White pages can be reason enough to give up before having even started. Can you remember how it felt when you were a PhD student? Struggling to get the first research idea on paper is one of many challenges of an early PhD student. Faced with insecurities regarding how to approach writing an academic research proposal, the necessary contents, structure, and language, can be a daunting task to articulate one’s research interests and questions. Sometimes all it needs is a little push to start writing. To reduce anxiety and to empower and encourage PhD students at their very early stage, we have worked out some guidance, training, personal experience, and hands-on feedback. We launched our first IFERA Writing Boot Camp last November and just recently concluded a successful initiative of our Research and Development Team.
What we set out to do
With our upon-registration but for-free Writing Boot Camp, we offered a package with three different modules. Throughout the course, we provided a set of preparatory material regarding the nuts and bolts of writing a research proposal, an interactive online event to learn and discuss participants’ experiences of putting their research ideas on paper, and a guided exercise about providing a review on a peer’s research proposal to enhance participants’ learning.
In our first module, we gave a rough version of the proposal following a provided template. Participants were asked to study the provided material and draft a research proposal. The material consists of an introductory presentation that gives guidance on time management strategies, a presentation on the structure and content of a research proposal as well as a template that guides students through the actual writing.
The second module aimed to empower participants in improving their potentially already existing drafts and building confidence in writing research proposals in the future. In an interactive, moderated discussion in an online format of roughly 1,5h a team of advanced PhD Students and young scholars shared their takes on formal and customary requirements for research proposals as well as their own experiences in drafting their proposals for IFERA. We addressed common challenges to suggest potential remedies and were happy for our participants’ thoughts and reflections on their writing experience.
The last module comprised an assignment of reviewing a peer’s research proposal. While we introduced the assignment during the online event, we also provided a review template to guide participants. With the review, we hoped to spark further reflection on participants’ own proposals as well as learning from others’ approaches. Participants then self-organized the handling and discussion with the allocated peer. We encouraged a fruitful and mutually helpful exchange among participants. Some PhD ambassadors and young scholars also got involved to provide constructively feedback, finding ways to make proposals even better.
We were happy to see 13 students interested in signing up for our untested event! Beyond our thrill, we quickly gained confidence that students were able to follow our instructions, do the tasks on their own and arrive prepared for the interactive online session. We tried to be as transparent and honest in our discussion of personal previous experiences and tried to give specific guidance in addressing some common issues when writing up a research proposal beyond for IFERA.
What we accomplished and still can improve
Overall, we are pleased to say that participants found our Boot Camp a useful exercise. In her own words, beginning from helpful and approachable teaching material, an intuitive platform to access material, and communicate with participants, and the multimodal setup of the overall course, are the remarkable highlights that Simone Mokster enjoyed from our Boot Camp. Last but not least, the guidance we gave through our packages’ structure, she felt this initiative was the push she needed to put down her ideas on paper. Specifically, the student Lucas Saurin admitted that it was an initiative that came just in time, and helped him avoid a blank-page blockage, common at first attempts to write a research proposal. For him, both the virtual workshop, the exchange with the buddy, and the feedback offered by the mentor opened up new perspectives and avenues for constructive feedback. Briefly, he cheered us up for the next edition, by literally saying: I hadn’t found a similar initiative in other academic communities until this. For some reason, Antonio Molina, also a student from the Boot Camp, highlighted the close atmosphere and friendly environment in discussing the proposals, sharing personal experiences, and significant feedback. Students assure felt accompanied during the three-stages process, which encouraged them to push to advance in their career paths. As many of us could have experienced, feeling that support could be very relieving especially when the work we usually conduct is solitary writing.
However, although the outcomes of the first edition have exceeded all expectations, as happens with first trials, there is room for improvement. In this regard, another big thanks go to our participants, who have devoted their time to providing very constructive feedback. For the next edition, we will pay close attention to our descriptions and instructions about the separate modules and to the expectations they raise in participants. We also see potential in spreading the word more and letting more students participate, as this season’s students would join once more and some of them confidently would recommend it to fellow students. For that, we would like to thank all students for their participation and their reflections on our Boot Camp, we for sure learned from and with them.
A push worthwhile
What is left for us to point out is that we are glad that participants have a workable manuscript now but have also received hints and suggestions they can incorporate well ahead of time before the submission deadline to apply for IFERA’s Doctoral Consortium (February 6, 2023). From the looks of it, we do not see any reason for them not to be confident in their research proposal, they are set. But how about you? Is this maybe the little push you need to get your submission documents ready? We surely look forward to meeting all of you (again) at this year’s edition of IFERA’s Doctoral Consortium and Conference.