Before setting off for Cape Town for the International Doctoral School I didn’t quite know what to expect, but the school turned out to be a great experience on many levels.
The first positive aspect was meeting students from Cape Peninsula University of Technology and talking to them not just about their research but also about what it’s like to do a PhD in South Africa and about their life in general. It was not just the South African students I enjoyed interacting with; I also appreciated the opportunity to socialise with members of staff and getting to know them better.
Further benefits of the school were the visits to a number of local attractions in Cape Town and the surrounding area. A definite highlight was Table Mountain, but the visit to Green Point Stadium was also (surprisingly) interesting despite the fact my research has nothing to do with sports management and I am not personally a big sports fan. I also really enjoyed the walk through the Noordhoek conservation area where we learnt about the efforts that are being made to keep the hugely biodiverse natural surroundings of Cape Town protected for the future. Despite a packed programme we also managed to find some time in the evenings to venture into Cape Town itself, which allowed us not only to enjoy the local nightlife, but also to witness the sharp contrasts that exist between the different neighbourhoods in terms of socio-economic status and ethnicity.
With regards to the more scholarly side of the programme, I found I got a lot out of both the student presentations as well as the workshops. I learned a lot from the presentations from other PhDs, not just about their areas of research but also about how to communicate your PhD research to a non-specialist audience in an engaging way. A positive consequence of the fact that the participants and speakers came from a very varied range of research traditions was the chance to reflect on my research from a broader perspective. My research is purely quantitative, but being exposed to PhD students and researchers using a variety of qualitative and mixed methods approaches encouraged me to consider my research from a more qualitative viewpoint, which made me more appreciative of the sorts of insights that can be gained from using different methodological approaches.
The various workshops were also very insightful, with the sessions on theory building, impact, and preparing for the Viva being particular highlights. Aside from highlighting several areas that I need to work on as I am about to enter the third year of my PhD, a key point I took away from the doctoral school is the importance of those aspects of being a doctoral student that are not directly to do with writing a thesis but with developing the competencies and outlook of a well-rounded researcher. From this perspective, I have become more appreciative of the usefulness of having an awareness of a broad range of methodological approaches, of thinking clearly about the theoretical and practical impact that you seek to make through research, and about the importance of being part of a network of likeminded researchers in terms of opening up opportunities for collaboration in the future.