Documenting Diversity: The Experiences of LGBTQ+ Doctoral Researchers in the UK

Ross English, Kieran Fenby-Hulse
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 14  •  2019  •  pp. 403-430

This article provides a much needed insight into the experiences of doctoral researchers in the UK that identify as Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Trans-, Queer, or outside of heteronormative or cis-normative identities (LGBTQ+) to address the question of what support, culture, and pedagogy might better support doctoral researchers who identify as LGBTQ+.

While experiences of LGBTQ+ students in UK Higher Education have been explored in recent studies, the experiences of doctoral students have not been differentiated, documented, or analyzed.

Through an online questionnaire sent to UK institutions, this study captures and reflects on the diverse experiences of doctoral education. The study took a predominantly phenomenological approach, placing the focus on understanding how individual researchers experienced their working environment.

This questionnaire offers a ‘campus climate’ study, providing a much-needed insight into the experiences of doctoral researchers in the UK in 2017. The study also highlights the importance of acknowledging the diversity of doctoral researchers and adapting supervisory and institutional support to meet the differing needs of doctoral researchers. It considers themes such as the impact of the working environment, experiences of macroaggressions and harassment, the need for researchers to work internationally, and the visibility of role models. The complex nature of the supervisor-student relationship is also considered throughout.

Although many LGBTQ+ doctoral students felt they were studying in a supportive institution, the questionnaire highlights a diverse range of inclusivity issues as well as direct instances of homophobic and/or transphobic behavior.

From this questionnaire, it is concluded that there is a need for a critical examination of systems and spaces in which doctoral education takes place and the implementation of systems and spaces that are inclusive. There is a need for all those involved in doctoral education to understand how identifying as a LGBTQ+ researcher can impact on your experience of doctoral education. And, finally, there is a need for better LGBTQ+ visibility, better representation, and better mentoring.

If doctoral education is to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce, research needs to take into account the views and experiences of minority and marginalized groups that may challenge or be in tension with the views of the larger research population.

As the demographic of the doctoral researcher population diversifies, it is increasingly important that our approach to doctoral education and the systems and processes that underpin doctoral education are adapted to meet the needs of that diverse population.

There is potential scope for future studies to focus specifically on issues of intersectionality, disciplinary differences, health and wellbeing, representation, voice, and agency, as well as productivity, attainment, and career development of LGBTQ+ doctoral researchers.

LGBTQ+, supervision, doctoral education, postgraduate research, equality, diversity, inclusion
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