EUA Council for Doctoral Education


It takes a village to do a doctorate: the power of community in the doctoral journey

This article tackles the importance of building a doctoral community through modern means of communication and sharing information to create a collaborative environment where doctoral candidates feel supported and connected. For Sophie Leclère, universities should recognise and support the efforts of those who engage in knowledge-sharing, by providing resources, encouraging content creation and listening to the needs of doctoral candidates.

Embarking on a doctoral journey is a challenge that requires dedication, perseverance and a relentless pursuit of knowledge. In this respect, the advent of digital doctoral communities is currently shaping new doctoral experiences. Doctoral candidates know the importance of being connected, even if remotely they need to be part of a larger community. They need to share experiences, doubts, successes, information, and sometimes, they just want a good laugh. It is necessary to support the creation of a doctoral community by the using channels other than those directly provided by universities or doctoral schools.

Taking doctoral communication into the 21st century

It has never been easier to share information, thoughts, tools and resources than it is today. With its blogs, YouTube channels, podcasts, social media accounts, the 21st century offers a wide range of communication means. Some of them are used by universities, research centres and doctoral schools, whose presence online and on social media is constantly growing and is used to communicate about events or practical information.

These new media are also used by doctoral candidates or holders to exchange information, tools, resources and advice and share about their others’ experiences. They do so by writing blog posts, publishing newsletters, producing podcasts, sharing videos and drawing comics, for example. By creating or consuming this type of content, doctoral candidates (or holders) help build a substantial doctoral community that crosses the boundaries of disciplines, universities and countries.

The sharing of information, advice and experiences through modern communication channels has enabled early career researchers to have access to resources and news perspectives. By creating and being part of a community, doctoral candidates and holders feel less lonely, but also enhance their research, gain valuable insights and foster collaborative relationships.

Giving (or selling) advice

A significant portion of the content created and consumed by doctoral candidates revolves around providing valuable insights and practical guidance to navigate the complex journey of pursuing a doctorate. Very practical tips and advice are something that doctoral candidates are really looking for: how to start writing, how to stop procrastinating, how to stay motivated, how to prepare for my next career, or even, how to clean my desk. Many PhD content creators willingly offer their expertise, experiences, and hard-earned wisdom to assist their peers.

It is also not uncommon to offer free advice via blogs or free webinars, to create a community and then sell products (e.g. trainings, courses, resources, coaching sessions). By offering free tips, they make sure their services are widely recognized and known within their target market.

Sharing information and tools

Through new channels, doctoral candidates and holders create vibrant networks and communities that facilitate collaborative learning and provide invaluable support throughout their doctoral journeys. Sharing tools, resources and practical information is a way to participate and contribute to a collaborative environment: what to use for data collection, how to go about data treatment, which apps to use to stay focused, but also what does it mean to do a joint doctorate, what kind of collaboration can one create while doing a doctorate, how to choose a supervisor, etc.

By contributing their expertise and insights, they not only enhance their own learning experiences but also contribute to the collective knowledge. This exchange of tools, resources, and practical information reinforces the collaborative nature of the doctoral community.

Exploring diverse professional pathways beyond academia

These new channels also enable a wider access to firsthand experiences, advice and mentorship, shedding light on the potential career trajectories available to doctorate holders. These resources, mostly podcasts, provide a wealth of knowledge about different sectors, job roles and transferable skills that can help candidates make informed decisions about their future.

How can universities help build the doctoral community?

These platforms and digital means of communication also serve as sources of motivation and encouragement, reassuring candidates that they are not alone in their struggles and successes. By embracing these new communication avenues, universities can help build a vibrant doctoral community that thrives on collaboration, knowledge-sharing and collective growth. Here is how universities can play a pivotal role in fostering these communities:

- By facilitating access to these resources, universities support candidates in their pursuit of knowledge (e.g. by sharing resources on their website). 

- Universities should actively encourage researchers to share their experiences, insights, and expertise through various media, such as blogs, podcasts and social media. This can be done by providing guidelines, training, and platforms where researchers can publish or contribute their content. By promoting content creation, universities not only help build a sense of community among doctoral candidates but also empower researchers to develop valuable communication and digital literacy skills.

- Universities can invest in creating dedicated spaces and resources to support content creation. This can include setting up recording studios, providing access to audio/video editing tools and offering training sessions on content creation techniques. By equipping doctoral candidates with the necessary resources, universities enable them to produce high-quality content and share their knowledge effectively with the wider community.

- Universities should actively listen to the needs and interests of doctoral candidates. By paying attention to what content resonates with the community, such as articles or podcasts on topics like dropout rates or mental health, universities can identify areas where additional support or resources are required. This feedback-driven approach allows universities to address the specific concerns and interests of their doctoral community and adapt their initiatives accordingly.

“The Doctoral Debate” is an online platform featuring original articles with commentary and analysis on doctoral education in Europe. Articles focus on trending topics in doctoral education and state-of-the-art policies and practices. The Debate showcases voices and views from EUA-CDE members and partners.

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Sophie Leclère

Sophie Leclère is PhD coordinator at the Université catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain). She created “What-Sup”, a blog, which has now become a newsletter, to discuss the issues related to the doctoral journey in francophone Belgium. Sophie holds a doctorate in medieval history.