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What is Focus On?

Each year, we choose a topic for the Focus On project. We base this on our findings from Enhancement-led Institutional Review (ELIR). We invite all Scottish higher education institutions and students’ associations to tell us how we can give them the best support around this topic. This guarantees what we do will be useful and relevant.

Why the postgraduate research student experience?

During the last review cycle, some aspects of the postgraduate experience emerged as areas for development at 13 out of 18 institutions. These included training and support for postgraduates that teach, developing the research community, induction, and providing better consistency of information. Following the consultation we decided on the topic, postgraduate research (PGR) student experience.

The project

We worked on four areas to help improve the experience of postgraduate research students.

Training and support for postgraduate students who teach

Teaching is an important developmental role for postgraduate students, and they need support from their institution. We explored this topic and produced resources on policy and practice to support this work.


Support for staff who supervise research students

Professional development is available to staff who supervise research students. This is sometimes delivered as part of a Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice. We consulted with institutions to discuss their approaches and produced a series of films and webinars.


Building a research community for postgraduate research students (PGRs)

We conducted a project on what ‘research community’ means and how we can provide a sense of community for PGRs. We produced a range of resources that you can use to enhance the experience of postgraduate study.


Student representation for postgraduate research students (pgrs)

The relationship between PGRs and their institutions is unique and individual, and can be complex. To ensure we hear their voices, we met with PGRs.

Dissemination event

In May 2017, we held an event to share the project work in central Glasgow. This was an opportunity for staff and students to come together to discuss the project and share their own practice. Representatives from all 19 Scottish institutions were at the event, along with staff and students from elsewhere in the UK. Materials from this event can be found below.

Further information

The postgraduate research student experience

Publication date: 22 Apr 2018

Training and support for postgraduate students who teach

Publication date: 11 Apr 2018

Want to know more?

If you would like further information or would like to join the Focus On mailing list, please email QAA Scotland.

Postgraduate Student Experience: Thematic Report on ELIR Reports 2013-16

Publication date: 25 Jan 2017

QAA Viewpoint: Doctoral research students - what should they expect from their academic experience?

Publication date: 05 Jan 2017