Reflecting on Phd research with a contemplative technique

Many thanks to Dr Geoff Taggart for contributing this very helpful and practical blog on a contemplative activity that supports PhD students to reflect on and deepen their understanding of their research process. If you have any comments or questions for Geoff please comment below.

I recently ran a session for new Phd/EdD students in all disciplines called ‘making the most of your Phd journey’. Participants came into a room where carpet tiles were set out on the floor and they were asked to ‘make a picture’ of their Phd using the stones provided (of various shapes, sizes and colours). The idea was to help them think more holistically about all of the different elements involved.

PhD Research contemplative task

Contemplative, therapeutic activities with stones, beads and other materials have been known to help access more creative and archetypal aspects of consciousness (e.g. Jung). Afterwards, I gave them a sheet with these questions

  • What is at the centre of the picture board and why is this so important compared to other things which could have gone there?
  • What sort of stone are you? Why this size and shape?
  • What sort of stone is your supervisor(s)? Why this size and shape?
  • In the picture, what is the distance between the student stone (you) and the supervisor stone? What might this show?
  • How is the subject matter represented? (e.g. one stone or many, close or far apart, irregular or in a pattern) What might this show about your research?
  • How are the following represented:
    • University services (e.g. library, study advice, graduate school)
    • External services (e.g. British Library)
    • Other PhD students, friends and family?
  • Is the picture a snapshot of the connections today between you, your supervisor and your subject? If so, how could the picture show the research being carried out? (i.e. Why have you produced a picture without the dimension of time?)
  • Does the picture show a series of stages in your research, such as your research plan being followed? If so, does it also show in enough detail the complexity and subtlety of the research topic and how the different elements relate to each other? (i.e. Why was the dimension of time emphasised in your picture?)
  • Do you feel that anything is missing from your picture? If you were to do this again, how would it be different and why would this be?

I then asked them to think about the questions and then talk about their picture with a fellow participant working in a different discipline. Feedback sheets suggest that this was the part of the session they liked best!

By Geoff Taggart, University of Reading

One thought on “Reflecting on Phd research with a contemplative technique

  1. Dear Geoff Taggert,

    Your approach is brilliant. So often students have challenges with the process of navigating their Doctoral studies without clarity about how to streamline and smooth the process. This therapeutic art process helps researchers and writers identify the areas of blockage, lack of connection, as well as areas that are flowing smoothly. Having studied art therapy over the years, I wish I had thought to work with imagery or representational forms to identify my own roadblocks. As a visual thinker, it would have been a very fruitful exercise. Thank you for sharing your process!


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