This year I have been very lucky to have been included on the Program Committee of EC-TEL 2014, as a co-chair of the doctoral consortium. The program of EC-TEL is absolutely packed with interesting workshops. Unfortunately with greater quantity comes also greater difficulty in choice and therefore one has to compromise which of the workshops to attend. Unfortunately this also happened to our doctoral students who probably would have benefitted more from additional feedback from the professors present at the conference. However I have to say that the written feedback they have received about their PhD submission prior to this conference has been overwhelming and of course we thank everyone who gave their input.
All of the PhD studies that have been presented during this doctoral workshop are interesting and can potentially prove to give very valid contributions to the area of TEL. If I was to give some thoughts about some of the challenges faced by PhD students in general I would say that many face the issue of research and funding. What happens in most cases is that a student tries to look for funding to be able to carry out his/her research. Much of this research comes from projects and for this we are thankful. However what transpires is that the student very much feels bound and constrained by the project limitations, needs and the expected outcomes.
I think that one thing which I have learned, being a PhD student myself is that a PhD is like an elastic. It is meant to stretch and take different forms, to explore and maybe reverse directions. It cannot be a linear process. I think that a PhD student needs to be aware that he or she will not really know the answers to his PhD investigation – until the very end … and still he or she will probably have questions that still need to be answered. Another challenge, which sounds easier than it actually is, is how a PhD student identifies a problem that he or she is curious enough about to dedicate 3, 4 or 5 years of his/her life to satisfy that curiosity. One should not be afraid to experiment in a PhD, one should not be afraid of failure in the experiments during a PhD, though that admittedly is the hardest thing to do. No one of us wants to fail. No one of us wants to admit that his /her experiments in TEL have not worked out as he/she wanted (does he even know what he/she wanted?)
There were many more thoughts that emerged during our doctoral workshop and I sincerely wishing all the PhD students out there much feedback, much thought and experience sharing because through that we grow, and with us the possibility of good practice in research grows as well!