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Researcher Development

Researcher Development

Starting to design your own research


General stages of hypothesis testing to guide your timeline

Adapted from

  1. Experimentation. Research must be manageable and able to clearly test a hypothesis (section 3 in this course), and the best way to test this is to experiment with some ideas. Through this, the research should gradually become more focused on its test variables (i.e., less influenced by outside variables), so that the hypothesis may reliably be tested. Through this process, it should give you an idea if your research approach is actually possible.
  2. Pilot study (section 3 of this course). The researcher should conduct a pre-testing or rehearsal before going for field work or data collection. Basically, a mini version of your overall study, run from start to finish. This will suggest whether the study is feasible and uncover any unexpected factors in data collection.
  3. “Field” research: The actual data collection! To test and investigate hypothesis, conduct interviews, lab experiments, observations with stakeholders, create scripts and pipelines, questionnaires, surveys etc.
  4. Data analysis: See section 3 of this course


Time is not the enemy

Time is our friend. It gives us an idea of the scope of our projects: how much can we realistically achieve in the time we have?

I would strongly suggest setting yourself deadlines. It can be daunting trying to set these for your whole PhD while you are in your first year, so a good way to approach this is by finding out your upgrade date. This varies depending on your department, doctoral scheme, and whether you are full or part time, but they typically happen toward the end of your first year. You can check MyPGR contact diary for your expected date.

For your upgrade, you will likely need to write a report (a tiny thesis) and give a presentation and have a discussion with one or two academics in your department (a tiny viva; again, this varies). So, think:

What would you like to achieve by your upgrade? A literature review? A pilot study? An optimised method?

One thing assessors love to see is a rough timeline of your research. Even if you do not end up sticking to it, it is worth making one, both to boost your report and for your own planning. Besides, beyond your upgrade, it will be much clearer to you how long certain aspects of your project will take, and you can adjust your plan accordingly.

Take a look at the Gantt chart template in section 3. This is my go-to for making project timelines, and you can even update it as you progress. I included it in my upgrade report, and unsurprisingly, my project today looks almost nothing like it! This plan did, however, lay a solid foundation for how my project developed over time, and it is nice to look back on now.


Being resourceful

Great, so we have a rough idea for the year ahead. Now, I will ask you: what do you need? Consider:

  • Training
  • Specialist equipment
  • Computer equipment / power
  • Special permissions or access
  • Finance (!?)
  • Ethics approval

Start making a list of what you need. You may not be totally sure yet, but by the end of this course the list can be ready for a scrawl through the University website and a chat with your supervisor. This may in turn direct your timeline and shape it into a realistic project schedule.


The following questions may not apply to all research subjects, but are essential to consider for some:

  1. Access

To computer systems, buildings, sensitive data, certain test subjects, etc. What do you need to do to get this? How long will it take (hint: always way, WAY longer than expected)? How much will it cost?

  1. Accountability

Accountability is about the obligations you have to the various stakeholders in the research process. This includes the research participants, the funding body, the university, and collaborators. Check out this article for a good overview (available through University of Exeter VPN).

  1. Data ownership

Who owns the data you collect? Your supervisor, the university, your funding body, your collaborators? Do you have to store it in a certain way or certain place?

  1. Terminating your “fieldwork” – when will data collection end?

Run out of money, time, or the end of natural life of phenomenon being studied? How will you know when it is time to finish collecting and start analysing / writing? Having an idea of this will help you be more in control and minimise future stress.

  1. Researching across cultures

See this great module about researching across cultures.

  1. Planning and managing fieldwork

Fieldwork has got to be one of the highlights of research! A lot of this planning may be out of your control right now, but it will be up to you to make the most of your time. Here is a handy article about how to plan safe and effective fieldwork for PhD students.

  1. Transcribing audio

This will involve choosing your preferred transcription method, transcribing the audio (such as using transcription software – there are many to choose from, so search around and seek advice), adding speaker designation and time stamps, clarifying the transcript in places, and proofreading.

How long will this take you? Remember, context is important for this, so do not be tempted to skip steps. Future you would be very upset.

  1. Writing field notes

Here is a good article on how to write good notes for your academic writing… and a blog article on the future of field notes.

Laying out your design is up to you. Some prefer flow charts, some Gantt charts, some essay-style explanations, and some PowerPoint presentations (see the templates I have recommended in section 3 or on the Project Management pages of this website).


My Gantt chart from 2020



From Sileyew 2019


Still unsure about what research design means to you? How will it look in the context of your research subject? This may become clearer as we progress to section three. Additionally, check out these guides which may be more tailored to your research discipline.


Subject Resource Link
Health professions Research Design and Methodology by Kassu Jilcha Sileyew
Sociology Choosing a Research Design by Delbert C. Miller & Neil J. Salkind


Experimental research (particularly physical sciences, social sciences, psychology, and education)


Experimental Research Designs: Types, Examples & Methods blog post


Experimental Design blog post




The Methodology of Mathematics

by Ronald Brown and Timothy Porter
Any qualitative research


Qualitative Study Design by Deakin University


Life sciences Experimental design for the life sciences by Graeme D Ruxton University of Exeter library


Phenomenological research


A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated by Thomas Groenewald


Education (all)


An overall summary and collection of resources related to education research design by James H. McMillan, Richard S. Mohn and Micol V. Hammack

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