Research Degree Voodoo

Boy in voodoo fetish market
Lome, Togo
by Dominik Schwartz

So, I don’t know about you, but embarking on an academic career felt like an entry into a foreign country.  Not just like crossing over the border from, I don’t know, France to Belgium; but entering a strange and difficult land.  A land that, it turned out, not only had a different language and a different kind of currency (cultural capital, anyone?), but a whole range of customs and taboos that I didn’t know.

I thought I’d lived here for a long time.  I’d been a student, and a good student.  I’d done an MA.  I knew how to use a library, how to talk about post-Marxisms, how to use footnotes.  But no, there was a whole load of stuff I didn’t yet know how to do, and no-one who was there could tell me how to do it either.  They threw you in at the deep end, and you had to sink or swim.  When you ‘got it’, you succeeded.  If you didn’t get it…

Anyway, since then I successfully gained my own PhD in three years, helped hundreds of research students to gain theirs in the UK and Australia.  I have asked scores of students and academics basic questions:

  • How do you write?
  • What do you mean by critical engagement?
  •  Do you ever use Wikipedia? (really?)
  • How do you take notes?
  • Do you read everything in the book you are citing?

Here are the secrets, the tricks behind the hocus pocus, the guidebook, the map, the dictionary to this other land. This is Research Degree Voodoo–Uncovered.

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