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Digital Transformation and Research Tutoring for whom?

By Caroline Khene and Hafeni Mthoko

When we observed the recurring challenges potential and existing research students faced, we sat down and reflected on these aspects. Undeniably, there are numerous ways you can summarise the kind of student or researcher needing additional support – however, the ones we discuss in this post were the ones we commonly came across over 12 years our of experience. We have experienced working or engaging with these students as a supervisor, doctoral coordinator, mentor, and fellow researcher. The students we categorise here relate to both local and international students – depending on where the university is based. Most students may relate to these, depending on the research journey they have taken, or are yet to take. We have named the common categories as: 1) The Applicant, 2) The General, 3) The Navigator, 4) The Explorer, and 5) The Career Lock. A student or researcher may relate with one of the categories – however, in most cases an individual may associate themselves, to an extent, with 2 or more categories.

The ‘Applicant’

The Applicant is typically a person who wishes to apply for a research degree at a university – Masters by full research or PhD. The motivations around this are varied, e.g. some students wish to advance their qualifications and expand their knowledge around a particular field to lead in their industry, some may be targeting a specific scholarship programme they wish to shape the application around, or some are essentially targeting a leading research programme with a leading researcher in the field. Dr Khene has previously received several research degree applications as a Masters and Doctoral coordinator at two different universities. Her role has been to review these applications, identify potential, align them with potential supervisors, and at times act as an intermediary between the potential student and potential supervisor. Where spaces are limited, it is important that an applicant is able to understand what they are applying for, and be able to convince the supervisor of the significance of their emerging ideas or what they hope they can learn and contribute to the research programme. We summarise the ‘Applicant’ in the persona below.

The ‘General’

The General applies to many students – at some point there is a challenging aspect of their research they need additional support in. Their supervisor plays an important role here, in guiding the student, and proposing approaches to take in the study. Many students can understand and engage effectively with their supervisor, however, at times it is not always forthright. Our aim here is to be an additional sounding board to engage with the research student, and support their ability to participate in enriched discussions with their supervisor and peers in advancing knowledge around their study area. We summarise the ‘General’ in the persona below.

The ‘Navigator’

We thought of this persona with the aim of empowering the student to eventually navigate their own research journey. We have come across students that have brilliant ideas, but feel totally lost in how they may apply or conduct research around these ideas. At times, it may also be a student or researcher observing a research problem from the wrong angle – focusing on the artefact solution than the problem it really addresses in their targeted context. We summarise the ‘Navigator’ in the persona below.

The ‘Explorer’

This applies to many international students, and what we have observed as supervisors and module leaders. Over the past 3 years, even with the COVID pandemic, we have seen dramatic increases in international student recruitment in the UK, for example. This especially applies to Masters postgraduate taught programmes (usually with a half-thesis requirement). According to the UK Higher Education Student Statistics, China, India, and Nigeria have the highest enrolments of non-EU students, where between 2021-22 student enrolments grew by 64.2% from India, and 130.9% from Nigeria. Every student is different, and the personas discussed above may also apply to them – but this particular persona speaks to the additional growth and support needs of international students. We may not capture everything in this persona, but we know we have a lot to learn from our engagements with students and researchers in shaping all our personas. Furthermore, our support is not limited to UK students, but other international students from other countries. We named this persona ‘Explorer’, based on the idea of a student exploring a different education and cultural system.

The ‘Career Lock’

Addressing the career lock student is a future service we aim to provide, in collaboration with industry partners. For example, when we consider research students from the African continent there are so many aspects that remain unanswered when digital transformation is considered in the context. Attending a recent webinar on 6 April 2023 by Research ICT Africa, Dorothy Gordan Chair of the UNESCO Information For All Programme pointed out the lack of local skill and researchers in understanding and addressing contextual needs. Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium & EU, stressed that:

“We have tried to encourage investment in technology, but that is not progressing as we do not give good incentives to investors who are interested in enhancing connectivity in the region. Everything has shifted to digitalisation, but Africa is still far behind.”

With emerging researchers, not only from Africa, but Asia and beyond, there is potential to grow entrepreneurship – but we still come across students who are unsure what to do with their PhD knowledge, nor the incentive to become entrepreneurs in addressing gaps in their context. We hope to address the ‘career lock’ researcher, and create alignments with industry needs – this is our future plan for NurtureID8.


Do you believe you can relate to any or a combination of these personas? Perhaps you are still considering a research degree, or have experienced some of these challenges as a researcher or practitioner. We are open to assisting you, wherever you are on your research journey. Book a free 15 minute call as a start to explore areas you believe you may need support in.

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