Graduate students’ motivations for participating in development workshops


Despite a clear interest in and demand for professional development opportunities, attendance is consistently poor for many development workshops. The aim of this project was to gain a better understanding of PGRs’ motivation for attending or not attending professional development workshops in order to explore potential areas for action which may improve future attendance rates. Initial evidence was gathered through a survey circulated to a large number of PGRs. Themes emerging form the survey were explored further through a pair of focus group interviews. PGRs are motivated to register for workshops seen as relating specifically to the process of completing a PhD such as viva preparation, thesis writing or research methodologies. Despite being relevant, the consequence of attending is sometimes seen as too high and other commitments such as PhD research, teaching responsibilities and other work, take priority at the last minute. This unpredictability is leading not only to low workshop attendance, but also high stress levels among PGRs. Based on these findings three key areas for action are proposed. Firstly, ensuring that specific benefits of participation are clear and relevant to individual participants. Secondly, ensuring our programmes are flexible enough to be accessible in light of the very unpredictable and diverse PGR contexts. This means diversifying our delivery modes to include on-line and remote access as well as asynchronous engagement opportunities. Finally, addressing the need for mental health support by recognizing and expanding how we can use our programmes to build resilient communities and peer support networks.



Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.

Browning, L., Thompson, K., & Dawson, D. (2016). It takes a village to raise an ECR: organisational strategies for building successful academic research careers. International Journal for Researcher Development, 7(2).

Bussell, H., Hagman, J., & Guder, C. S. (2017). Research Needs and Learning Format Preferences of Graduate Students at a Large Public University: An Exploratory Study. College & Research Libraries, 78(6), 978–998.

Craswell, G. (2007). Deconstructing the skills training debate in doctoral education. Higher Education Research & Development, 26(4), 377–391.

Cumming, J. (2010). Contextualised performance: Reframing the skills debate in research education. Studies in Higher Education, 35(4), 405–419.

D’Souza, K., & Mandeville, P. (2015). Longitudinal Evaluation of the Postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Research Methods and Skills Programme. Education in Practice, 2(1), 30–33.

Fong, B. L., Wang, M., White, K., & Tipton, R. (2016). Assessing and Serving the Workshop Needs of Graduate Students. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 42(5), 569–580.

Foot, R. E. (2017). “It’s not always what it seemsâ€: exploring the hidden curriculum within a doctoral program. Kent State University College.

Gilbert, R., Balatti, J., Turner, P., & Whitehouse, H. (2004). The generic skills debate in research higher degrees. Higher Education Research & Development, 23(3), 375–388.

Hargreaves, C. E., De Wilde, J. P., Juniper, B., & Walsh, E. (2014). Re-evaluating doctoral researchers’ wellâ€being: what has changed in five years? Retrieved October 31, 2018, from

Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4), 868–879.

McAlpine, L. (2010). Fixed-term researchers in the social sciences: Passionate investment, yet marginalizing experiences. International Journal for Academic Development, 15(3), 229–240.

McAlpine, L., & Norton, J. (2006). Reframing our approach to doctoral programs: an integrative framework for action and research. Higher Education Research & Development, 25(1), 3–17.

Mowbray, S., & Halse, C. (2010). The purpose of the PhD: Theorising the skills acquired by students. Higher Education Research and Development, 29(6), 653–664.

Neumann, R., & Tan, K. K. (2011). From PhD to initial employment: The doctorate in a knowledge economy. Studies in Higher Education, 36(5), 601–614.

Pearson, M., & Brew, A. (2002). Research training and supervision development. Studies in Higher Education, 27(2), 135–150.

Porter, S. D., & Phelps, J. M. (2014). Beyond Skills: An Integrative Approach to Doctoral Student Preparation for Diverse Careers. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 44(3), 54–67.

Pritchard, J., MacKenzie, J., & Cusack, M. (2009). The response of Physical Science post-graduates to training courses and the connection to their PhD studies. International Journal for Researcher Development, 1(1), 29–44.

Roberts, S. G. (2002). SET for Success. The supply of people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills.

Saetnan, E. R. (2017). Where-have-all-the-students-gone? Retrieved December 1, 2017, from

Sampson, K., & Comer, K. (2011). Engineering research teams: The role of social networks in the formation of research skills for postgraduate students. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5(1).

Starke-Meyerring, D. (2011). The paradox of writing in doctoral education: student experiences. In Doctoral Education: Research-Based Strategies for Doctoral Students, Supervisors and Administrators (pp. 75–95). Springer Netherlands.

Sweitzer, V. (Baker). (2009). Towards a Theory of Doctoral Student Professional Identity Development: A Developmental Networks Approach. The Journal of Higher Education, 80(1), 1–33.

Thouaille, M.-A. (2017). One size does not fit all: Arts and Humanities doctoral and early career researchers’ professional development survey. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from

UK GRAD. (2001). Joint statement of the UK Research Councils’ training requirements for research students.

Vitae. (2018). A brief history of researcher development in the UK. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from

Walsh, E., Seldon, P., Hargreaves, C. E., Alpay, E., & Morley, B. J. (2010). Evaluation of a programme of transferable skills development within the PhD: views of late stage students. International Journal for Researcher Development, 1(3), 223–247.

Wisker, G., Morris, C., Ming, C., Masika, R., Warnes, M., Trafford, V., Lilly, J. (2010). Doctoral learning journey: Final report. The Higher Education Academy, 1–61.

Wright, T. (2003). Postgraduate research students: People in context? British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 31(2), 209.

Authors retain the copyright for their work, while granting the journal the exclusive right of first publication. By virtue of their appearance in this open access journal, articles are free to use, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings.