The TCRG PhD experience

Posted in: Research

The Tobacco Control Research Group has long been supportive of postgraduate research. In fact, TCRG was recently awarded a Doctoral Recognition Award by the University of Bath's Doctoral College. This award recognises the ways in which we have our group has "significantly contributed to enhancing the research environment for our students". 

Over the past decade the group has seen 10 PhD students through to graduation. We currently have a further 3 PhD candidates. Most of these students submitted or will submit a thesis in the alternative format.

Also referred to as an “integrated submission”, “article-based thesis” or “thesis by publication”, an alternative format thesis is one which contains one or more publications. Publications can be book chapters or, more commonly, peer-reviewed research papers. This type of thesis is increasingly popular amongst postgraduate students. At the University of Bath PhD students are permitted to submit alternative format theses. For more information, check out the University of Bath’s guidelines on alternative format theses here.

In this blog, three past and present TCRG PhD students have come together to answer frequently asked questions and share their experiences. 


Why did you choose to do an alternative format thesis? 

“To make a contribution to the field of public health research.” – 2nd year student 

So I could get publications out whilst doing my PhD.” – 4th year student 

It’s an opportunity to get professional and educational experience at the same time, which I found really appealing.” – Graduated student 


What are the advantages of doing an alternative format PhD? 

“Your research will be disseminated to a wider audience and can therefore advance progress in your particular field of research […] On top of this, an alternative format thesis allows you to collaborate with, and learn from, more experienced researchers in your field of interest.” – 2nd year student 

It better simulates the real-world process of publishing your research.” – 4th year student 

Being able to do a diverse range of projects using a variety of methods to address my research questions.” – Graduated student 


What challenges have you experienced when doing an alternative format PhD? 

“I sometimes feel under pressure to publish as soon as possible.” – 2nd year student 

There may be a sort of incentive to publish your work even if you feel its not that 'good' or 'ready' because it will better enable you to pass your PhD. But at the same time, if you work is publishable it is a sort of test that your PhD is good enough to be passed.” – 4th year student 

Before starting I had envisaged that my projects would be sequential, i.e. finish one before moving onto the next. In reality, they often overlapped and so I had to juggle multiple research projects simultaneously.” – Graduated student 


What helped you overcome the challenges you experienced? 

Bringing in other researchers and PhDs in the team as co-authors to help on my project […] TCRG team members have such a wide range of expertise, there's always someone happy to give advice or answer questions. Learning from former PhD students within the group has been particularly helpful for me.” – 2nd year student 

When I feel under pressure, I revisit the reasons why I chose to undertake a PhD in the first place. Focusing on the potential impact and utility of my research to the wider audience helps me put things into perspective. […] Support from my supervisors has also played a key role in helping me surmount challenges encountered during the PhD process so far.” – 4th year student 

(1) having good time management and organisational skills, and (2) discovering I could include ongoing or unpublished work in my thesis alongside the published elements, such as papers still in the writing and submission processes. This eased the pressure and meant I could submit my thesis without waiting until all my papers were published.” – Graduated student 


What does your typical work schedule look like at the moment? 

My schedule at the moment is mainly working from home. I try to stick to regular working hours Monday to Friday 9am-5pm but oftentimes I also work in the evenings and over the weekend.” – 2nd year student 

During my PhD my working hours was from home between 9am - 6pm with an hour break for lunch.” – 4th year student 

I work best in the mornings and so my typical working day during my PhD started and finished early, usually 7/8am until 3/4pm. This meant I was available for most of the working hours of my TCRG colleagues, while always having some dedicated time for my PhD work before they started at 9am.” – Graduated student 


What unique experiences or opportunities have you gained through being a part of TCRG? 

TCRG has an incredible work ethic and drive to produce high impact research. TCRG's work has resulted in major advances to public health policies across the globe. The group collaborates extensively with researchers from universities worldwide and advises policy makers on both national and international levels. It is a privilege to be able to learn and develop as a novice researcher with their help and guidance.” – 2nd year student 

Being part of TCRG is not a "pure study" PhD, it’s more like a real world working environment, like a research organisation or consultancy, so it's good experience.” – 4th year student 

Because the work of TCRG is so pertinent to public health, I was fortunate to experience real positive impacts resulting from my PhD research, including attention from media and policymakers.” – Graduated student

Posted in: Research