Student experience


The PhD confirmation, or upgrade stage, is a key requirement and rite of passage for most doctoral students. Yet despite its significance and high-stakes nature, little attention has been paid to students’ experiences of this stage of the PhD journey and how it influences the development of their researcher identity. Through semi-structured interviews with PhD students from a range of disciplines who had recently successfully completed the confirmation stage, we found that for many the confirmation stage was a catalyst for ‘feeling’ like a researcher through external validation, recognition and legitimacy. Students also developed their researcher identity through talking about their research with significant others. We argue for recognising the pivotal role the confirmation stage plays in developing doctoral students’ researcher identity and offer suggestions on how supervisors and researcher developers can support students through this transition.

Practitioner Notes

  1. Supervisors and doctoral students can have open and explicit discussions about the role of the confirmation stage in supporting researcher identity.
  2. Supervisors can encourage doctoral students to share their feelings of 'being' a researcher and what validates their researcher identity.
  3. Supervisors can ensure the provision of support for doctoral students who are struggling with the confirmation stage.
  4. Students can be provided with linguistic and rhetorical support to develop authorial voice which has an impact on researcher identity.
  5. Supervisors can encourage conversations around experiences of transitioning from student to researcher as part of the doctoral journey and the impact of assessment and other key milestones.

Twitter Handle

@MarionHeron 65