Welcome to July-August’s Learning and Teaching Enhancement theme: Showcasing the Doctoral College

Original artwork by Rachel Collins, Edinburgh College of Art student

In this post, Fiona Philippi introduces July-August’s new Learning and Teaching Enhancement theme: Showcasing the Doctoral College by situating the development and implementation of this new structure aimed at enhancing the postgraduate experience. Fiona is the Head of Doctoral Education at the Institute for Academic Development and is the co-editor of this theme.

I am delighted to introduce this Doctoral College series for Teaching Matters. It is an opportunity to showcase a number of exciting and thought-provoking initiatives by staff and students at the University which all share the common aim of enhancing the postgraduate research experience. I am particularly pleased that so many of these posts have been written by postgraduate researchers.

To preface the series, it is useful to give a brief outline of what the Doctoral College (DC) is and how it has developed. A little over a year ago (in March 2020), as the Covid-19 Pandemic hit the UK, we launched the DC as a new University-wide structure to support the postgraduate research experience. The structure is a little unusual for the University in that it does not act as a ‘service,’ rather as a coordinating body, to bring people and ideas together. This builds upon our strengths as a large devolved institution, yet allows for sharing of practice and efficient working towards common goals. Our Doctoral College ‘Team’ now counts over 200 committed members of staff from across the University (from Schools, Colleges and professional services). We hold a bi-monthly forum where we share updates, hear from other areas in the University and hold lively discussions on all areas of postgraduate research support. The culture is one of collaboration, engagement, sharing and openness. Over this year, we have also been supported by a team of DC student representatives who have played a crucial role in shaping the work. The rate of progress over the last year is impressive and spans all our DC work themes (experience and development, administration, wellbeing, communities, research strategy, recruitment and finance). You can find out more about the DC here. The creation of the DC is the culmination of several years of preparation and hard work and it is intensely rewarding that one of the outputs so far has been the ability to surface and share examples of good practice from across the institution, as is evident from the range of posts we can enjoy throughout this series.

The posts in the series cluster around two main interlinked themes. The first is building community, something which we know is often a particular concern for postgraduate researchers. The individual nature of postgraduate research can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness and lack of connection with research communities. The results of the recent Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) suggest that this is even more acute during the pandemic, something which was also a consistent message in the University monthly Pulse surveys through this academic year. We also know that tackling this is not a straightforward task, and that the approaches to building community for taught students are not always appropriate for researchers. However, there are many effective examples at the University, and supporting greater community building will continue to be a priority for the Doctoral College. The posts on this theme give us insight into a number of existing initiatives. Daniel Heathcote reflects on what his PhD internship experience (working on the QAA Enhancement theme: resilient learning communities) has taught him about building postgraduate research communities. Niamh MacSweeney and Laura Klinkhamer give an overview of how they founded and developed Edinburgh ReproducibiliTea and Aigli Raouna reflects on the experience of setting up and editing Research Bow, a postgraduate research blog from the School of Health in Social Science. Kitty Wheater and Harriet Harris from the University Chaplaincy Service share how they launched their long standing idea for a PhD book club in the past year.

The second theme is around how structures for postgraduate research are evolving and adapting to the changing nature of research. The last few decades have seen immense changes in terms of research degree structure, the supervisory role and career destinations and an increasingly diverse postgraduate researcher population (see for example, 1.2.3). The posts in the series highlight initiatives which aim to address and support some of these changes. Among others, we hear from the EU SHAPE-ID project team on support for interdisciplinary researchers, from Diane Gill of the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGSSS) on a project into widening access in postgraduate research, from Patrick Hadoke and Fiona Philippi on research supervision, and from Layla Mathieson for a fascinating account of developing and undertaking a Student-Led, Independently Created Course (or SLICC) in Healthcare Innovation and Entrepreneurship during lockdown.


  1. Blessinger P. and Stockley D. (eds.) Emerging Directions in Doctoral Education 2016 Innovations in Higher Education Teaching and Learning. Vol.6 Accessible here: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ed/detail.action?docID=4509346&pq-origsite=primo
  2. Lee A. and Danby S. (eds.) Reshaping Doctoral Education: International Approaches and Pedagogies London: Routledge 2012 Accessible here: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ed/detail.action?pq-origsite=primo&docID=957421
  3. McGloin R. and Wynne C. UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) Structural Changes in Doctoral Education in the UK: A Review of Graduate Schools and the Development of Doctoral Colleges 2015

Fiona Philippi

Dr Fiona Philippi is the Head of Doctoral Education at the Institute for Academic Development. She joined the University in 2013 and has oversight for the IAD programme of professional and personal development training and support for postgraduate researchers and research supervisors. She is also Manager of the Doctoral College.

Rachel Collins

Rachel is a 2nd year illustration student at Edinburgh College of Art from Northern Ireland. When she’s not illustrating, she loves to spend time outdoors and playing sport. Her favourite place to be is the Mourne Mountains, near her home in Northern Ireland.

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