We’ve now interviewed 17 graduates from across the four programmes, in locations all over the world, and their insights about the dissertation experience have been fascinating. We’re beginning to analyse this data and search for cross-cutting themes and ideas. Ultimately our goal is to produce a resource for other students conducting research at a distance from their institutions, but we are also feeding findings from this stage into a series of workshops with supervisors in March and April. Those workshops will get the supervisor perspective on the issues involved in dissertations at a distance.
We’re working on snapshots of each of the programmes, too, with help from the programme directors on the project team. It is striking how different programmes handle the dissertation process quite differently – including issues such as timescales, selection of supervisors, structures for peer support and networking, and more.
Finally, we had help from a fantastic colleague in Student Systems, who’s worked with the data reporting system ‘BIS’ to deliver the raw data we can use look for possible patterns in the quantitative data of graduates from the four programmes. We aren’t yet sure exactly what we may find here – but will be looking at things such as relationship between taught course and dissertation marks, trajectories and timescales, and so on. There may be nothing to see, which would of course be interesting in its own right.
The other thing that’s emerging at the moment is the development of systems for supporting distance PhDs at the University. This continues to be discussed, and we hope that some of our project findings may helpfully contribute to those conversations.