Becoming a Self-Reflective PGR
Possibly due to the independent nature of a PGR degree, I’ve found that I’m continuously thinking, planning, and working towards my next required steps – finish that chapter, attend that conference, enrol on that training course etc. What I often lose sight of, however, is that the PGR journey actually provides a great opportunity to take a more self-reflective approach.
Self-reflection involves considering our own internal thoughts, behaviours and motives, so that we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves. It’s a technique that has been recognised for its benefits. For instance, it has been noted that improving self-awareness through self-reflection can help to increase levels of self confidence and self-esteem, provide perspective, and facilitate greater learning abilities (see this webpage for more info). Self-reflection is also increasingly being encouraged as an activity that we should engage in (e.g. Burr et al.).
There are many reasons why the PGR experience itself can facilitate and encourage us to learn more about ourselves and practice self-reflection:
1. The different opportunities available
What is immediately noticeable is the vast range of available opportunities available for us to take part in as PGR students. For instance, training courses that cover writing skills, to IT and graphics skills, to researcher development. At the same time, we also have the chance to engage in activities such as PGR internships or teaching. With all these opportunities, it’s the perfect time for experimentation and to dip our toes into something that, before we tried, we might not have realised was something we would enjoy.
What we learn from these courses and activities, as well as which courses we choose or don’t choose to enrol on can tell us a lot about ourselves. We can ask ourselves if there are particular courses we’ve been on or activities we’ve taken part in that we’ve liked, and whether this has surprised us in terms of what we can learn about our individual motivations. Participating in training courses and other activities can highlight what our strengths and weaknesses are, so that we can pursue future activities that are in line with our strengths and continue working on our areas of weakness.
2. One-to-one support
As PGRs, we are also given privileged access to situations where we are provided with one-to-one support. For instance, the University’s Careers Manager, Katrina Gardner, offers one-to-one sessions for PGRs where we can receive personalised advice on careers for research students. These are great ways to learn about what it takes to pursue our desired careers, whether its within or outside of academia. Completing some of these requirements can encourage us to engage in deep thought about what career we really want to pursue. For instance, teaching is something that might look good on the CV for a career in academia. However, some of us may discover through teaching as a PGR student that it’s something we just really don’t enjoy. This may simply have been one bad experience, or perhaps teaching is something that takes some getting used to. But our experience could also indicate that pursuing academic positions that require fewer teaching hours could ultimately be a better fit.
3. PGR Community
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash
There are few environments quite like the PGR one, simply in terms of the opportunities we have to meet with and learn from others with such different areas of expertise. For instance, this PGR blogger team is made up of individuals researching in areas as diverse as philosophy, law, psychology, cultural studies and virology. Through my own experience as a PGR blogger, I’ve been able to learn a lot from my fellow colleagues about different disciplines and their different experiences. Such interaction can reveal new opportunities and areas of focus that are emphasised by others, inspiring us to take part in these too. By talking to those outside of our immediate research area about our own projects, we can be reminded of what we do, and don’t do, and ultimately what we truly appreciate about our own areas. This can encourage us to think more deeply about what motivates us in our PGR studies, and whether in the future we’d like to take up alternative directions in our research.
So, while we’re all working hard towards submitting the thesis and completing all the necessary steps along the way, let's remember to take some time for self-reflection! Our individual PGR experiences can be seen as chances to learn more about ourselves, helping to inform our future decisions and to engage us with the benefits of taking a self-reflective approach.