Doing your doctorate in a second language by Scott Nielsen

Posted in: Doctoral Exchange, Student Experience

A student blog as part of the Doctoral Exchange series organised by the Doctoral College.

The Doctoral Exchange I was part of running was doing your PhD in a second language. We had 14 people in the chatroom looking to share experiences and top tips.

In the beginning we had a quick talk about the difference in culture between everyone's home region and the UK. First were the challenges and that was particularly the weather, quality of coffee and the tap water was concerned harder. Another challenge for everyone was the difference in speaking and greetings compared to other countries. Then the chat moved on to the positives of the UK and we all agreed that British people are polite, very multicultural and a better transport infrastructure than most of the world plus on a research front there is more funding available.


We then began to discuss the challenges of doing a PhD in English as a second language.

  • One of the mutual challenges were finding it hard to translate while reading which means reading often takes longer as well as writing as well. Para-phrasing was also a common issue.
  • Lack of confidence was another issue as the prospect of talking to experts or academics and not knowing the precise terms and this also made presentation somewhat of a struggle and would end up with fast presentations out of nervousness.
  • It was also found that a few people had problems with supervisors who were not emphatic with the situation and often would talk too fast. But this was more common with technician staff who are not as cautious as most supervisors.


On the other hand there were several positives given from the University.

  • Easy access to the supervisory team, the university is a multicultural environment.
  • Practicing English daily in an academic environment and exposed to the different academic possibilities.


We then turned the conversation to top tips and tricks to how to circumvent some of the problems.

  • Everyone agreed that seeking feedback was the best way to improve the language barrier and also the use of Grammarly for grammar and spelling plus utilising the Doctoral College for Reading and Writing Sessions
  • There was also a suggestion of using Paraphrase and academic books in the library to improve that.


The final part of the session was the groups suggestion what could be improved for PhD students operating in English as their second language.

  • The option of peer support for academic proof reading rather.
  • A key point was to have the Student Union be more focused on including PhDs with working in their second language.
  • One agreement was that there is a attitude change required for technicians and maybe this could be solved by training
  • Lab Inductions should not only to be given once in the beginning of the year, as the students are new so if the department could be reminded again.
  • Honest presentation feedback was also something that many people wanted as sometimes people are not honest to not offend.
  • And finally a suggestion for the Doctoral College was more continental based discussions for international students to help new students discuss cultural differences.


About Doctoral Exchange

This blog was written as part of the Doctoral Exchange series, a round-table discussion series for doctoral researchers to share experiences and ideas in a peer-to-peer environment. All topics are student-led. The programme can be found online on the Doctoral Exchange webpage. If you are interested in facilitating a session then please email

Posted in: Doctoral Exchange, Student Experience


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  • This is very interesting! I am a fourth year PhD but the struggle is still very present. So I feel for everyone who is doing their study in a second language. One thing I personally find extremely helpful is to keep an agenda of the meeting and share it with your supervisors or any other people you had a meeting with. You can then double check what you have understood is correct and avoid any miscommunication!