Throwback Thursday: Where to Find your PhD Support Group

This post by Dr Julia Hallas first appeared on Thesislink in May 2014. A network of Research Students Peer Groups has since been started at AUT – see the RSPG page on the Student Digital Workspace for details.

“There is nothing more to be said on this subject. Nothing”.

(McCall Smith 2003, p.11, cited in Murray, 2005)

There is nothing better than finding a funny quote while in the middle of a difficult piece of thinking, reading or writing.  Even better if you have someone to share it with.  When I found this quote, I shared it with my PhD Hui group.  A group of intelligent, witty, caring women who are my no. 1  support group. When I started the PhD, I didn’t have a support group – I was on my own. I had been invited to join one, but declined as they were all well ahead of me and I wanted to be more in step with my fellow learners. So, I decided to start my own group.  I kept my eyes and ears out for people who were in a similar position to me and asked if they wanted to be part of a group.  Some said “no” and others said “yes”. We meet once or twice a month. We are learning to talk about our research, attempt to make sense of epistemologies and methodologies, lament over the difficulty in getting participants, and enjoy sharing our ah ha moments. Some days we don’t discuss the PhD at all. We talk about holidays, work, family and feminism – usually in that order!

Because I am enrolled in the School of Education, I also belong to another kind of support group. Nesta Devine and Andy Begg run the Doctor of Education programme, and hold meetings for EdD and PhD candidates four times a year. This is a formal learning group, so we stick firmly to philosophy and developing our research projects. We are deliberately asked to explain our research to the group, and the group gets to critique it. It’s not so formal that we can’t have a laugh, but you have to be mindful of why we are all there. We all love it when Nesta gives a mini-lecture. This can happen at any time, because one word uttered by a learner without thought of consequence can send Nesta off into a philosophical adventure, and all of us soaking it up.  Andy has a knack of throwing in off the cuff comments, little gems such as, “I have over one hundred theories in my office, come and get one or two of them”. Or “If you write 500 words a day, your thesis will be written in 100 days”. When I mentioned to Andy that I thought using Foucault to analyse my data might be making a rod for my back, he quipped back “Maybe a reinforcing rod”.

Next week I am joining another support group. This one is a Foucault reading group, which meets monthly in a cafe. I don’t know what this group will be like exactly, but I would imagine that it will fit somewhere between my current two.

I can’t imagine how I would have got through my PGR9 without the support of my fellow learners. As I progress further into the PhD, the reading group will become an important part of my life too.

If you don’t have a support group, consider starting one like I did, or even using Thesislink as your support group.  You can make conversation by commenting on posts, or you can write your own post.  You don’t have to do your research alone. There are many wonderful Masters and Doctoral candidates at AUT who are looking for support and who will be happy to support. Just keep your eyes and ears open for them.


Murray, R. (2005) Writing for academic journals. Open University Press. Berkshire, England.

About Julia Hallas

Julia Hallas contributes to Thesislink posts in the hope of overcoming her procrastination and worry about completing the PhD so that she can develop some sound research skills. She enjoyed worked with Jennie Billot on Thesislink’s inception and continues her role as advisor to the team. Julia is a Teaching Consultant at the Centre for Learning and Teaching.

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