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Professor Dee Heddon interview – in depth with AHRC's Doctoral Training Programme

Professor Dee Heddon

Professor Dee Heddon, Director of the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) are concluding Doctoral Week with an in-depth look at their Doctoral Training Programme (DTP).

DTP is driving new methods of partnership, delivery and new types of collaboration. In this interview with Professor Dee Heddon, Director of the DTP 'the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities', Dee speaks on how DTPs are 'really pushing the benefits of collaboration'.

The Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities (SGSAH) is led by the University of Glasgow and is a partnership of 16 HEIs across Scotland. At the heart of SGSAH is the AHRC DTP, a collaboration with the universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, St Andrews, Stirling and Strathclyde and the Glasgow School of Art.

SGSAH has worked in partnership with more than 150 organisations, including Aberdeen Art Galleries and Museums, BBC Scotland and the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and supports all arts and humanities doctoral researchers across Scotland.

“We work across Scotland with both AHRC-funded students and non AHRC-funded students,” says Professor Heddon.

Professor Heddon says that she wants to avoid a two tier system and allow all doctoral students to take advantage of what she describes as the “transformative” training the AHRC funds through consortia such as the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities’ DTP.

“For example, if we or one of our partners is running an event for AHRC-funded philosophy students, then there's no harm in opening that up to non-AHRC students, because we are running the event anyway!” she says.

Participation is free and co-funding from the Scottish Funding Council and SGSAH’s 16 HEI members covers travel and accommodation costs as required. While opening up access to opportunity is key to SGSAH’s activities, the Research Leaders programme is for AHRC-funded students only.

“What we are able to do with the DTP that we weren't able to do before is bring together all our AHRC students each year for training events, and use the strengths of our consortia to develop a programme that benefits them all,” she says.

In the first year this focuses on what it is to do a PhD and how to work with your supervisor, in year two the training shifts to look at health and wellbeing and how to manage the stress of doing a PhD; and then in year three the focus is on what happens after a PhD, whatever the career path the doctoral graduate pursues.

“By doing this we have been able to create an AHRC cohort drawn from across Scotland which comes together at key points during the PhD programme and which delivers focused, differently orientated training,” says Professor Heddon.

“Prior to the DTP there was not this shared, collaborative experience. The partnership principle of the DTP allows us to identify the best of what we have across the DTP consortia and to share this.”

Training the next generation of researchers in this way is a key priority for the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the organisation's commitment is demonstrated in the investment of around a third of its budget on doctoral training.

There is no longer the assumption that PhD students will go on to work in academia and so their experience, and what they need to learn, must reflect this reality.

Students need to build a network that will stay with them as they move through their PhD and beyond; it's also important that they learn to work with others from different disciplines.

“They need as wide a set of interactions as possible and the bulk of the feedback from the students that take part in the training we organise is that they enjoy getting beyond their institutions and developing their networks,” says Professor Heddon.

A coloured print of Queen Victoria from 1837

Doctoral Students attend the annual SGSAH welcome event

Through organisations like the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities the AHRC invests in a strong collaborative research and training programme to promote high quality training and to develop capable and innovative arts and humanities researchers for a wide-range of careers.

The AHRC’s aim is to enhance opportunities for students, whether that is to engage internationally or with the cultural and creative sectors, and the organisation works in partnership with the training providers for the long-term strength of arts and humanities disciplines.

“One of the great things that the DTP has done is that it has brought us all together,” says Professor Heddon. “This level of co-operation just did not exist before 2014. It is unprecedented, and a really remarkable outcome of the DTP model. It has prompted the formation of the wider Scottish Graduate School, and through this the level of impact we are able to deliver.”

The strength of the consortia has allowed the Scottish Graduate School for the Arts & Humanities to become a voice that is heard beyond the academy.

“Working together has allowed us to become a very strong advocate for the arts and humanities at the national level, because we can speak with one voice about the value of our research and skills and we are co-ordinated,” says Professor Heddon.

“We have more leverage when we talk about funding. We are able to work with hundreds of non-academic partners across Scotland, at all scales, in all geographies and across all sectors. We have become the place to go if you want to talk about how researchers might be able to help your organisation.”

In 2019, SGSAH extends its consortium - and its geographic and disciplinary reach - with the addition of the University of the Highlands and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The Scottish Funding Council has also recommitted co-funding for the wider Graduate School.

“These are exciting times”, says Professor Heddon. “As we move into our second phase we are continuing to push our collaborative potential. For example, we are launching national Discipline+ Catalysts which will allow us to share cutting edge disciplinary and interdisciplinary methods across our partnership for the benefit of all doctoral researchers across Scotland.”

The Catalysts are complemented by Knowledge Exchange Hubs, which focus on partnership engagement, driving impact, co-created research and internships with external organisations.

“Our achievements thus far have depended on realising mutual benefit for all our stakeholders and these benefits in turn depend on meaningful collaboration with our doctoral researchers, our scholars, our partners and our funders. We remain ambitious for what we can do together over the next five years.”

Find out more about Doctoral Week on twitter using the hashtag#DoctoralWeek

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