...an ESRC Doctoral Training Centre

Postdoctorate Reflections on the value of the South East DTC

Monday 21 December 2015

James Dennis started a +3 students with the South East DTC in 2011.  He studied Politics at the Department of Politics and International Relations at Royal Holloway.  James has now completed his PhD and has kindly shared his SEDTC experience with us in the following article.  We would like to thank James for taking the time to provide the South East DTC with his valuable feedback.

I completed my PhD in Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London in 2015. Entitled “It’s Better to Light a Candle than to Fantasize About a Sun”: Social Media, Political Participation and Slacktivism in Britain, my thesis provides an extended critique of the popular idea of “slacktivism.” I was lucky enough to secure funding from the South East Doctoral Training Centre for the duration of my PhD research. This not only helped to cover my living costs, but the Research Training Support Grant allowed me to pursue an ambitious, multi-method research design consisting of ethnographic fieldwork, media consumption diaries, and a series of lab experiments. This was hugely beneficial for my thesis, as it enabled me to recruit over 100 participants. I also used these funds to present my work at a number of prestigious conferences in my field, including at the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association and the International Studies Association.

What makes the South East DTC really stand out is the vibrant and diverse research culture across the four host institutions. Students are regularly provided with opportunities to organise events and engage with colleagues across a wide range of disciplines. For example, the South East DTC provided funding for a one-day conference that I organised, “Power Revisited: Crisis and Opportunities”, where over 20 students from across the politics pathway presented their work. Academics from across the centre were also in attendance, providing their expertise and facilitating opportunities for future research collaboration between the institutions. Similarly, the annual conference for all pathways provides opportunities for early career researchers to present their findings to an interdisciplinary audience. I found these presentations to be particularly useful as they encouraged me to consider how I present my findings to wider audiences.

The South East DTC also provide a number of training opportunities so that students can develop their research skills. In my second year of study I was able to take an intensive introductory workshop on the qualitative data analysis computer software package, NVivo, at the University of Surrey. I also took part in the ESRC Early Career Media Training day, in which journalists and seasoned academics provided advice and tips for disseminating research findings to the media. This interactive session was invaluable and provided me with the confidence to discuss my findings on BBC Radio Scotland and Inter TV.

Students can also get involved in the running of the South East DTC by volunteering to act as a Student Representative for their institution. I was the Student Representative for Royal Holloway during the first year of my PhD, providing a student’s perspective on issues affecting the centre at management meetings.

James is now a Research Assistant based in the New Political Communication Unit at Royal Holloway, University of London. For more information about his research, see his website.