest if you’re not making use of most of these possible supporters, then you’re giving yourself an unnecessary handicap!

1. Supervisor

Certainly the most crucial person in your team. How well are you working together? When I’m discussing challenges with doctoral researchers, it’s often the case that there are mismatches in expectations between student and supervisor. Maybe you discussed expectations when you started your research degree but things change. If you’re in the final phases of the PhD and writing up, you’re likely entering new territory in your relationship. What can you expect from your supervisor then? What do you think you need? Have you had a proper conversation about writing the thesis or is it all based on assumption, what you’ve heard from others? Use your time effectively by having a clear discussion with your supervisor about what you think you need and what they can offer you. And this is true throughout the PhD.

2. Second supervisor

Hopefully you know who your second supervisor is! How often do you meet them? What do you discuss? Every second supervisor will be a bit different. Maybe yours brings a particular interest or skill to the table. Maybe their research interests are related but in a somewhat different area. What do you need from them? Maybe it’s just general discussions about how to tackle the PhD. Do you know their strengths? What can you learn from them? How can they add either to your research or your skills?

3. Other academic colleagues, researchers/staff at different levels

Sometimes you just need someone who gets the academic and research environment but isn’t connected to your project. Someone else in your department or even in another School or Faculty. Maybe you share an interest outside your research. Maybe you’ve had an interesting conversation in a dept seminar and they seemed like someone you’d get on with. It’s great to have a few people around you who understand your world and can offer advice, contacts or experience.

4. Mentors

Do you have a mentor? There are many ways to get a mentor – formal schemes and informal approaches. A mentor can be invaluable for navigating complex environments or for considering what next. Having run mentoring schemes in the past, I think you get the most value from a mentor when you, as a mentee, are in the driving seat, making sure the mentoring is providing what you need.

5. Peers

I hope you have a few people around you who know exactly what you’re going through now. You may be fortunate and have lab colleagues or peers in your dept who share an office with you. Downloading your woes to someone who understands can definitely be cathartic (as long as you promise to be that person for them when they need you!)

6. Staff who support doctoral students – academics and professional services

You should have a PGR Coordinator or equivalent in your department, whose role is to support and advise doctoral researchers. You may also have PS staff who support PhDs. They may be the people you ask very basic questions about the PhD and the process, they may be the ones who can guide you if problems arise, whether complex ones or very simple ones.

7. One-to-one expert support

Did you know you can meet one-to-one with a careers consultant to discuss any career related issue or question? You might have no idea what to do next or what you want to do? They’ll help you to start working that out. You might need advice on a job application or an interview. You can also meet one-to-one with a professional writer to help you with your writing. Maybe you’re struggling to get words on paper. Maybe you’ve got the words down but you’re struggling for clarity or to communicate your argument.

8. Support services

In a similar vein, there is lots of support at King’s – start with Student Services (housing, money and more), who will point you to the relevant team. Ask for help before it all gets too much.

9. Friends

Sometimes you just need someone to tell you to forget your research for a few hours or a weekend and do something completely different. As a friend of mine says, “Have breaks, make breakthroughs!”

10. Family

I know not everyone is close to their family, but if you are, they are clearly a great resource. Perhaps your family are far away? If so, why not plan ahead – put a home visit in the diary, something to look forward to.

Like I say, different people need different help at different times. Just don’t suffer in silence!

Nigel Eady
Director of Research Talent