In May 2022 Web Services successfully launched the new Doctoral web pages. This marks a huge milestone and is the culmination of the work we began two years ago when we consulted with students and stakeholders about project requirements. Prior to this we have faced some limitations and challenges in posting PhD opportunities.
No single source of truth
In our legacy content management system (t4), PhD content was posted on school and departmental web pages, yet there was no single location where prospective candidates could view a complete list of our career opportunities. doctoral projects. This meant that someone looking at a PhD project on one department webpage could miss out on another relevant opportunity on a different part of the website.
Lack of structure and purpose
Previously, PhD content was not structured in a meaningful way. When content is structured, we break it into chunks via fields, allowing for easy reuse through automated publishing. This means that content can work harder and can be served to users in the right place and in the right format on their journey. An added benefit of this approach is that Google loves it when you give content structure and purpose, and this can help your search rankings. Unfortunately, the content of our old PhD pages had little to no structure and thus was effectively siled.
Switch to a better way to manage PhD content
By interacting with subject matter experts and students, we set out to gain a better understanding of the user journey for a prospective PhD student. Essentially, there are three ways someone could apply to pursue a PhD with the University:
- They could approach an academic or a PhD candidate within one of our schools with their original idea for a PhD project.
- They might apply to a predefined project. This means that the subject is defined, is associated with a defined supervisor and sometimes comes with funding.
- They can apply to one of our structured doctoral programs which may include training, opportunities to study pre-defined projects and often include funding.
Projects and programs
The main focus of the project was around the preset PhD projects and also doctoral programs. There is evidently a relationship between these. For example, a program such as the SLS PhD program or the Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities can host a range of projects. With this in mind, we wanted to develop a solution that would provide the user with different paths to access this information.
The availability of funding varies for different PhD opportunities. Some predefined projects and often those associated with doctoral programs are funded. This can often be limited by country, for example, PhDs studied through the China Scholarship Program are restricted to Chinese students.
If funding is unavailable, PhD opportunities are typically defined as « self-funded, » meaning the applicant will have to pay tuition and all other associated costs.
With this in mind, it was obvious that allowing prospective candidates to filter PhD opportunities based on funding availability would go a long way in helping in their decision-making process.
Our investigations have shown that doctoral topics often span multiple research areas. We set out to develop a broad taxonomy that would allow us to « tag » opportunities with one or more research areas. This demonstrates the interdisciplinary nature of PhDs and more importantly also provides prospective students with an alternative route into content that hopefully matches their mental model. From ‘acoustics’ to ‘virology’, the end result is a search area taxonomy containing well over 100 terms.
Promote PhD opportunities on people’s pages
We’ve learned that students considering a PhD often search for an academic’s name first. Perhaps they are aware that the person is a recognized expert in a field related to the proposed PhD topic. This search invariably leads them to a staff profile page on the University website. We decided to maximize the value of this user journey by automatically displaying ongoing PhD projects on staff profiles if an academic is identified as a PhD project supervisor.
Look for visibility
Helping users to easily search for content has been a major driver behind the University’s website transformation project and PhD students are no different in this respect. All doctoral projects and programs can be searched and filtered through the search engine of the main site of the UdD or through the sections dedicated to the following links.
Thanks to the magic of connected content and automated publishing, doctoral opportunities can also be published from a single source to multiple locations.
For example, a project titled « Early Emotions and Concepts about Nature from Outdoor Play » could overlap at least two disciplines: education and psychology. Previously, this content would have been manually duplicated in ours Training school and social work AND Psychology web pages. We can now automatically post a condensed version of this content on these pages with links to a central source for all the details.
This makes our publishing model more efficient and gives us confidence that our content is up-to-date and accurate.
Our new PhD section it brings together structured doctoral training programs in addition to our established doctoral fellowships which offer opportunities for regularly funded doctoral projects.
PhDs are only a part of our postgraduate research offer. We also took the opportunity to refresh our PGR web pages including clearer descriptions for our various types of research qualifications, improved directions for related support such as the Doctoral Academy, and dedicated pages for our PhD Training Programs.
We will be monitoring the performance of the PhD Pages over the next few months and will continue to refine and improve them as we gather feedback from users.