- Supervisors & managers
- Premia - making research education accessible
- Supervising disabled researchers - Premia
- Supporting researchers to write their thesis
Supporting researchers to write their thesis
Once researchers have negotiated their research, they arrive at the foot of another mountain, ‘writing up' in which they have to transform the raw material into a thesis or dissertation. It will certainly be the largest scale and most complex task they have ever undertaken or, in many cases, will ever undertake. Even if they have been writing regularly since the start of their candidacy, producing the thesis may still be seen as a vast mountain to scale. But it is important that they do reach the summit on time or as near as possible for personal and financial reasons, as well as meeting sponsors' targets if applicable.
There is a complex range of reasons why postgraduate researchers do not complete or do not complete on time. It is a good idea to remove the barriers to completion for a disabled researcher so that disability does a factor in non-completion. This section - and other parts of the Premia resources - aim to show ways of tackling the obstacles.
The researcher experience
Researchers have provided unique insights into the particular difficulties posed by the thesis. Here are some of them.
‘Not surprisingly, my written English and grammar are poor. Unlike hearing people, I do not hear the background everyday English which would help me improve my writing/ grammar skills. I felt it took me longer to write my first year literature review report than it did take my hearing peers and I had to rely on to make grammar corrections. I have concerns that my thesis may take longer than usual.’
Deaf postgraduate researcher (Science)
‘I have been making use of the special typesetting software to produce written work. The difficulties associated with this include the detection of errors in source files and the reading back by my screen reader of the contents of these files, as they include a wide range of brackets and keywords that are difficult to distinguish between visual or via speech output. The same is true of my work using symbolic computation packages, which are an integral part of my work.’
Blind postgraduate researcher
‘They (my supervisors) have also been very good at helping me to devise strategies to solve practical problems. For example, feedback on work has been an issue because the traditional method of writing on submitted work is not accessible to me. I now submit work and receive feedback by email.’
Blind postgraduate researcher (Social Science)
‘...at the beginning of a day I am fairly dextrous and mobility is not too bad. As the day progresses and tiredness increases I drop things, stumble/trip and am prone to headaches as I become anxious about completing the work I have set myself. At the end of a whole week of intense study and work, I need several days to recover.’
Employed postgraduate researcher with multiple impairments
‘I cannot write. When I say I have difficulties writing, people think I must be able to write but ...more slowly. But I cannot write. I can't use some software because it needs you to key in the first one or two letters. I don't know what the first two letters are.’
Postgraduate researcher with dyslexia
‘The issues are...having confidence in my English skills. Are they up to academic level? Has my poor school education affected me in later life, especially grammar? If I do not meet academic levels, will this be related to being Deaf or that I simply do not meet the required standards?’
Deaf postgraduate researcher
An understanding of the challenges experienced by disabled researchers in writing their thesis can assist us to provide support that is appropriate.
There is a need for us to differentiate, as no two researchers experience disability in the same way. Some will have designed their own learning strategies and will have been using those methods for many years. Others could well learn how to manage their thesis more effectively with advice from academic staff willing to adapt, experiment and improvise. Peers can share what has worked for them and support staff can also give advice about what might work. Partnerships between research supervisors, postgraduate researchers and support staff ensure that responses are informed, appropriate and timely.